Service Pack 2 Security Center
Do you have it yet? Well if you don’t you probably soon will. Of course I’m talking about XP Service Pack 2. What Microsoft says about this update is that it’s basically a security overhaul—fixing known exploits in Windows as well as incorporating the new Security Center (SC). This is a control panel if you will, for your new integrated firewall, and other security settings. You can reach the SC though your Control Panel.
The main interface is split into three panels that monitor different aspects of security on your PC.
The first panel monitors your Firewall configuration, but this isn’t really the place to change your settings, it has it’s own icon in the Control Panel and at the bottom of the SC for that. The panel does have a link to a help file so you can get acquainted with the new Windows firewall, and links out to other options you can set. If you select the firewall icon from the Control Panel or the bottom of the SC you will see the available settings you can configure. On the general tab you can turn the firewall On/Off (On by default), and choose to use exceptions or not. The next tab “Exceptions” allows you to plug in applications, and even specific port numbers that can bypass the firewall in order to perform their job. The last tab in firewall is the Advanced tab, which is for fine-tuning your firewall. In this area you can configure multiple connections, set security logs, and block ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol). One thing to keep in mind with the Windows firewall is that it only blocks traffic from entering your PC not exiting, and Microsoft recommends that you use a third party firewall for better protection.
The second panel in the SC is the Automatic Updates, which can be set up in one of two ways: On/Off. It’s kind of an odd setup—the automatic updates can’t be turned off in SC, but can be turned On in this location. Keep in mind that Service Pack 2 automatically turns this On just like the firewall, so if you don’t want this option enabled check out yesterday’s tip ( 9/7/04 ).
The third panel is the Antivirus notification area. There you can view the status of your antivirus software. Is it out of date? Is your subscription almost up? You can find it here in one convenient place. The Monitor will also warn you if you simply disable your antivirus software, let’s say for a software install for example. Again, there are no areas in here to actually configure your antivirus—you’ll have to do that within your antivirus program. There is basically one option you can perform from the Windows antivirus monitor, and that is disabling the feature altogether and monitor it yourself. Of course I can’t forget the ever-helpful link that is provided, to help me jump from topic to topic in order to learn how antivirus software protects my system.
Below the Three previously mentioned panels there are icons that link to the Automatic updates, MS Firewall, and Internet options. These icons make changing settings that much easier to manage and add functionality to the SC.
Before I sign off there is one more area on the SC worth discussing—the links on the left side of the Window. There are five links over there and some of them are more useful than others. The first 3 are all links to Microsoft’s’ website: the Security portion, the Updates page, and the Home Users Help and Support page which makes it easier for the casual user to stay on top of things. The fourth link is basically the “Help” file for the SC, and the last link is actually a setting where you can change how the components of SC warn you of security vulnerabilities.
Well that’s it for this weeks’ tip on the Windows Security Console, and after playing with it for a while I’d say it’s a convenient way to view your security settings. I like the fact that you can actually configure some settings in the firewall for a change, but can’t for the life of me understand why the firewall isn’t full functioning. Have fun with SP2.
Stay safe out there,