How to trick Windows XP SP2 into thinking it's SP3

Computer hack lets Service Pack 2 users get security updates

Back in the old days of computers, and by that I mean like five or 10 years ago, it used to be fun to change various values within a computer to see what happened. This was such a hobby that computer games even started to play that up, assigning various special events to specific dates. If you played a game on Dec. 25, for example, all the bad guys might wear Santa hats. Minor tweaks like changing the system clock became the rage.

The reason I brought that up was because Computerworld is reporting that a simple fix can trick Windows XP into thinking that Service Pack 2 is actually Service Pack 3. You see, not everyone wanted to move their systems to SP3. I guess some people get to a point where their systems are stable and elect to stay there. The problem with that approach is that those systems are denied security patch updates. And that creates one heck of a security hole.

So a smart guy named Sean Sullivan discovered the registry value that Windows uses to determine what service pack level it has. And if you use the Regedit command from the command line, you simply find HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Windows, and edit the DWORD value "CSDVersion" from 200 to 300. When you reboot your system, presto, it thinks it has SP3 installed, not 2.

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The lab happened to have one pesky system that refused to install SP3. It complained that we didn’t have admin rights to it, and we never got around to fixing it. So we had a system with SP2 sitting there. We went into the registry and the fix took about 30 seconds all together. When we rebooted, we went to the Windows update site and, guess what, there were 56 security updates waiting for us. Many of the security packs failed to install, probably the ones specific to SP3 or .NET applications. But several did install OK.

So holdouts, rejoice. At least for now, and unless Microsoft moves to block this, the fix is in. You can have the stability of SP2 and at least some of the security of SP3.

One thing to note is that, other than that one oddball system, all the computers in the lab running XP (there are still a few) were upgraded to SP3 a long time ago. We’ve never had any service pack or system resources problem with any of them. So we would highly recommend moving to SP3 if you can. If you can’t, or you’re really stubborn, at least there is this new method to make you a bit more secure in your old service pack world.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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