Microsoft patent 7617530, the flap about sudo

The blogosphere has been buzzing with indignation about a Microsoft patent application 7617530 that apparently was granted earlier this month. You can read the application here.

Yes, enough people have complained that this is like sudo and why did Microsoft get a patent for this. In fairness the patent does attempt to distinguish what is being claimed from sudo and provides copious references to sudo. What few have mentioned is that the thing that Microsoft patents is in fact the exact functionality that some systems like Ubuntu use to allow non-privileged users to perform privileged tasks.

In PC Magazine, Matthew Murray writes,

Because a graphical interface is not a part of sudo, it seems clear the patent refers to a Windows component and not a Linux one. The patent even references several different online sudo resources, further suggesting Microsoft isn’t trying to put anything over on anyone. The same section’s reference to “one, many, or all accounts having sufficient rights” suggests a list that sudo also doesn’t possess.

IMHO, they may be missing something here.

Let’s set that all aside. What I find interesting is this. The patent application states, and I reproduce three paragraphs of the patent application here and have highlighted three sentences (the first sentences in each paragraph).

Standard user accounts permit some tasks but prohibit others. They permit most applications to run on the computer but often prohibit installation of an application, alteration of the computer’s system settings, and execution of certain applications. Administrator accounts, on the other hand, generally permit most if not all tasks.

Not surprisingly, many users log on to their computers with administrator accounts so that they may, in most cases, do whatever they want. But there are significant risks involved in using administrator accounts. Malicious code may, in some cases, perform whatever tasks are permitted by the account currently in use, such as installing and deleting applications and files–potentially highly damaging tasks. This is because most malicious code performs its tasks while impersonating the current user of the computer–thus, if a user is logged on with an administrator account, the malicious code may perform dangerous tasks permitted by that account.

To reduce these risks, a user may instead log on with a standard user account. Logging on with a standard user account may reduce these risks because the standard user account may not have the right to permit malicious code to perform many dangerous tasks. If the standard user account does not have the right to perform a task, the operating system may prohibit the malicious code from performing that task. For this reason, using a standard user account may be safer than using an administrator account.

Absolutely! Most people don’t realize that they are logged in as users with Administrator rights and can inadvertently do damaging things.

My question is this: why is the default user created when you install Windows on a PC an administrator user? As you go through the install process, the thing asks you questions like “what is your name” and “how would you like to login to your PC”. It uses this to setup the first user on the machine. Why is that user an administrator user?

If you are smart (and if Microsoft really wanted to be good about this) the installation process would create two users. A day-to-day user who is non-Administrator, and an Administrator user.

I’m a PC and if Windows 8 comes up with an installation process that creates two users, a non-administrator user and an administrator user, then it would have been my idea. But, I don’t intend to go green holding my breath for this to happen. Someone tell me if it does.

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