Securing Windows XP Using Automatic Updates

Keeping Windows XP updated with the latest critical security patches released by Microsoft is one of the most effective ways to protect your PC against exploits designed to take advantage of known flaws. This article explains how you can ensure that XP is configured to download and install the necessary updates automatically.

In much the same way that cars periodically require preventative maintenance, so too does your computer. Like any piece of software, Windows XP is not perfect. From time to time, flaws are discovered that present a potential security risk, and it’s up to you to ensure that these holes are properly patched. If you neglect to update your PC, you run the risk that an attacker could gain access to your computer remotely, install dangerous programs or viruses, or even render it unable to function.

Thankfully, Windows XP is an easy operating system to keep updated. Using a feature known as Automatic Updates, you can configure your Windows XP computer to check for, download, and install critical updates automatically as they’re released. The process is so easy that there’s really no excuse why any Windows XP system should go unpatched and protected. Outside of critical security updates (which are released by Microsoft as flaws are discovered), the Automatic Updates feature will also download and install new Service Packs as they become available.

To check the status of Automatic Updates on your Windows XP system, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start > Control Panel.
  2. Open Security Center. If you don’t see a Security Center icon, it means that you don’t have Windows XP Service Pack 2 installed.
  3. In the Security Center window, ensure that Automatic Updates is set to On (with a green icon). If set to On, the feature will download and install updates automatically, as available when you connect to the Internet.
  4. If Automatic Updates is set to anything other than On, click the Automatic Updates link in the Manage security settings for section of the Security Center window. This will open the Automatic Updates window.
  5. Click the Automatic (recommended) option to enable Automatic Updates for your PC.

With Automatic Updates enabled, Windows XP will now automatically download and install all critical security updates and Service Packs as they’re released. In some cases you may be prompted to restart Windows XP in order to complete the update installation process, but an on-screen message will alert you when this is necessary and give you the option of delaying the restart until it’s more convenient for you.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.