Microsoft Increases Security to Thwart Government Intrusion

by Matt Klassen on December 9, 2013

Microsoft has redoubled its efforts to make customer data more secure, but it’s not because of some new threat from some anonymous hacker collective, but instead Microsoft is attempting to prevent future government intrusion into its customers’ private information. I doubt many need to be reminded of the ongoing NSA PRISM scandal, the revelation that the government agency has employed every dirty trick in the book to secure data of all sorts from private companies, private citizens, and even other governments.

Government spying on Microsoft’s servers constitutes a persistent threat as serious as “sophisticated malware or cyberattacks,” said Brad Smith, general counsel and executive vice president of the company’s legal and corporate affairs.

Given this threat, Microsoft has finally said enough is enough, taking steps to significantly bolster its encryption standard, one that is committed to protecting and preserving private data and one that it wants its customers to know that has no backdoors for covert government access.

Microsoft shares the growing concern among its customers regarding unwarranted surveillance and the illegal intrusion of government agencies into private businesses and private lives. To that end, Smith noted, Microsoft wants to force, for lack of a better word, governments to use legal means to obtain data rather than through these shady backdoor practices.

To thwart such governmental intrusion Microsoft is making immediate changes to three key areas: increasing its encryption level across all services; strengthening legal protection for customer data; and making its own code more transparent, a somewhat counter-intuitive move designed to show customers that the government does not have any backdoor access to Microsoft products.

While I have no doubt that Microsoft is bristling at the notion that it may have been subject to covert NSA hacks—although the company has yet to find any evidence of such activities—these changes come as tech companies attempt to compete with each other across this new frontier of privacy.

In fact, in an age of growing security concerns, privacy is increasingly becoming big business, with companies and individuals looking for peace of mind when it comes to data protection. One would think in this ecosystem that the company able to provide the highest level of overall data protection will gain the most corporate and private customers, a point Microsoft is keenly aware of.

Further, given the news that certain tech firms have been complicit in the NSA’s schemes, companies like Microsoft are working overtime to fix this PR nightmare, and making such promises is a good first step.

But competing for the best privacy standards won’t be easy, as Alan Chapell, president of Chapell and Associates, recently told the E-Commerce Times, because these companies are “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” On the one hand, “They want to operate in accordance with what the government wants them to do,” while on the other, “they have a customer trust issue, to the extent that they’re required to disclose data that they’ve otherwise represented that they’re making secure.”

That said, if enhanced security protocols will truly be a differentiator in today’s competitive tech market, it won’t be long before other companies follow Microsoft’s lead, creating their own unique approaches to protecting customer data while increasing encryption transparency, all the while abiding by legitimate government data requests.

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