Microsoft XP SP2 Ready to Serve and Protect

By Dan Muse
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Microsoft ended nearly a year of anticipation Friday afternoon when it annnounced that it had released to manufacturing Windows XP Service Pack 2 with Advanced Technologies.

The service pack, which will be available both from Microsoft's Web site and as a free CD, addresses three main areas, according to Doug Leland, general manager for Microsoft's small business division. "It offers stronger security by default. Windows firewall technology, in the past, has been off by default." It also offers increased management, allowing a small business to manage the network centrally. And, third, it provides enhanced wireless features for both WiFi and Bluetooth security, Leland said. (More on the new features below.)

Given the far-reaching updates to security features in SP2, small business owners probably have little choice but to upgrade. What isn't 100 percent certain is how existing applications will work with changes introduced to the operating system via the new service pack.

Industry watchers agree that the substantial changes introduced with SP2 are needed to thwart current risks from hackers, viruses and other threats, but they also predict some applications may break under the weight of the new security enhancements.

While Leland downplayed incompatibility issues, saying only that some applications may need to be "optimized to turn on and off various ports" for SP2, Microsoft has been warning software developers and some large customers for months that some applications will break, according to reports published by Internetnews.com. While Microsoft has released technical previews so that customers and partners could test their own code against changes to the XP operating systems, just last week, it warned that SP2 will break its own CRM product.

One thing that everyone agrees about is that this a big update. Leland described the rollout as "comprehensive and broad," adding that the upgrade will be about 80-100 MB in size and that "the best and easiest way to get it is to enable Automatic Updates starting today." The download is optimized for both broadband and narrow band users, Leland said. SP2 will be distributed over a two-month period and will be localized in 25 languages. "It would have a huge impact on the Internet if everyone downloaded it at once," Leland said.

Microsoft's Automatic Updates feature uses unused Internet bandwidth to download updates taking a "trickle-down" approach, Leland said. Microsoft expects to distribute Service Pack 2 to approximately 100 million PCs through Automatic Updates over the next two months.

Leland said Microsoft is working with its hardware partners to ensure they can make Windows XP-based PCs preloaded with Service Pack 2 available as soon as possible.

Details on the updates and enhancements in Windows XP SP2 are as follows, according to Microsoft:


  • Windows Firewall is enabled by default in an "On-With-No-Exceptions Mode," which is designed to help customers guard against network-based attacks by unsolicited inbound traffic. The improved firewall also extends protection to a computer's boot time and shutdown process.
  • Attachment Manager is designed to establish better default protection against viruses spread through Outlook Express, Windows Messenger and Internet Explorer by isolating potentially unsafe attachments.
  • Code-level changes in Internet Explorer are designed to help protect against certain types of exploits. For example, Microsoft reports, it restricts script-initiated windows that are used to fool users by hiding Internet Explorer controls and concealing malicious activity.
  • Reduces the risk of buffer overrun vulnerabilities by helping prevent certain types of malicious code from attacking and overwhelming a computer's memory.
  • Internet Explorer Pop-up Blocker, enabled by default, is designed to reduce unwanted ads and content.
  • Internet Explorer Information Bar was created to provide better information about Internet Explorer settings and alert you to unsigned controls and downloads.
  • Internet Explorer download monitoring capabilities were built to identify and warn you about potentially harmful downloads and help them block unwanted and unauthorized code.
  • Windows XP SP2 includes updated support for Bluetooth, including a number of wireless keyboards and mice, wireless printers, and connections with cell phones and PDAs.

Management and Control

  • The Windows Security Center control panel is designed to monitor information on firewalls, Automatic Update and third-party anti-virus software.
  • Provides system administrators with more configuration options for Windows Firewall and Internet Explorer, such as Group Policy, command line, multicast support and unattended setup. Windows XP SP2 also enables administrators to better manage applications and increase compatibility with Windows Firewall by allowing only ports needed by an application to be open.
  • Allows administrators to manage and enforce a list of add-ons to Internet Explorer that are either permitted or disabled to enhance security and reduce the potential for crashes.
  • An updated wireless networking infrastructure is designed to enable easier setup and management of wireless connections. The new wireless LAN client was built to work with a broad range of wireless hot spots, allowing customers to connect seamlessly without having to install or update a third-party client. A new user interface also allows customers to more easily disconnect from hot spots.
More information on Service Pack 2 with Advanced Security Technologies is available here.

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.

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This article was originally published on August 09, 2004
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