German official denies Microsoft software ban report

A report in German news magazine Der Spiegel that states that Germany's military will not use Microsoft Corp. software on computers in "sensitive areas" is wrong, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Monday.

"This report is wrong," said a defense ministry spokesman. "We have a general license contract with Microsoft, and that is remaining in force." He added that various security measures, including firewalls, are being implemented in consultation with the German federal IT security agency BSI (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik), but declined to give further details.

Der Spiegel reported in its March 17 online edition that the Defense Ministry is concerned that U.S. intelligence services could gain access to secret information. German security officials are aware that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has access to "all relevant source codes" to Microsoft software, Der Spiegel said. Authorities plan to rely on encryption technology from the German companies Siemens AG and Deutsche Telekom AG instead.

"There are no back doors in any Microsoft products," said spokeswoman Louise Conroy of Microsoft's Europe, Middle East, and Africa headquarters. "We're committed to providing secure products that can be used to protect the integrity of all our customers worldwide." Asked about reports that NSA had been given access to source codes, she would only say, "Over the years, Microsoft has had its products evaluated by independent third parties to confirm that they meet U.S., Canadian, and European security standards."

"In France we had such a comment in late February about NSA and software and source code," said Guillaume Tourres, a spokesman in Microsoft's Paris office. "The NSA rumor is coming back every two or three months. We are used to answering these questions."

He added that the company is in negotiations with the French government to grant access to source code. "We have a worldwide program where authorities will be able to have the source code of Windows and other Microsoft software," he said.

Microsoft has recently publicized plans to make source code more widely available to large corporate clients, in order to debug and customize their applications.

Der Spiegel further reported that Germany's Foreign Ministry has cancelled plans for video teleconferencing with its overseas delegations after establishing that all such satellite signals travel by way of Denver "for technical reasons."

"I can't confirm that," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Sparwasser. "The Foreign Ministry is continuing to carry out teleconferencing, between our offices in Bonn and Berlin, for example." She added that there are no plans for teleconferencing with overseas offices "because they are not set up technically to do that ... it's a question of money."

Sparwasser said that officials were aware of security concerns raised by teleconferencing technology. "Of course it's very difficult to make it completely secure against eavesdropping. We take that into account," she said.

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