Network Security, Security Strategy, Plan, Budget

Hot or Not: Vista SP1 Scheduled For Widespread Release

It's been some time in the making, but Microsoft soon will make its first service pack for Vista widely available. While the final version started shipping to manufacturers earlier this month, Microsoft says it's making some final tweaks to its distribution channels before general availability in a few weeks. So what can we expect?

Without a doubt, this has been a much awaited service pack from the software maker, though perhaps not as highly anticipated, or as profound in its changes, as Windows XP SP2 was several years ago. .

However, this service pack does aim to remedy many of the reliability, performance, and backward compatibility issues that some have complained about since Vista's release; and as is customary in the IT industry, large corporations generally hold off their wide scale deployments of an operating system until all of the bugs and fixes have been ironed out — and that usually means the first service pack.

Time will tell if the enhancements in this service pack are enough to entice corporations to move to Vista en masse.

An initial evaluation of the enhancements in Vista SP1 shows that a number of them are worth noting. First, if you are about to migrate to Vista, SP1 will save you a considerable amount of time. This is not only because it is a cumulative update, and includes all of the updates of the operating system to date, but its support for “hot patches” also should significantly reduce the number of reboots required for updates.

Depending on which of the three different blends you choose to install, SP1 could end up being quite the size. The first is a stand-alone update for corporate administrators. If all 36 languages are included, this rendition weighs in at a whopping 550 MB. The upside of this version is for international users, who won't have to worry whether the update will work in the language of the target system. Then there is Windows Update, which is aimed at SMBs and home users. This download consumes only about 65 MB.

For the effort, Microsoft promises faster performance when it comes to opening applications and copying files. But since SP1 clears user-specific data, systems will seem slower following the installation, at least until the system is retrained through use. Another performance benefit comes from Vista's ability to defragment specific drive volumes. In addition, the update should reduce power consumption and increase battery life by fixing bugs that caused hard disks to continue spinning – even when they should have spun down.

While there are not a slew of security updates, perhaps the most significant change comes to the 64-bit version of Vista. This version now comes armed with APIs that will work with security software and anti-malware software while maintaining the security integrity of the kernel. While not a complete solution, it is a step in the right direction.

Other security enhancements include the digital signing of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which strengthens remote access security. When it comes to encryption, BitLocker no longer is limited to the system volume, but now can encrypt additional local volumes. Other cryptographic improvements include algorithm support in IPsec for SHA-256, AES-GCM and AES-GMAC for ESP and AH, ECDSA, SHA-256, and SHA-384 for IKE and AuthIP. Microsoft also adds the NIST SP 800-90 Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) pseudo-random number generator (PRNG) to the list of available PRNGs in the OS.

Interestingly, for what the company termed "reliability reasons," SP1 reportedly blocks a number of third-party security applications, including Zone Alarm Security Suite 7.1, Trend Micro Internet Security 2008, and BitDefender 10. It also blocks the 2008 version of the Jiangmin antivirus product. While that's not an especially good start, Vista does - overall - bring a number of security improvements that are worth a look. As to whether these developments are enough to persuade Vista's critics and laggards, only time will tell.


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