Microsoft Steps Up to Protect Customer Data

December 13, 2013
By: Drew Hendricks

Big Brother is watching? Microsoft (News - Alert) thinks so and has revealed plans to encrypt customer information transmitted between data centers as a means to stop government snooping. Microsoft General Counsel & Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs Brad Smith says, "Government snooping potentially now constitutes an advanced persistent threat, alongside sophisticated malware and cyber attacks."

According to Smith's blog, Microsoft is on Team Customer, and a number of customers expressed concerns about the government snooping in their affairs. Strong moves must be taken, according to Smith, and it starts with encrypting customer data so that only by going through the right legal channels can the government get access to what's meant to be private information. Previously, says Microsoft, the government simply used force–and that's about to stop.

Tackling the trinity

Whether a person is doing anything "wrong" or illegal isn't the point, says Microsoft. One of their users might simply be figuring out the best microwave to buy, or they might be plotting a virus to take down Twitter (News - Alert), but their use of Microsoft products isn't up for government interpretation. The company will be focusing on three key areas to make sure that full encryption is in place along with plenty of legal protection. Communication, developer services and productivity are the pillars for this project, says Smith.

More transparency of software code will part of the deal, with careful sealing of back doors that have consumers worried. As for the developer services, this will include Office 365, Outlook, Windows Azure and SkyDrive. Smith has promised the "best in-class industry cryptography to protect these channels, including Perfect Forward Secrecy and 2048-bit key lengths." Microsoft is working with many other companies to make sure that the data traveling between it and these companies is encrypted, too.

Keeping things legit

With reinforced legal protection comes transparency, and Microsoft has committed to consumers that they'll be notified of any legal orders that rightfully demand customer data. If gag orders come into the picture, Smith has vowed that each will be challenged in court, following in the footsteps of Apple (News - Alert)'s stringent attack on gag orders. This is seen as a fight for Microsoft, and the company plans to go all out to protect their customers and, by extension, themselves.

As for transparency, Smith has said the company will "open a network of transparency centers that will provide these customers with even greater ability to assure themselves of the integrity of Microsoft products. We'll open these centers in Europe, the Americas and Asia, and we'll further expand the range of products included in these programs."

These are doubtless fighting words for the tech giant, and their efforts haven't gone unnoticed. With Smith's revelation, customers took to social media to share their battle cries, concerns and words of encouragement and advice. This is a group effort like no other, and (unsurprisingly) the government hasn't formally responded.




Edited by Blaise McNamee