Windows XP SP2s Firewall Will Be in Your Face

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-12-18 Print this article Print

Windows XP's Internet Connection Firewall proved underwhelming, and was included just to satisfy a check-off list of feature. With Service Pack 2, it looks as if Microsoft learned its lesson. The new firewall will do a lot more of the things personal fire

As we reported recently, Microsoft just released a document going into more detail about the features expected in the upcoming Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. The company on Thursday released a beta of SP2 and will ship for real well into 2004. SP2 is basically about security enhancements to Windows, such as the improved Internet Connection Firewall (ICF). The information in this document is important and in all likelihood reflects the way things will turn out. But everyone should recognize that this document is a beta document for an almost-beta set of programs, and we have to assume there will be differences as the tests of SP2 proceed. Future changes will be reported at a particular MSDN link: The Microsoft Security Developer Center. In a previous column, I mentioned that the Internet Connection Firewall will be turned on by default under SP2. Ports not actually being used will be shut by default.
In addition, both RPC and DCOM have been restructured to diminish the possibility of attack and to let the administrator control access rights. Microsoft frequently points out that users with ICF enabled were not vulnerable to Blaster.
The new ICF can be enabled and disabled on a per-interface basis. For instance, you might leave it off for the Ethernet connection, but enable it for your wireless network. You can also make global changes across all interfaces. Through a new UI, command line programs, or programmatically, you can open static ports and perform other configurations, such as basic ICMP options. Logging has been improved to include dropped packets and successful connections. Beyond just opening a port, you can also restrict its traffic to particular subnets. This feature will be employed by default in some cases, for instance for file sharing and UPnP, both of which will be restricted to the local subnet. This feature should block a lot of attacks that come through the average residential broadband connection. Still, it does leave open the possibility that an otherwise compromised system (for instance one infected with a Sobig-like worm) could compromise other systems on the local subnet. Still, its one more worthy tool under the belt. Next page: More New ICF Features.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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