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Security Center wscui.cpl

Provides easy access to Windows Update, firewall, and anti-virus settings. Available only if Service Pack 2 is installed.

To Open

Control Panel Security Center

Command Prompt control wscui.cpl


Added in Service Pack 2, the Security Center doesn’t actually provide any additional security, but acts as a control center for your existing software—keeping tabs on what’s on or off, what needs updating or replacing, and providing impossible-to-miss warnings that erupt from the Windows System Tray.

Security Center keeps an eye on your firewall (XP’s own or any SP2-complaint third party program), your anti-virus software, and Windows’ Automatic Updates feature. (The Internet Options button takes you to Internet Explorer’s Security tab.) The Center will pop up an alert if it thinks there’s a problem in any of these areas. You can turn off monitoring by clicking the “Change the way Security Center alerts me” link in the main Security Center window. Note that the Security Center only monitors your software for activation and updates—it doesn’t actually provide any security itself.

Windows Firewall

By default, this button leads to a tabbed dialog box that lets you configure XP’s own firewall. But as you can see in Figure 4-86, it will happily monitor most third party programs. Never go online without a firewall between you and the Internet!

Figure 4-86. See instantly if something’s gone wrong, and update or replace as necessary

Automatic Updates

By default, Windows XP with SP2 automatically downloads and installs all high priority (aka, critical) updates to the OS at a set time each day. This happens in the background, without any intervention by (or notification to) you. (The exception: when an update requires a reboot.) This is the easiest way of keeping your system up to date, but it’s not compulsory.

Click the Automatic Updates button at the bottom of the Security Center window to choose the desired update option (see Figure 4-87). You can have XP automatically download and install updates without consulting you; download updates but ask your permission to install them; ask permission to download updates in the first place; or let you turn off auto updating, which means you must run Windows Update manually. Our recommendation: have XP ask you before it downloads anything.

Figure 4-87. Keeping XP up to date is effortless with Service Pack 2, thanks to Automatic Updates being switched on by default

Virus Protection

Windows XP lacks built-in anti-virus technology, so this “feature” is designed to nag you to get some real anti-virus protection—or to make sure the anti-virus program you have is turned on and kept up to date.

Windows XP will try to detect any anti-virus utility you have running, but it won’t find all of them. Most major anti-virus vendors have retooled their programs to communicate their status directly to the Security Center so that the Center can display the appropriate warnings. In Figure 4-86, you’ll notice that our copy of Grisoft’s AVG only “might” be out of date.

If Windows cannot detect your anti-virus program, or you simply want to deal with it directly, you can turn off the Center’s warnings. Click the Recommendations button and check the “I have an anti-virus program that I’ll monitor myself” box.

In addition to monitoring your security, Security Center offers direct links to the latest Windows XP security news on Microsoft’s web site and links to companies that would love to sell you some anti-virus software.

One very important security component is completely absent from XP SP2’s Security Center : a spyware catcher.While not as dangerous as viruses, spyware can drag down the performance of your machine, barrage you with ads, and otherwise soak up system resources. Unfortunately, most commercial anti-virus packages aren’t designed to catch, disable, and remove spyware. For that, you’ll need to turn to dedicated programs such as Ad-Aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com) and Spybot Search & Destroy (http://www.safer-networking.org). Both are excellent choices, and both are free for personal use.

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