Friday, April 13, 2007

Optimize windows xp security center settings

Microsoft beats the drum harder for SP2's new Security Center than for any other slice of the update, touting it as proof that the new-and-improved Windows XP is a lot more secure, thank you, than earlier editions.

Security Center, which you can reach from the Control Panel or from the new icon plopped into the Taskbar's system tray, is a bare-bones dashboard that shows the status of three things, Automatic Update, firewall protection, and antivirus defense, and warns you when, for instance, your virus definitions aren't up-to-date or the firewall has been turned off.

The Center isn't a new idea, although Microsoft may want you to think so. Frankly, similar displays have been around for ages. Worse, the new Center might not actually even detect your antivirus software or firewall (assuming you have them in place), which could lull you into a false sense of security (pun intended). And worse yet, its firewall, although better than no firewall, isn't up-to-snuff.

These tips will make Security Center slicker.

1. Make Security Center recognize your own security software.Although Microsoft made an effort to coordinate Security Center with third-party antivirus and firewall software, SP2 may not sniff out yours without an update.

For instance, although the Security Center should know if you have Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2004 installed on your PC, it probably can't determine that program's status--whether its virus definitions have been updated, for instance. You need to upgrade to AntiVirus 2005 or run Norton AntiVirus's own LiveUpdate to download a fix. (A fix was available via LiveUpdate for a short time in early September but was removed; it should be back up by the time you read this.) Symantec has planned corrections for older 2002 and 2003 editions of Norton AntiVirus, but it hasn't announced dates yet.

Not using Symantec's products? Check with the maker of your antivirus and firewall packages by heading to its Web site and searching for "SP2." You should locate any important SP2 compatibility updates this way.

2. Use a different firewall.
SP2 automatically turns on the new Windows Firewall by default, a big improvement since Windows has long hidden its firewall; you may not even have known that your old copy of XP came with one. But we don't think the firewall's adequate, primarily because it blocks only inbound traffic, not outbound, too. This oversight makes it possible for a worm or virus that arrives, say, by e-mail, to infect your machine, drop in a Trojan horse or another backdoor, then use your PC as a spam-spewing engine, all without Windows Firewall giving you as much as a howdy-do. Other firewalls will let you know of any unauthorized outbound Net traffic and block it.

Download ZoneAlarm 5.1, a free firewall that watches for both inbound and outbound threats. (Security Center recognizes only version 5.1, so if you're using an earlier ZoneAlarm version, please update it.) ZoneAlarm automatically disables Windows Firewall when it installs, so you're not needlessly running two firewalls.

3. Turn off the #&%$! alerts!
Despite the never-ending deluge of virus attacks, some of us did manage to keep our PCs protected before SP2--often with a more detailed dashboard display than Security Center offers. How? We used top-of-the-line at-home security products such as those from Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, or a host of other companies. And you can do the same. So how can we turn off Security Center's freakin' alerts? Here's how.

From the Start menu, choose Control Panel, then double-click Security Center.
Click "Change the way Security Center alerts me" in the Resources section on the left.
Clear the check boxes in the Alert Settings dialog marked Firewall and Virus Protection (also, Automatic Updates if you want to drop alerts for that). Click OK.

4. Make the Security Center disappear altogether. Obviously, this is a big deal; shut it down only if you're completely sure that you can maintain your own protection software.

From the Start menu, choose Run.
Type services.msc and hit Enter.
Scroll down until you see Security Center. Double-click it.
Set the Startup box to Disabled. Click OK

The change takes effect after you reboot

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