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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Key Windows update ready to go
Screengrab of Microsoft website, Microsoft
Microsoft wants you to be ready for SP2
The long overdue security update for Microsoft's XP operating system will soon be available.

Microsoft has released the SP2 update to PC manufacturers and it is expected to be widely available in late August.

The update can be downloaded from a Microsoft site, ordered from the company or found on CDs cover-mounted on some consumer technology magazines.

The security update is already available to companies who subscribe to Microsoft's developer network.

Security risk

Service Pack 2 has been created to close many of the loopholes that many Windows viruses have exploited over the last few years. Malicious hackers have used other loopholes in Windows XP to take over and remotely control PCs.

The SP2 software installs a security centre that lets people see and manage the measures installed on their machine to block viruses and hack attacks.

Pop-up ads blocked
Revamped firewall on by default
Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and Windows Messenger warn about attachments
Origins of downloaded files logged
Web graphics in e-mail no longer loaded by default
Some spyware blocked
Users regularly reminded about Windows Updates
Security Center brings together information about anti-virus, updates and firewall
Protection against buffer over-runs
Windows Messenger Service turned off by default
The update also blocks pop-up ads and lets users know when spyware is trying to install itself on their machine.

The software also stops graphics in e-mail messages loading automatically. This is because spammers use these graphics as a way to log live e-mail addresses.

The Service Pack 2 security update was originally supposed to appear in 2003 but successive technical hitches have delayed its arrival.

To make sure the update is widely used, Microsoft said it has worked hard to ensure that it conflicts with as few existing applications as possible.

Microsoft hopes to have the software installed on more than 100 million machines in the next two months.

To reach this many machines it is making the software very widely available.

On its main site, Microsoft is telling visitors to turn on Windows auto-update to prepare for the SP2 download. At 80MB in size, the software will take a while to download.

Microsoft has made software available that will let people download SP2 in bite-sized chunks that can be re-assembled to be the full update.

Those on dial-up links will be able to order the CD from Microsoft or simply install it from disks distributed with popular PC tech magazines from newsstands.

The only people that will not be able to install the software will be people running the most pirated versions of Windows XP.

Microsoft knows the product ID numbers for the most-pirated versions of XP and has decided to stop the software installing on machines using any of these copies of its operating system.

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