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What you need to know about Windows XP SP2

Two Avanade consultants offer advice on how to prepare for the security update

By Christopher M. Burry and Steven Chanyi, Avanade
August 20, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 amounts to a major "life event" for companies using the Windows platform. The update represents a major step forward in security, and many organizations will seriously consider it for several reasons. Those that plan to deploy the update need to understand several important features. Even those that don't use it still will need to consider the service pack's impact.
Key Changes With SP2
The new service pack includes a desktop firewall, enhancements to Internet Explorer, memory protection and tools for management and remote administration.

  • Firewall, Internet Explorer enhancements block intrusion, infection
    The desktop firewall arrives installed and turned on by default, and is arguably the most significant aspect of the software. It helps tighten device security on all networks -- especially those in public places.
    There have been plenty of horror stories about employees using wireless networks at the airport or in cafes. Although they don't realize it, file sharing is tied to the network on which they're working, so anyone interested in perusing anything available on their laptop can do so, without the users' knowledge or consent.
    The firewall in SP2 blocks inbound access attempts according to the local, or group, policy in effect. For outbound connections, the user is alerted to a connection attempt, and asked to allow or deny it. IT administrators can configure devices through group policy to conform to their security policy. SP2 adds roughly 600 new group policy objects, providing a finer degree of control than before.
    Enhancements to Internet Explorer block pop-ups and ActiveX controls that can result in inadvertent download of malicious code such as viruses or spyware. Users get an audible signal and warning message that a pop-up has been blocked. They can then unblock the feature for that page.

  • Protection against DoS attacks
    SP2 should help significantly with denial-of-service (DoS) attacks caused by buffer overflows, when too much data is sent to an application's temporary storage area -- sometimes causing that excess data to act as executable code. One of the most popular DoS exploits, buffer overflows will now be prevented from executing commands and will shut down systems instead. It's an inconvenience that's worth the peace of mind that no code can be launched and the device won't be further damaged.
    Several other service pack features strengthen administrative security control. Internet Explorer has a new interface for managing add-ins that extend browser capabilities, such as PDF viewing.

Considerations for Companies That Deploy -- and Those That Don't
Whether or not they roll out the update, we're advising clients on SP2 issues involving application development and

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