If you’re an active and with-it PC fan, your first reaction to all of this discussion might be, “Service Pack, Schmervice Pack. I already have antivirus software, anti-spyware software, and a sophisticated firewall. Do I really need to install Service Pack 2?”
The answer is yes—if you want to feel safe. The three items listed in the Security Center may represent the big-ticket changes in SP2, but they’re not the only changes. Microsoft also made hundreds of additional changes to make Windows XP more secure in the modern era.
Many of these changes are generally invisible to you. They’re deep-seated code changes designed to thwart hackers.
Here are just a few examples:
The RPC service (remote procedure call) lets a program on one computer run a program on another by remote control. In the original Windows XP, if you can believe it, Microsoft permitted anonymous RPC connections, meaning that strangers could wiggle into your computer. (This is, for example, how the Blaster worm of 2003 caused such global damage.) In Service Pack 2, anonymous connections are no longer permitted.
Some viruses and Trojan horses did their damage by causing buffer overruns—they basically filled up your memory to the point of overflow, thereby incapacitating your PC. In Service Pack 2, Windows is designed to contain any program that makes such an attempt.
Before Service Pack 2, there was a brief interval during the startup process when the Windows firewall hadn’t ...