EU struggles with diversifying technology

Heterogeneous provide their own headaches for security professionals.

In the immortal words of the Young Ones "[A] social conscience is like a garden shed. If you try to eat it, it will stick in your throat!". At least that is the lesson that the EU seems to be learning in its efforts to promote greater competition in the technology industry as it tries to implement the use of alternate (to Microsoft) office software and operating systems that adhere to open standards.

The EU has been busy over the last couple of years with a range of antitrust proceedings against Microsoft, including the levying of significant fines (Euro 1.6 billion) for Microsoft failing to adhere to antitrust rulings issued against the company.

There are a number of success stories from within the EU of agencies and governments that have made the move to an open platform, most notably that of the city of Munich, but there are others where the attempted transition hasn't been as smooth as anticipated. Critics might point to a lack of desire to completely make the transition to an open environment, but with it enshrined in policy, the EU is going to provide valuable case studies to other organisations that might be contemplating a similar move, by showing methods that do work and more importantly methods and policies that don't work for transitioning between platforms and technologies.

While open source advocates might like nothing more than to see a complete move away from proprietary platforms, the reality is that in many cases there needs to be some level of ongoing support of proprietary technology. The European Commission (EC) is keeping this option open with an ongoing support contract with Microsoft -- out to 2011 at this stage.

Conspiracy theorists and those who look for the Microsoft bogeyman under every rock might see a platform-specific focus in the statements attributed to the EU's director of corporate IT solutions and services (responsible for recommending software for the EC), but it demonstrates some of the difficulties associated with convincing existing hierarchy of the benefits associated with diversifying capability.

The push to make operating environments heterogeneous is one that many Information Security professionals have recommended to limit the effect of platform specific attacks. An obvious downside is that it means that those who are tasked to monitor and protect systems will need to have a broader skillset. The EU's own Internet security body, ENISA, recently received a commitment to funding for another three years, but with a budget of less than Euro 8 million, the body seems to be more of an observer than an active participant in managing the EU's security needs.

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