Is Windows or is IT the problem with security?

Microsoft opened a hole into a state government employee's computer, and ended up leaving a huge hole in his career.

Using virus and malware-laden software used to just be a bad for one's productivity. As it turns out, it can also be a bad idea for one's career.

Michael Fiola, formerly an investigator with the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, was charged with possession of child pornography. He lost his community's respect, many of his friends, and his family. His crime? He was given a Windows-based laptop that was riddled with vulnerabilities that were or became prey to malware.

An investigation showed he hadn't downloaded the pornography. His computer did:

When the DIA issued Fiola his Dell Latitude laptop in November 2006, it was so badly configured that it may well have already been hacked, said Tami Loehrs, a forensics investigator hired by Fiola's defense team. The Microsoft Systems Management Server software on the laptop was misconfigured and was not receiving critical software updates, and the laptop's Symantec antivirus software was either misconfigured or not working properly, she said.

"He was handed a ticking time bomb," she said.

In this case, it's called Windows. Or, more accurately, an IT department that inflicted a poorly implemented Windows environment on Mr. Fiola. Could this have happened with Linux or the Mac? Yes and maybe. Yes, because weak IT yields weak security. But maybe, because both of these Unix-based systems handle security much better than Windows traditionally has. But that's not really the point.

The real villain here, of course, is the pornography swine that would inflict themselves on unsuspecting users. There are enough losers out there interested in porn to not have to trick them into viewing it or distributing it.

We like to think of our computers as tools. In this case, however, it was Mr. Fiola that became the tool, however unwittingly.

This calls to mind just how critical it is to ensure our systems are secure. If, in fact, Linux or Mac are more secure from this sort of problem (a point that is debatable), then the "low cost" associated with Windows and ease of use must be balanced against the very real problems that can arise from using Windows (or, at least, older versions of Windows).

Did Microsoft create this problem for Mr. Fiola? No. If anything, it sounds like his IT department is to blame. But if it were me, I'd be asking for a Mac when joining a new company. With the Mac, my odds of having a Fiola-esque experience go down dramatically.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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