Safely Installing (and Slipstreaming) Windows XP

This past weekend, I performed the biannual ritual of backing up my home computer, reformatting it, and reinstalling just those applications that I actually need. Of course, I'll try my best not to install too many add-ons or trialware applications for the next couple of weeks to keep my system clean, but inevitably, I'll give in and find myself repeating this cycle again in another six months. Thankfully, the average user doesn't have to go through this process nearly as often, but it did make me think...

How can I install Windows XP and download all of the critical patches from Windows Update before my machine is hit by something like the Sasser worm? Fortunately for me, my MSDN Subscription (and employment at Microsoft, I suppose) means that I have a copy of Windows XP with Service Pack 1 which contains a large number of fixes. This probably isn't the case for an average home user. Although we make a Windows Security Update CD available at no charge, the site clearly states that it may take 2-4 weeks for delivery, and most people who are forced to reinstall their system probably can't afford to wait that long. So I started looking...

Lo and behold, there is already a healthy amount of information available on the Internet that explains a couple of techniques that can be used to alleviate this problem. The first is an article by the SANS™ Institute titled Windows XP: Surviving the First Day. This paper describes a strategy that disables many of the most vulnerable attack surfaces, enables the Internet Connection Firewall, and explains how to download the appropriate fixes from Windows Update. This is a reasonable process if you don't reload your system very often, but there is a better way...

Slipstreaming: the process of including patches and fixes into a software installation. Using this method, you can create your own updated Windows XP CD that includes all of the patches (similar to what a MSDN Subscription provides, but in some ways better). Here are a few articles that I came across that explain how to do this:

· How to Slipstream Windows XP SP1a

· Making a Windows XP Slipstreamed Install CD

· Slipstreaming Windows XP Service Pack 1a and Create Bootable CD

· Create A Bootable Windows XP Installation CD Slipstreamed with SP1

And for the truly curious, we have an article that explains how all of this works titled How to integrate software updates into your Windows installation source files.