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Is SP3 a long overdue Windows update?
Windows XP SP3 (service pack 3) is a collective update for Windows that incorporates all the little fixes and security updates that have been released to Windows XP owners via the Windows update service. You’ll probably see this update popping up in your update list (or installing automatically – depending on your settings) if you haven’t already. But is it a good idea to install XP SP3? In theory it is, as it includes some important new security features; but in practice we’ve seen several reports from users experiencing problems after installing XP SP 3.
What’s new in Windows XP SP3
The following descriptions are taken from the Microsoft white paper on XP SP3.
“Black hole” router detection – Windows XP SP3 includes improvements to black hole router detection (detecting routers that are silently discarding packets), turning it on by
Network Access Protection (NAP) – NAP is a policy enforcement platform with which you can better protect network assets by enforcing compliance with system health requirements.
Using NAP, you can create customized health policies to validate computer health before allowing access or communication; automatically update compliant computers to ensure ongoing compliance; and optionally confine noncompliant computers to a restricted network until they become compliant.
CredSSP Security Service Provider – CredSSP is a new Security Service Provider (SSP) that is available in Windows XP SP3 via Security Service Provider Interface (SSPI). CredSSP
enables an application to delegate the user’s credentials from the Client (via Client side SSP) to the target Server (via Server side SSP). Windows XP SP3 involves only the Client side SSP implementation and is currently being used by RDP 6.1 (TS), though it can be used by any third party application willing to use the Client side SSP to interact with applications
running Server side implementations of the same on Vista / LH Server. CredSSP is turned off by default.
Descriptive Security Options User Interface – The Security Options control panel in Windows XP SP3 now has more descriptive text to explain settings and prevent incorrect settings configuration.
Enhanced security for Administrator and Service policy entries – In System Center Essentials for Windows XP SP3, Administrator and Service entries will be present by default on any new instance of policy. Additionally, the user interface for the Impersonate Client After Authentication user right will not be able to remove these settings.
Microsoft Cryptographic Module – Implements and supports the SHA2 hashing algorithms (SHA256, SHA384, and SHA512) in X.509 certificate validation. This has been added to the crypto module rsaenh.dll. XP SP2 crypto modules Rsaenh.dll/Dssenh.dll/Fips.sys had been certified according to FIPS 140-1 specifications. The Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-1 standard has been replaced by
FIPS 140-2, and these modules have been validated and certified according to this standard.
Windows Product Activation – As in Windows Server 2003 SP2 and Windows Vista, users can now complete operating system installation without providing a product key during a full, integrated installation of Windows XP SP3. The operating system will prompt the user for a product key later as part of Genuine Advantage. As with previous service packs, no product key is requested or required when installing Windows XP SP3 using the update package available through Microsoft Update.
Windows XP SP3 Problems
Problems reported are primarily related to SP3 not yet being compatible with various hardware drivers and software applications. This could mean not being able to access important data on a harddrive, maybe even your Windows drive. Other problems include involuntary system reboots, system crashes, and more. While SP3 has some important updates and security fixes, it just isn’t quite ready in our opinion. Read over the new features below and decide for yourself if they’re absolutely critical. If the descriptions look like gobbledygook, you can probably stand to wait until Microsoft has shored up the service pack and increased its compatibility.
Only upgrade SP3 with new installations
Our bottom line recommendation is that, at this time anyways, you only upgrade your Windows XP installation to SP3 if it’s new – ie. to prevent you from having to download a gazillion updates. This is especially true if you’re deploying multiple Windows installations, which is typical in a corporate environment. Note that if you have a version of Windows XP that doesn’t yet have SP1 or SP2 installed, you’ll need to install those first. Only the installation of SP1 is required, but Microsoft recommends installing SP2 as well before installing SP3.