German IT agency sets record straight on IE

In response to the growing number of viruses infecting computers, a spokesman for Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has suggested that users consider alternatives to Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser. But the agency did not recommend that users steer clear of Microsoft products, the spokesman said, refuting a press release issued Tuesday by browser developer Opera Software ASA.

“Microsoft products are the target of many virus writers,” BSI spokesman Michael Dickopf said in an interview Wednesday. “If computer users want to avoid viruses and Trojans, they may want to consider using alternatives to Microsoft software.”

However, Dickopf said, BSI “did not issue any warning against using Microsoft products.”

The Opera press release, entitled “German Government Computing Security Body Recommends Switch to Opera,” was based on a story published Monday by online news site The Register, according to Opera spokesman Pal Hvistendahl. Opera did not contact BSI directly in preparing its release, he said.

The Register report was based, in turn, on a story published Saturday in the German daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung. In that story, Dickopf was one of several experts interviewed on the topic of computer viruses and worms, and on recent phishing attacks in the country. The BSI spokesman was paraphrased as saying that he “indirectly advised” Internet users to switch from IE to Mozilla or Opera. He was directly quoted saying that, “Whoever doesn’t use Internet Explorer can’t be affected by these viruses and worms.”

The IT industry is closely monitoring the procurement behavior of governments, which traditionally have been big users of Microsoft products but increasingly are becoming interested in the use of open-source alternatives to save money and reduce security risks.

In Europe, the German government has been at the forefront of promoting the use of open source software in the public sector. Cost has been the key driver for its support of Linux and other open source products. But over the past year, security has also become an issue.

Microsoft has responded to the developments by offering discounts to the country’s vast public sector and agreeing to provide special assistance with software security.

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