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Microsoft critic loses job over report

/ Source: The Associated Press

The chief technology officer for a technology firm that works closely with Microsoft Corp. lost his job after he helped write a study critical of the insecurity of Microsoft software. Daniel E. Geer Jr., an expert with nearly three decades studying technology and computer security, learned Thursday he was no longer employed by AtStake Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

ATSTAKE DECLINED to say whether Geer resigned or was fired. Spokeswoman Lona Therrien said Microsoft did not call for Geer’s dismissal, which AtStake said was effective two days ago. Microsoft also said it was not involved in the decision. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

But critics said Geer’s firing was reflective of Microsoft’s far-reaching ability in Washington and across the technology industry to silence experts who complain about weaknesses in its software or its aggressive business practices. The Justice Department struggled years ago to find technology executives willing to testify against Microsoft in its antitrust trial.

Geer could not be reached immediately for comment, but one person familiar with Geer’s situation said he was fired in a call Thursday morning from AtStake executives.

AtStake has worked closely with Microsoft in the past, examining some of its software blueprints for security problems and providing consulting services.

REPORT LINKED U.S. INSECURITY TO MICROSOFT AtStake’s announcement came one day after Geer and six other experts published a report complaining that the U.S. government relies too heavily on software from Microsoft. It argued that the widespread dominance of Windows has created an unhealthy “monoculture” inadequately resistant to viruses and attacks by hackers.

“It’s a tragedy this happened to someone who was speaking in the interest of national security,” said Ed Black, head of the Washington-based Computer and Communications Industry Association, which sponsored the report. “It gives even more credibility to what he said and what the report said. He was not in any way representing some corporate interests of his company.”

Geer was identified Wednesday in a conference call with journalists as AtStake’s technology officer and the lead author of the report. CCIA is a trade group whose members include some of Microsoft’s biggest corporate rivals.

“The values and opinions of the report are not in line with AtStake’s views,” the company said in a statement. It said Geer’s participation working on the report was “not sanctioned.”

“Security is much more complicated than focusing on this one issue,” said Chris Wysopal, AtStake’s director of research and development. “We think the way the (CCIA) paper is positioned ... is just not the answer.”

Wysopal said experts within AtStake debate about security issues internally but that Geer represented his views as the company’s consensus. “We value diversity of opinions here,” Wysopal said.

‘HUGE CHILLING EFFECT’ Bruce Schneier, the chief technology officer for Counterpane Systems Inc., worked with Geer on the report. He said security experts contacted to help work on the report critical of Microsoft indicated their support but couldn’t participate publicly.

“There is a huge chilling effect based on Microsoft’s monopoly position,” Schneier said. “It’s unfortunate that AtStake put its private agenda ahead of intellectual integrity.”

The CCIA trade group also ran into trouble Thursday when it sought to send a paid announcement about its critical Microsoft report to 140,000 subscribers of popular trade magazines for chief security officers and chief information officers.

The publisher for CIO and CSO magazines, CXO Media Inc., offers such announcements “to target a specific market segment of our audience by designing a list of prospects for direct mail and e-mail purposes.”

But in this case, the subject was too touchy.

“We find it is too sensitive of material to send out. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I have to deny your request,” according to an e-mail from the publisher obtained by The Associated Press.

“We need to try to provide some balance on these issues, and this seemed a little one-sided,” CXO spokeswoman Karen Fogerty said.

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