Microsoft Unveils New Security Service
Microsoft Corp. has released a free service to replace the mechanism it currently uses to patch Windows computers. The new service, known as Microsoft Update, supplants the traditional "Windows Update" system and promises several new improvements.
If you're using Windows XP or XP Professional and have automatic updates turned on, you may have already received a notice prompting you to download the new Microsoft Update, though if I recall from seeing this notice on my screen last night at home Windows Update called it something different, like "package installer." (Automatic updates are not available for older Windows versions, such as Windows 98.)
Microsoft Update fixes a few inconsistencies long present in Microsoft's patch strategy. For example, Microsoft's automatic update feature is supposed to allow users to automatically download and install all "critical" patches from Microsoft, but Windows users running Microsoft Office have usually had to visit the Office Update Web site and manually apply patches for security flaws in Office, which includes programs like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outllook.
With Microsoft Update, users can have critical Office patches installed automatically if they so choose. Microsoft also is tweaking the Windows Update Web site so that it will offer Office fixes for those who wish to continue applying Windows patches manually.
Keep in mind that if you use Windows XP and want to continue to install updates manually, sometime in the next few months you will need to participate in Microsoft's anti-piracy program, called "Microsoft Genuine Advantage." That program will ask users to verify that they own a valid Windows license key; those who do not will be barred from manually downloading patches from Microsoft Update, though a Microsoft spokesperson would not be more specific as to when this would kick in - other than "sometime later this summer." Windows XP users who do not want to participate in Microsoft's anti-piracy program will still be able to get patches via the automatic update feature.
There are other improvements in Microsoft Update: The old Windows Update offered fixes for problems found only in the Windows operating system, but the new Microsoft Update also will offer patches for other Microsoft products, including SQL Server and Exchange Server. Microsoft has indicated it plans to add support in Microsoft Update for third-party software products, though the new Microsoft Update service does not yet offer this feature.
On a side note, several security vendors have spotted an old scam that has apparently been raised from the dead -- viruses masquerading as e-mailed "patches" from Microsoft. According to an alert published by Websense, a message circulating online now claims to be a Microsoft security bulletin containing a security patch that fixes multiple problems in Windows. But if a user clicks on the link provided in the missive, it will try to download a program that installs a version of "SDBot," a nasty program that you never want to see on your machine.
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