Windows XP with SP2: A First Look at Today’s Networking Infrastructure

Windows XP is fondly remembered today, but in fact the initially shipped version of that operating system was probably the most insecure product Microsoft has ever shipped.
That wasn’t obvious at the time, of course, but during the first year of XP’s release, hackers launched an unprecedented number of electronic attacks on the system, causing Microsoft to halt new OS development for about nine months so that it could devise its Trustworthy Computing initiative and apply the security principles it learned during this process to its products. The first product to ship after this period was Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), which included a number of security technologies that Microsoft had originally intended to ship first in its next OS, now called Windows 7.

Before moving on to what’s changed since then, we will look at the security technologies
Microsoft introduced in XP SP2 to see how they compare to their Windows 7 counterparts. When you think about it, many OS security features are directly related to networking because the most common way for hackers to attack a PC is electronically, over the network; and with pervasive broadband Internet connections becoming increasingly common, understanding these technologies is critical for anyone using a Windows PC today:

• Automatic Updating: Beginning with Windows XP with SP2, Windows users received a full-screen advertisement for Automatic Updating, the Windows Update–based service that automatically keeps your Windows PC up-to-date with the latest critical security updates. Microsoft also began using subfile patch-management technologies, keeping the download sizes to a minimum and speeding updates.

• Windows Firewall: While the originally shipped version of Windows XP did in fact ship with firewall software, it was disabled by default and most Windows software was written with the assumption that no firewall existed. Because firewalls are designed to control the network traffic coming into and going out of your PC, this type of software is key to preventing unwanted software—such as viruses and other malware—from performing dangerous actions and potentially enabling a hacker to remotely control the PC.

• Windows Security Center: In XP SP2, this dashboard monitors the state of the firewall, antivirus, and automatic updating functionality installed on the computer and ensures that they’re running and up-to-date. (The Windows Vista version was improved to monitor other security features, including antispyware, User Account Control, and Internet Explorer 7’s anti-phishing feature, among others.) In Windows 7, this functionality has been expanded yet again to include system maintenance and other monitoring. As a result, the feature has been renamed Action Center.

• Internet Explorer: IE6 was dramatically improved in SP2 with a new pop-up blocker, protection against so-called “drive-by” downloads, a new Manage Addons applet, and other security-oriented features. Manage Add-ons was significantly enhanced in IE7 and Windows Vista, and of course IE8 adds even more security controls.

• Attachment blocking: Both Outlook Express (e‑mail) and Windows Messenger (instant messaging) were upgraded with blocking functionality for unsafe attachments in XP SP2. Today, both products have been upgraded significantly and moved into the Windows Live initiative, with Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Messenger, respectively.

• Wireless networking: In the originally shipped version of Windows XP, wireless networking configuration was almost nonexistent. If there was a wireless network nearby, the system would simply connect to it, security be damned. Microsoft changed this behavior slightly in Service Pack 1, adding a block that prevented automatic connections to insecure networks. In SP2, Microsoft applied several changes that were later included in Vista as well, including a new Wireless Connection application and a simple Wireless Network Setup Wizard. Things are even simpler in Windows 7, as you’ll soon see.

Put simply, Windows XP Service Pack 2 was a tough upgrade because the security improvements broke a lot of existing applications, causing headaches for users, IT administrators, and application developers at the time. However, these security changes were necessary and have made the transition to Windows Vista and Windows 7 that much easier.

Source of Information : Wiley Windows 7 Secrets (2009)

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