Windows XP has gone through a couple of makeovers in the form of service packs. With the Service Pack 2 (SP2) release, a new feature was added to Windows XP, named the Windows XP Security Center.
Microsoft had taken some heat for the security flaws in the original Windows XP operating system. SP2 provided a new personal firewall for Windows as well as the Security Center, which monitors security settings such as whether or not your antivirus software is up to date and whether Windows automatic update is turned on. The Security Center can be configured to monitor security settings such as the Windows firewall or you can disable the Security Center's monitoring capabilities.
Microsoft has been very proactive about making the Windows XP operating system more secure. Microsoft suggests that you have a personal firewall and up-to-date antivirus software, and that you make sure that the Windows XP software is up to date in terms of security updates and service packs. You can do all this from the Security Center. Microsoft provides you with a free firewall (so use it) and a way to keep Windows updated automatically (through the Security Center). You must purchase your own antivirus software. Many new computers come with a trial version (60 to 90 days) of an antivirus program. If you like this particular antivirus program (you have used it and it seems to work), purchase the software when the trial period nears completion. Do not operate your computer without antivirus software; if you do, you are just asking for trouble.
Open Security Center
From the Windows Control Panel (click the Start button and choose Control Panel), click the Security Center icon. The Security Center window opens.
If any of the Security Center components (the Firewall, Automatic Updates, or Virus Protection) are disabled, a red Off button appears next to that component. The Off button appears next to the Virus Protection component only if you do not have antivirus software installed on your computer or if the Security Center cannot identify your antivirus software as being installed.
Some antivirus software programs aren't recognized by the Security Center. But that doesn't mean you need to reinstall the software or buy a different antivirus program. Just make sure that you keep your antivirus software up to date (download and install updates periodically) because the Security Center will not be able to alert you when your antivirus software is out of date.
Open Firewall Recommendations
If the Firewall is Off, you should turn it on. Click the Recommendations button in the Security Center's Firewall box. The Recommendation dialog box opens.
If you are using another software firewall such as a firewall that is part of your antivirus software suite, you can leave the Microsoft Firewall disabled. Running multiple software firewalls on the same computer can cause performance slowdowns and other problems.
Enable Windows Firewall
To enable the firewall, click the Enable now button in the Recommendation dialog box. Click OK to close the message box that opens (letting you know that the firewall is now enabled) and then click OK again to close the Recommendation dialog box. The Firewall button is now On in the Security Center window.
Turn on Automatic Updates
You should definitely keep your Windows software up to date because new security threats crop up often and Microsoft puts out security fixes for Windows to negate the threats. Click the Turn on Automatic Updates button. Windows will now provide you with an alert in the system tray whenever a new update has been downloaded and should be installed.
If you have configured the Security Center to alert you when a Windows update is available (that is, you have turned on Automatic Updates), Windows places an alert icon in the Windows system tray. Follow the alert's advice by clicking the alert; the update will be installed on your system automatically. Don't be afraid of the update alerts. This is not some evil genius trying to trick you into installing malware on your computer. If you really don't like automatic updates, don't enable them. It then is your responsibility to periodically go to the Windows Update website and allow the site to scan your computer and install any updates available (critical updates offered by the update website should always be installed). To go to the Windows Update website, click the Start button, choose All Programs, and then select Windows Update.
Open Antivirus Recommendations
The Security Center can monitor whether or not your antivirus software is up to date. If the Security Center finds that your software is not up to date, it will provide you with an alert in the system tray. It makes sense to allow the Security Center to keep track of your antivirus software and its updates.
Click the Recommendations button in the Security Center's Virus Protection box. The Recommendation dialog box opens.
Enable Security Center to Monitor Antivirus Software
Clear the I have an antivirus program that I'll monitor myself check box and click OK to close the Recommendation dialog box. The Security Center will now provide you with alerts related to the Windows Firewall, Windows updates, and the status of your antivirus software.