Service Pack 2 receives patchy response

Only half of the IT departments in the world will use the automatic update feature to download Microsoft’s latest security initiative, according to UK-based security company Mi2g.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  October 2, 2004

|~|Mazen-Shehadeh-1.jpg|~|Mazen Shehadeh, product marketing manager at Microsoft South Gulf.|~|Microsoft, which released Windows XP Service Pack 2 in August, is now ramping up its initiatives to encourage more customers to deploy the patch. The software giant expects to distribute Service Pack 2 to approximately 100 million PCs through automatic updates by the end of October. “SP2 is a significant step towards making PCs more resilient in the face of evolving threats. It [SP2] delivers the latest security updates and establishes strong default security settings [through] proactive protection features,” says Mazen Shehadeh, product marketing manager at Microsoft South Gulf. Despite the vendor’s best efforts, SP2 has received mixed reactions from its enterprise customers. An average company using Windows XP will encounter compatibility problems on 10.3% of its XP-based machines, according to Asset Metrix. The research firm’s findings are based on its survey of 324 companies from various sectors that use Windows XP-based PCs. Asset Metrix analysed the installation of software applications, which Microsoft is warning may have various compatibility and functionality issues with SP2. Microsoft has identified 60 such applications that may not work properly once SP2 is installed. These include the vendor’s own apps and enterprise solutions from Computer Associates, Veritas, Symantec and others. “We realise that some of the capabilities in SP2 may change existing application behaviour. Securing IE probably has the biggest effect on application compatibility,” says Shehadeh. Faced with patching hiccups, Microsoft has changed its policy for preventing automatic download of SP2. It has extended the temporary blocking period by 240 days, which started from August 16. The software giant’s enterprise customers have until April 12, 2005 to prepare for the security-related update. At the end of this period, the automatic update mechanism will download SP2 to all Windows XP machines. Despite Microsoft’s promise to increase its security efforts, its older operating systems remain vulnerable. “Currently, we do not have plans to make the enhancements available in XP SP2 available on Windows 2000, NT 4, Windows 98, or Windows ME. We remain committed to keeping our customers secure on all supported Windows versions. We are evaluating the technical feasibility of providing these new enhancements for older Windows versions,” says Shehadeh. In the Middle East, where bandwidth rich networks are limited, downloading an 80 M/byte patch and applying it across a network is likely to use up huge amounts of bandwidth. The vendor recommends that its corporate customers use programmes such as Microsoft’s Software Update Services or Systems Management Server on their networks. Small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) will benefit the least from SP2, according to Asset Metrix. Companies with less than 100 XP installations have an average impact of around 12%, while the impact on larger organisations is around 6%. In order to help SMBs, Microsoft has released Windows Update Version 5 with smart downloading technologies for both narrowband and broadband customers. It facilitates faster delivery of large updates such as SP2. Although Microsoft is distributing free SP2 CDs, it remains limited to the US and Canadan markets thus far. To make things worse for Microsoft, German security firm Heise Security claims it has discovered flaws in XP SP2, which may lead to viruses and worms that can cause havoc for Windows. Similarly, an Insight Express study that polled IT managers in the US, found that 63% of respondents believed SP2 would prove to be the most difficult Windows update installation ever, with 3% noting their ‘blood pressure rises just thinking about it.’ 30% did not know how the SP2 upgrade would affect their company’s support desk. Finally, for those companies that have already invested in firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS) and security policies, SP2 is yet to make a convincing statement. Despite the onslaught of mixed feedback from users, Microsoft says XP2 is the way forward.||**||

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