In Wake of Security Flap, MS Launches .NET Ads

Microsoft Corp. is making its pitch to enterprise customers for its new .NET Web services platform with a new, $200 million ad campaign that comes, ironically, just days after the discovery of a major security hole in the software giant’s newest offering.

Starting Monday, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft will launch television and print ads from its “One Degree of Separation” campaign, which aims to show how the company’s enterprise software and .NET technology can integrate companies’ business systems — allowing for easier flow of information within enterprises, and to partners and customers.

Developed by Microsoft’s longtime agency, the San Francisco office of Interpublic’s McCann-Erickson, the “Separation” campaign will seek to make its point by highlighting the successes of particular .NET customers, including Dollar Rent A Car, Nasdaq, Pfizer Inc. and the online unit of music and video retailer Trans World Entertainment Corp.

The yearlong campaign will break simultaneously in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S., with ads running in prime-time and during major sporting events.

Strategically, “Separation” ties into the company’s earlier “Software for the Agile Business” campaign, launched in January of 2001. Microsoft said that effort — which similarly focused on Microsoft’s software as a tool to help businesses stay competitive in a tight market — helped grow the company’s enterprise software revenue by more than 20 percent during the year. Microsoft is again expecting sizable returns out of its 2002 campaign.

“This past year Microsoft demonstrated how it could succeed in the $90 billion enterprise software industry by providing companies with flexible technology solutions built on Windows 2000 and the family of .NET Enterprise Servers,” said Mike Delman, general manager of advertising at Microsoft. “This campaign marks a milestone for Microsoft as we take our first strategic step in demonstrating that .NET is now not only possible, but available to enterprise customers worldwide.”

However, even before Microsoft has taken that first step, the nation’s largest software company found itself defending its work on .NET on Thursday. A software expert released information claiming that he had found a security hole in Visual C++ .NET, the software that Microsoft sells to enable programmers to write code for .NET applications. As a result of the hole, that expert, Cigital chief technology officer Gary McGraw, claimed that any application written for .NET would be vulnerable to hackers using a buffer overflow attack to gain control of the computer.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has responded by saying that McGraw not only misrepresented the “hole” — which was actually a documented testing feature, it said — but sought to gain publicity after Cigital had been turned down for earlier security work on Microsoft products.

“When companies are behaving responsibly in a security setting, they generally go to the company that made the products in advance of publishing — 72 hours to a couple of months ahead of time,” said John Montgomery, group product manager for the .NET Framework at Microsoft. “Instead, they came to us about the same time they released their white paper to the Wall Street Journal. In this particular case, there’s no security vulnerability, but Cigital said there is, and gave us no time to respond. That’s irresponsible and unprofessional.”

“It is such an obvious PR play on thier part that it’s irritating,” he added.

Nevertheless, having to address Cigital’s charges about a security flaw in its newest product is clearly irksome for Microsoft, all the more so because the news comes less than a month after the press learned that Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates had directed employees to concentrate on building more secure software.

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