Secure your computer with Windows XP Service Pack 2

Microsoft released a new service pack for its operating system late last month. Users of Windows XP are advised to install this service pack to secure their computers against viruses, hackers and other nuisances.

Regular followers of technology will be well aware of the security issues that surround many of Microsoft’s products. As the most popular operating system in the world, Windows XP is a frequent target for attacks by malicious users of the internet.

Since its launch in 2001, Windows XP has amassed a long list of vulnerabilities. These include holes in the operating system which have allowed viruses to send junk emails from infected computers, snoopers to steal credit card details, and backdoors allowing hackers to use innocent peoples’ machines to attack larger targets.

Microsoft regularly makes patches available to repair these bugs in their system. Every so often they release a Service Pack which contains all existing patches as well as more substantial changes to the operating system.

Service Pack 2 is the biggest such package made available since Windows XP’s launch. Microsoft is billing it as a “major and significant security update for Windows.” Indeed, there are few visible new features added to Windows by installing the system.

The most prominent feature is the Security Center – a single place to get information about Anti-Virus, Firewall and Windows Update status. The Security Center monitors your computer’s security applications and lets you know if anything is not working properly.

Another new feature firmly rooted in security is the Windows Firewall. This programme prevents other computers connecting to yours without permission. When running you will be notified when an attempt to connect is made, and given the option to allow it or not – you would need to do this when using Messenger for example.

An update to Internet Explorer gives you more control over pop-up windows – the annoying adverts that often fill your screen whilst browsing the web. When a web site tries to open a pop-up Internet Explorer now plays a sound, and displays a new information bar telling you what happened. You can then select whether to allow pop-ups from a particular site – something you will only occasionally want to do.

For users of Wireless networking, the new Wireless LAN wizard and interface make it more straight-forward to set up networks and connect to existing ones. Bluetooth support is also added for those with Bluetooth enabled mobile phones
and other such gadgets.

Less visible features include blocking of some spyware, preventing automatic downloading of images and attachments in emails by Outlook Express, and more warnings when you are trying to do something that may be risky, such as open downloaded files.

Who needs it?

Service Pack 2 does not provide any exciting new functionality that might encourage you to get it immediately, yet Microsoft are determined that as many users of windows will install it as possible.

Users who do not use the internet at all do not really need to install the service pack. Everyone else should seriously consider it, despite the size of the file to be downloaded.

How to get Service Pack 2

The simplest way to get Service Pack 2 on a computer connected to the internet is by switching on Automatic Updates in Windows XP. You can switch this on by following instructions at Microsoft’s web site. Automatic Update downloads and installs Service Pack 2 while you work.

If you have an office or caf� full of computers you might not want to burden your internet connection with several automatic downloads. You can download the full installation pack from Microsoft at www.microsoft.com/downloads/
select Windows XP Service Pack 2 Network Installation Package. This can be burnt onto CD or shared on a network, from where it can be installed on any computer.

Local ISPs might consider making installation CDs available to larger clients.

Problems with Service Pack 2

In May articles appeared on the internet saying Microsoft had decided to allow the service pack to be installed on computers running pirated versions of Windows XP. This would have been a sensible step, as the more insecure computers there are in the world, the less secure we all are. Sadly the rumours were not true. Microsoft maintains a list of the most commonly copied registration codes for Windows, and blocks Service Pack installation on computers using them. Unfortunately this covers a large number of computer users in Tanzania. If this applies to you, you have the choice of obtaining a legitimate
copy of Windows or carrying on regardless – note that smaller patches will install on pirated versions of Windows. Or you could install a free operating system such as Linux.

A number of programmes stop working when you install Service Pack 2. These are mainly programmes which access the internet and are now blocked by the new Firewall, although some games and high end business applications are also affected. A list of known problems can be found on Microsoft’s site.

Opinion is currently divided over Service Pack 2 – is it an attempt by Microsoft to fix well known security flaws, or is it a large marketing download? My experience was a long download with an easy installation – certainly worth it for the peace of mind knowing you are up to date with your security.

Originally published in Arusha Times 336

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