There Must Be a Fix? Sorry. Nope.

June 20, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I enjoy stories like “Microsoft Chose Profit Over Security and Left U.S. Government Vulnerable to Russian Hack, Whistleblower Says.” It combines a number of fascinating elements; for example, corporate green, Russia, a whistleblower, and the security of the United States. Figuring out who did what to whom when and under what circumstances is not something a dinobaby at my pay grade of zero can do. However, I can highlight some of the moving parts asserted in the write up and pose a handful of questions. Will these make you feel warm and fuzzy? I hope not. I get a thrill capturing the ideas as they manifest in my very aged brain.


The capture officer proudly explains to the giant corporation, “You have won the money?” Can money buy security happiness? Answer: Nope. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Good enough, the new standard of excellence.

First, what is the primum movens for this exposé? I think that for this story, one candidate is Microsoft. The company has to decide to do what slays the evil competitors, remains the leader in all things smart, and generates what Wall Street and most stakeholders crave: Money. Security is neither sexy nor a massive revenue producer when measured in terms of fixing up the vulnerabilities in legacy code, the previous fixes, and the new vulnerabilities cranked out with gay abandon. Recall any recent MSFT service which may create a small security risk or two? Despite this somewhat questionable approach to security, Microsoft has convinced the US government that core software like PowerPoint definitely requires the full panoply of MSFT software, services, features, and apps. Unfortunately articles like “Microsoft Chose Profit Over Security” converts the drudgery of cyber security into a snazzy story. A hard worker finds the MSFT flaw, reports it, and departs for a more salubrious work life. The write up says:

U.S. officials confirmed reports that a state-sponsored team of Russian hackers had carried out SolarWinds, one of the largest cyberattacks in U.S. history. They used the flaw Harris had identified to vacuum up sensitive data from a number of federal agencies, including, ProPublica has learned, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the United States’ nuclear weapons stockpile, and the National Institutes of Health, which at the time was engaged in COVID-19 research and vaccine distribution. The Russians also used the weakness to compromise dozens of email accounts in the Treasury Department, including those of its highest-ranking officials. One federal official described the breach as “an espionage campaign designed for long-term intelligence collection.”

Cute. SolarWinds, big-money deals, and hand-waving about security. What has changed? Nothing. A report criticized MSFT; the company issued appropriate slick-talking, lawyer-vetted, PR-crafted assurances that security is Job One. What has changed? Nothing.

The write up asserts about MSFT’s priorities:

the race to dominate the market for new and high-growth areas like the cloud drove the decisions of Microsoft’s product teams. “That is always like, ‘Do whatever it frickin’ takes to win because you have to win.’ Because if you don’t win, it’s much harder to win it back in the future. Customers tend to buy that product forever.”

I understand. I am not sure corporations and government agencies do. That PowerPoint software is the go-to tool for many agencies. One high-ranking military professional told me: “The PowerPoints have to be slick.” Yep, slick. But reports are written in PowerPoints. Congress is briefed with PowerPoints. Secret operations are mapped out in PowerPoints. Therefore, buy whatever it takes to make, save, and distribute the PowerPoints.

The appropriate response is, “Yes, sir.”

So what’s the fix? There is no fix. The Microsoft legacy security, cloud, AI “conglomeration” is entrenched. The Certified Partners will do patch ups. The whistleblowers will toot, but their tune will be downed out in the post-contract-capture party at the Old Ebbitt Grill.


  1. Third-party solutions are going to have to step up. Microsoft does not fix; it creates.
  2. More serious breaches are coming. Too many nation-states view the US as a problem and want to take it down and put it out.
  3. Existing staff in the government and at third-party specialist firms are in “knee jerk mode.” The idea of pro-actively getting ahead of the numerous bad actors is an interesting thought experiment. But like most thought experiments, it can morph into becoming a BFF of Don Quixote and going after those windmills.

Net net: Folks, we have some cyber challenges on our hands, in our systems, and in the cloud. I wish reality were different, but it is what it is. (Didn’t President Clinton define “is”?)

Stephen E Arnold, June 20, 2024


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