ScanIT, an Internet security consultancy, reports Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was unsafe 98 percent of the time, during 2004. The data were collected from 195,000 internet users who used ScanIT’s online security checker. The reported 98 percent unsafe rating is based on security holes being found in fully-patched installations of Internet Explorer on every day of the year 2004, except the week between October 12 and 19.
Microsoft is readying the Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) upgrade for release in mid-2004. The upgrade will address many of the security problems that currently plague the company’s flagship operating system.
For example, the current Internet Connection Firewall is disabled by default and most users find it difficult to configure. In WinXP SP2 the feature is renamed Windows Firewall, enabled by default, and is prominently displayed. The new Windows Firewall will offer many of the features of third-party firewalls, such as ZoneLabs’ ZoneAlarm, a product that I currently recommend to all clients.
WinXP SP2 modifies the operating system’s wireless networking (Wi-Fi) service, allowing users to select primary Wi-Fi networks to which the system should always connect when within range. This will make laptop systems much easier to manage.
All users will be glad that Internet Explorer now blocks pop-up ads, negating the need to purchase a third-party web browser or ad-blocking application. Next to spam, I find pop-ups the most annoying downside to life online.
Outlook Express and Windows Messenger will block many dangerous file types by isolating file attachments so that they aren’t automatically executed upon receipt. By default HTML-formatted e-mail messages won’t display images, this will prevent web bugs embedded in e-mail messages from confirming your e-mail address to spammers.
I’m not a Pollyanna, believing that Windows is now a secure operating system, but Microsoft’s efforts will make it more difficult for crackers and spammers to ruin our online experience. But as my students constantly remind me, there’s no better line of security than an educated user. Learn all that you can about how to secure your system, keep your antivirus definitions updated daily, and don’t ever open a file attachment that you didn’t expect.
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