Article for Website Compass magazine

Safe & Secure
Securing Your Computer with Windows XP Service Pack 2

More than ever, your computer’s security is subject to attack. In addition to ever-prevalent e-mail spam, hackers are increasingly targeting security holes in home computers, and about 80,000 known viruses are circulating online. And with the recent rise of surveillance software (called spyware and adware) the data stored on millions of computers have been compromised.

Microsoft responded to this growing threat with the August 2004 release of Windows XP Service Pack 2, a bundle of significant security enhancements to Windows XP, Microsoft’s latest operating system.

Service Pack 2 isn’t a cure-all, but many industry experts say the following Service Pack 2 features are a big step toward a more secure computing experience.

Windows Firewall. Service Pack 2 comes with Windows Firewall, which gives computer users a software shield against viruses, worms and hackers.

Communication tool enhancements. Hackers have long taken advantage of the notorious flaws found in Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Service Pack 2 seeks to close these security holes.

Service Pack 2 gives Internet Explorer a built-in pop-up blocker, eliminating those annoying pop-up advertisements that can also be used to surreptitiously plop surveillance software on your hard drive. In addition, Outlook and Windows Messenger get an “Attachment Manager,” which isolates attachments you have opened, preventing unsafe attachments from infecting your computer.

Windows Security Center. This toolbar alerts you when antivirus software and Windows Firewall are turned off or not operable. The toolbar’s Automatic Updates feature automatically downloads and installs new Windows XP fixes as they become available.

Service Pack 2 offers other improvements, such as simpler wireless connections and better multimedia capabilities, but it’s these improved security features that make it an essential Windows XP upgrade.

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How to Get Service Pack 2
You have two ways to obtain Windows XP Service Pack 2: as a download from Microsoft or a software distribution website or as a compact disc that’s mailed to you.

If you are already running Windows XP, the easiest way to obtain Service Pack 2 is to turn on Windows XP’s Automatic Updates feature. You can also download Service Pack 2 from Microsoft’s Windows Update website (windowsupdate.microsoft.com). Both ways automate the download and installation process.

The full version of Service Pack 2 is a mammoth 266 megabytes, which translates into a nearly 11-hour download with a 56K dial-up connection. A broadband connection can do the job in less than hour. Given this lengthy download time, plan the download for a time when your computer can complete the task without interruption.

A more practical solution for dial-up users is to have Microsoft mail you a free Service Pack 2 CD. Just go to microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/updates/sp2/cdorder/en_us and follow the instructions there.

Before you install Service Pack 2, Microsoft recommends that you uninstall unwanted software, back up all important files, and research your PC manufacturer’s website for any instructions unique to your computer. Also, make sure you have the latest version of your third-party antivirus program and firewall before your install the service pack.

It’s important to note that Service Pack 2 does not contain an antivirus program or e-mail filters. If you have a third-party firewall running, it will work with Service Pack 2’s Windows Firewall, but you should still have the latest version installed before you download Service Pack 2.

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