Microsoft Corp. is encouraging its partners to help the software giant deliver several new security initiatives, which it announced to yesterday at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.

Mike Nash made the announcements during Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s keynote speech. Ballmer said

partners are Microsoft’s number one priority and encouraged them to “”go out and win”” business in the marketplace.

These include Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), ISA Server 2004 and Network Access Protection technologies.

Microsoft said SP2, which will be available next month, will provide safer browsing, stronger default security settings and automatic installation of new security features to protect customers from hackers, viruses and other security risks.

Nash announced the immediate availability of ISA Server, an application firewall, virtual private network (VPN) and Web cache solution. Ten solutions providers including Cloudmark, FilterLogix and Forum Systems Inc. announced supporting products at the conference.

On the hardware side, Hewlett-Packard released the HP ProLiant DL320 firewall/VPN/cache server running ISA Server. Celestix Networks, Network Engines Inc., Pyramid Computer, RimApp Technologies and Wortmann AG announced plans to release hardware solutions based on the application.

Nash also announced 25 companies will that support Microsoft’s Network Access Protection technologies. They include anti-virus software, patch management and systems management developers such as Computer Associates International Inc., Symantec Corp. and Citrix Systems Inc. Network Access Protection, based on an open standards-based architecture, provides users increased security when accessing their corporate network through network policy validation, restriction and policy compliance.

The solution will be available in an update release of Windows Server 2003, code-named “”R2,”” which has been delayed until next year.

Nash said Network Access Protection presents resellers an opportunity for customization and maintenance and security to make sure the architecture is working.

He told reporters at a media roundtable discussion that Microsoft’s new security software focuses on making sure customers feel safe from attacks and lowering cost of management through automation and simplicity.

Microsoft’s experience with Blaster helped it refine customer needs and issues, he said. Nash outlined five pillars of Microsoft’s security strategy based on its experience and customer feedback.

These include reducing the vulnerabilities in software such as having firewall on by default and understanding browsing better to eliminate malicious code through pop-ups.

Nash stressed the importance of getting customers to update their software more regularly. He said Microsoft has seen an upturn recently with 150,000 servers coming to Microsoft.com each month to update.

Nash added, Microsoft has to make software more secure by design, default and deployment. Microsoft Server 2003 had 13 critical updates, down from 42 in the previous version, he said.

“”Microsoft needs to provide more guidance to customers and partners. Microsoft has released 150 new guides to help customers solve IT problems and has trained 525,000 tech professionals, of which one quarter were partners,”” he said.

Ryan Groom, founder and CEO of CyberSecure, said his experience with Microsoft has proved the company’s commitment to partners. CyberSecure is Fredericton, N.B.-based company and a Microsoft Gold Certified partner that specializes in security services.

Groom has used ISA Server 2000 in beta and is looking forward to the new release.

“”It’s worthy of a true upgrade,”” he said, adding that ISA Server 2004 is a next generation product and not just a few new features. “”I’m excited about getting customers on the full release.””

On updating customers’ technology, Groom used an analogy from a colleague: “”Windows NT is like a horse and chariot going up against a big tank.”” Groom said that version of Windows was created before the Internet was big and said people need to realize that there’s a big difference there.

Jeff Posluns, chief innovations officer at Whitehat Inc., a Burlington, Ont.-based security solution provider said WhiteHat has audited ISA Server and is running the beta version in its labs. “”It’s a great technology to have available to organizations,”” he said.

Posluns said he hopes that the update release of Windows Server 2003 has more stringent controls and default secure configurations. He said the optimal solution is where the system administrator could enable configurations one by one as they decide what they need or don’t need.

The conference wraps up today.

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