Microsoft Releases Server SP1

Windows Server 2003 gets security rev.

Two years after releasing Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Corp. has finally given customers the first update to the operating system, Service Pack 1.

The Redmond, Wash., software vendor March 30 released the code to manufacturing and as a download for users. It has security enhancements and reliability and performance improvements. Samm DiStasio, a director of Windows Server marketing, said Microsoft did not just roll up security fixes with this release; it also made changes to some core behaviors in the operating system that could allow classes of exploits to be eliminated.

The default behavior of RPC (Remote Procedure Call) ports and Microsofts Distributed Component Object Model can now be locked down, while support for some of the no-execute hardware "thats out there is included. Hopefully, what we have done there is help eliminate some root-cause behaviors and total classes of exploits versus just giving a rolled-up patch," DiStasio said.

Windows Server 2003 was the first product to benefit from Microsofts Trustworthy Computing initiative, in which all code goes through a rigorous screening and audit for potential security issues and other vulnerabilities. At the same place in the life cycle 635 days after launch, Windows 2000 Server had 64 critical bulletins, while Windows Server 2003 had 27, DiStasio said.

SP1 includes a new Security Configuration Wizard, which reduces the attack surface area by gathering data about server roles and then automatically blocking all services and ports not needed to perform those roles. The Wizard takes the guidance that, until now, has been available only in paper form on TechNet and "puts it into an automated tool that lets users discover their servers and further lock down the role that they have that server playing," DiStasio said.

SP1 has the firewall off by default, except for a clean server install, when SP1 blocks all inbound connections until Windows Update delivers the latest security updates to the machine. Microsoft has moved the VPN quarantine technology from the resource kit to SP1, which is fully scriptable.

Jonathan Addington, a network administrator at K2 Corp., in Vashon, Wash., and a Windows Server 2003 customer, hailed SP1s security improvements and its ease of installation, which is "practically seamless. With the latest security updates, weve once again reduced our system vulnerability to viruses, worms and hacker attacks and added functionality that continues to reduce system management costs."