WinXP SP2: stop moaning and get downloading

Real progress for Redmond

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

Opinion At long last, Service Pack 2 for XP has arrived. Like many in the security community, I'm excited about this, as it represents real, true progress for Microsoft and their commitment to security. This is not just a Service Pack - it really includes functionality, usability, and core changes in the underlying code extensive enough to be called "XP2". In fact, I think I'll just call it that from here on out.

In addition to code changes, XP2 also represents a tangible shift in the way Microsoft is embracing security: they are putting security concerns before functionality, and in some cases, this will actually break existing applications. Though it will make some developers out there continue to work overtime, this too is a very, very good thing.

XP2's feature set is a veritable laundry-list of security enhancements, as well as new functionality: Windows Firewall, new IE security features, wireless provisioning, memory protection schemes, and even new peer-to-peer functionality... The list goes on and on.

With that in mind, it is important for you to deploy XP2 with a plan. While no one should ever deploy a service pack without planning and testing, some IT folks do it all the time. In the case of XP2, that will probably cause some problems.

For instance, in our shop we use Remote Desktop all the time as a secure means of remotely administering clients and troubleshooting issues. By default, Windows Firewall blocks remote desktop (TCP 3389) connections, even if the system was configured to allow remote desktop connections when SP2 was applied. While WF is very easily (and extensively) customizable both through Group Policy and via the Netfw.inf file during install, one should know this type of thing going in.

Another example is the difference between the default WF settings on domain members versus workgroup systems: File and Printer Sharing is enabled by default on domain members (allowing TCP 139, TCP 445, UDP 137, and UDP 138 from other IP's in the same subnet), while it is not on non-domain systems belonging to a workgroup. While these options may be intuitive, they are far more intuitive when you know them up front.

If you are part of the IT staff, it is highly recommended that you spend time at the XP2 site. If you manage the IT staff, then give your people the time and resources they need to deploy XP2 correctly. You'll be happy you did. More importantly, you'll be really put out if you don't.

Everyone's a critic

Now, even with these tremendous advancements in XP, some people are going out of there way to find fault with it, as they seem to do with all things Microsoft. In fact, some of this is just downright hypocritical. Security researchers and analysts continually blast Microsoft for security issues, and have done so forever (I've even done it.) But now that the company has responded in a significant way, it gets bad press for releasing a Service Pack that might break ISV applications.

The truth here is that if an application breaks, it really did need fixing anyway. And it's not like XP2 snuck up on us, either: most development documentation has been around since last year. Its just that some are waiting until now to get on board. We as a security community have to embrace and support XP2 if we want to continue to make headway in this space.

And for heaven's sake, stop with the "Microsoft should backport XP SP2 into SP's for earlier OSes". Even if you still consider Windows 2000 "current," the fact is that it began development over 9 years ago, and there is no way any backport of a Service Pack will ever bring Win2k to the level of XP/2003. People who think it can clearly don't understand the development model or the code base. Fortunately, there is a front-port for Win2k: it's called "XP." If you care about security, and want a powerful platform that is easily to manage while maintaining extremely granular controls from an administrative standpoint, then upgrade to XP. XP2 really makes this the way to go.

In an earlier column I identified old software as a contributing factor to security issues, prompting a flood of "Who the hell do you think you are telling me I have to upgrade?" emails. Well, I'm someone who cares about computer security. I'm not telling anyone they "have" to upgrade, but I will say that if you make the choice (or your company does for you) to maintain older, less secure software when you know something far better is out there, then you must take responsibility for your security posture.

Not withstanding that rant, XP2 is really worth the upgrade. The firestorm of debate among security professionals over whether Microsoft should withhold XP SP2 from users with pirated copies of XP demonstrates the importance of this upgrade. Regardless of your views of this from a policy standpoint, if we are to accept that the Internet as a whole will be in dire peril from worm and virus attacks launched by systems without SP2, then we must also accept that XP/SP2 is an absolute requirement for everyone else. It's somewhat ironic that the more outspoken against Microsoft on this issue actually ended up making a rather compelling argument for upgrading.

But my point here is not to bust on other people. (Did I really say that? I must be getting old.) My point is to bring to your attention the vast improvements that XP2 offers, even in the face of some continued bad press. It really is "all that," and you should take a serious look at what benefits your company can gain from its deployment.

Copyright © 2004, 0

SecurityFocus columnist Timothy M. Mullen is CIO and Chief Software Architect for AnchorIS.Com, a developer of secure, enterprise-based accounting software. AnchorIS.Com also provides security consulting services for a variety of companies, including Microsoft Corporation.

Related stories

Microsoft drops WinXP SP2 surprise onto Beta site
How to order WinXP SP2 now
WinXP Starter Edition - MS spins an ecosystem from crippleware

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Inside the Hekaton: SQL Server 2014's database engine deconstructed
Nadella's database sqares the circle of cheap memory vs speed
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
IRS boss on XP migration: 'Classic fix the airplane while you're flying it attempt'
Plus: Condoleezza Rice at Dropbox 'maybe she can find ... weapons of mass destruction'
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
prev story


Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.