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How to stay secure with Windows XP Security Center

The Windows Security Center provides you with a handy link to the latest security tools in XP SP2. Learn about Security Center and how to use three XP SP2 tools to stay secure.

Although many people view Windows XP Service Pack 2 as just another service pack, it was originally slated to be a major new release of Windows XP called Windows XP Reloaded. This being the case, Microsoft didn't just fix bugs and patch security holes, they added some new features. The crown jewel of these new features is the Security Center. In this tip, I'll explain how to use the Security Center and walk you through some must-have XP SP2 tools.

The Security Center is found within the Control Panel. When you click on the giant battle shield with the Windows logo colors, you are taken to the main Security Center screen. The top portion of this screen consists of a section called Security Essentials, which doesn't really have any tools for you to use. It simply advises that in order to keep your PC secure, you must install and use a firewall, configure the automatic updates feature to keep Windows current, and install antivirus software and keep it up to date.

Although the Security Essentials section doesn't let you do anything, Microsoft doesn't leave you completely stranded. The Resources section on the left contains links to find security and virus information, download the latest Windows updates and get help with security-related issues.

The centerpiece of the Security Center is a collection of three icons at the bottom: Internet Options, Automatic Updates and Windows Firewall. Here I'll run through the most useful aspects of each feature.

Internet Options

If you click the Internet Options link, you are taken to the same screen you would see if you opened Internet Explorer and selected the Internet Options command from the Tools menu. At first glance, it appears as though nothing about Internet Explorer has changed -- but a lot has.

One of the most significant changes is the addition of the Manage Add-Ons button on the Programs tab. As you probably know, there are a million malicious Web sites that will hijack Internet Explorer or add malicious software to your browser. Manage Add-Ons allows you to see exactly what has been linked to Internet Explorer and disable it if necessary.

Another major new feature is the addition of a pop-up blocker. You can access the pop-up blocker from the Privacy tab. You can then enable it by selecting a check box, but there is a Settings button that allows you to refine the pop-up blocker's behavior. You can do things like control which site's pop-ups are blocked and the level of pop-up filtering that Internet Explorer should perform.

Automatic Updates

As you may recall, one recommendation in the Security Essentials section was that you keep Windows up to date. If you click the Automatic Updates icon, you are taken to a screen that allows you to configure Windows to keep itself updated automatically.

The Automatic Updates screen has four options. The default (recommended) option is automatically downloads and installs updates each day. You can even schedule a time for the updates to be installed so they don't interfere with your work. Other options enable you to download updates, but you choose when to install them, get update notifications that aren't automatically downloaded or installed, and turn off automatic updates. I personally recommend setting Windows to automatically download and install automatic updates.

Windows Firewall

If you click on the Windows Firewall link, you are taken to its properties sheet. Windows Firewall is now turned on by default and outsiders are blocked from connecting to your computer. The Exceptions tab allows you to specify ports or programs that should be able to penetrate the firewall, but you can block these programs by selecting the No Exceptions check box on the General tab.

The Advanced tab allows you to specify which connections should be filtered. You can also use this tab to control security logging and ICMP filtering.

For More Information

  • Get service pack resources in the Fast Guide to XP SP2 security
  • Test XP SP2 applications with Microsoft's downloadable kit
  • Find out why some XP systems may retrieve automatic updates

  • Dig Deeper on Windows legacy operating systems

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