updated 3/31/2005 9:22:19 AM ET 2005-03-31T14:22:19

Microsoft Corp. has released a major security update for Windows Server 2003, the latest in the software company's efforts to better safeguard its clients from Internet-based attacks.

The update, released Wednesday, aims to add more security tools for Microsoft's server software, which businesses use to provide services for multiple users on a network.

Mike Nash, a corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft's security efforts, said many of the changes are geared toward making it easier for companies to manage their systems' security options.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

The updates include a tool that blocks all incoming traffic to the server until the latest patches have been applied, or the system's administrator has decided to allow such contact to resume.

Microsoft also introduced a "security configuration wizard" that makes it easier for system administrators to set up a server for a specific function, such as e-mail or Web use, in the safest possible manner.

The upgrade also incorporates many of the fixes from Windows XP Service Pack 2, a major upgrade for Microsoft's desktop operating system that was released last year.  As with that upgrade, the risk for users is that the changes accompanying such security fixes will actually cripple much-needed business applications.  Nash said the company has been testing the security fixes extensively, in the hopes of lessening the chance of such compatibility problems.

The upgrade comes nearly two years after Redmond-based Microsoft first released the server software, and amid what Nash concedes are complex and ever-changing security problems.

"When we shipped Windows Server 2003 we had a tremendous amount of confidence," Nash said.  "The thing we learned almost immediately (was) there was more work to do."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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