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R.I.P. Windows XP SP2

End of an era for Microsoft's best-ever service pack

The fact that XP SP2's Windows Firewall could be managed by network administrators was also a big deal, Miller added. "Before SP2, you had to pay money for a local firewall, and they weren't easily managed," he said. That meant individual PCs were rarely protected by on-board firewalls as a back stop, leaving them unprotected to attack if malware, such as a worm, somehow snuck through a company's perimeter defences.

"The firewall largely took away that kind of attack," Miller said.

Lai traced a direct connection between XP SP2 and the decrease in network-targeted attacks like SQL Slammer, and the resulting increase in exploits of desktop software, such as Microsoft's Office, or third-party programs, like Adobe's Reader.

Windows XP SP2 was hardly perfect. During its nearly-six-year run Microsoft patched it with over 250 security updates, issuing the largest number (52) in 2006. Even early on, it had problems: just days after its launch, security researchers spotted two flaws that could let attackers sidestep its new defences.

The bottom line, however, XP SP2 will be remembered by security professionals more for its successes than for its failings.

"It's an end of an era," said Oliver Lavery, the director of security and research and development for nCircle, of XP SP2's retirement. "It was definitely a big move toward better security, and I think it's legacy has proven successful."

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