Most security issues and virus outbreaks happen because people don’t know how to protect themselves or don’t bother to do what they know they should.
In the latest update to Windows XP, Microsoft has focused on helping people become more aware of what they need to do, and encouraging them to actually do it, lead program Manager for Service Pack 2, Ryan Burkhardt said.
A new test version of Service Pack 2 (SP2), called Release Candidate 1 (RC1), was made available to beta testers recently, and the completed update would be released in mid-2004, Burkhardt said.
In RC1, if somebody received an email with an .exe attachment, or other file type that’s regularly used to spread so-called malware, it would be identified and either blocked or the receiver would confirm that he wanted to open it, Burkhardt said.
The Attachment Execution Services (AES) application programming interface (API) is a public API that lets developers add attachment security to their email client and browser applications.
In Outlook Express, Burkhardt said, file types known to be dangerous would be blocked and an explanation given to the user, who would then be given a choice of whether to open suspicious but less-dangerous file types.
Outlook Express will also no longer download graphics and other external content in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) by default as these can be used to validate email addresses.
“If the sender is not in the user’s contact list, it will be treated as potentially unsafe, [and will not be displayed]”, Burkhardt said.
Many of the security aspects now being released had been included in XP ever since it was first launched, but were turned off by default, Burkhardt said. “The climate was different then; there were fewer attacks, and fewer people had broadband,” he said.
Users often made half-hearted attempts to ensure security, but didn’t follow through, Burkhardt said.
Many users, for example, had chosen to automatically download updates, but not to automatically install them, he said.
“And then they don’t install them themselves, that’s what happened with Sobig — a lot of people had downloaded the updates but hadn’t installed them,” Burkhardt said.
To try to solve this, users would see a new prompt when setting up a PC that would explain the benefits of automatic downloads and installation, to encourage them to use it, he said.
Windows Firewall will now be turned on by default, and Windows Messenger will be turned off.
In another move that will cheer Web surfers, RC1 will also include a pop-up advertisement blocker, turned on by default. This was already included in the first beta version of SP2 but was turned off by default, Microsoft said.