Government talks to MS about source code offer

The New Zealand government has started discussions with Microsoft about gaining access to the source code of its Windows products as part of a new programme aimed at easing country-level concerns about the software's security.

The New Zealand government has started discussions with Microsoft about gaining access to the source code of its Windows products as part of a new programme aimed at easing country-level concerns about the software’s security.

Government Communications Security Bureau director of information systems security Mike Spring says it’s too early to provide detail but confirms that the government has approached Microsoft about the programme.

New Zealand is one of 17 countries Microsoft is talking to Russia’s federal agency for governmental communication and information, for instance, has signed a government security programme (GSP) agreement with the software company.

Microsoft runs several programmes that provide access to source code to governments, universities and private sector firms. The GSP, announced last month, is specifically targeted at central governments. It is intended to allow them to assess the security and integrity of Microsoft products. Participating governments gain online access to source code, an engineering-level understanding of Windows architecture, the ability to build more secure environments and access to cryptographic code and development tools.

Unlike open source software, however, governments don’t gain the ability to alter Microsoft’s source code.

The move is seen by some as an attempt to mitigate the interest being shown in Linux and open source software by governments around the world. Giving central governments access to source code may help quell the debate over whether open source code has a security advantage over closed code.

Connecticut-based analyst firm Meta Group has said that government interest in non-Microsoft software is growing. Germany, China, India, Taiwan, Singapore and Finland are among the countries Meta expects to increasingly adopt Linux servers.

The majority of New Zealand government departments have joined forces to renegotiate an “all-you-can eat” software licence with Microsoft, which is due to be completed at the end of the month.

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