Microsoft begins security CD giveaway in Japan

The Japanese unit of Microsoft Corp. has begun giving away CDs containing a full set of updates for its Windows XP operating system partly in response to prompting from the Japanese government after a recent series of virus and worm attacks.

The company began the giveaway at World PC Expo, Japan’s biggest personal computer exhibition, which began in Chiba, outside of Tokyo, on Wednesday. Dressed in caps, red t-shirts and camouflage pants, the company’s “security patrol” had handed out 25,000 copies of the CD by the end of Thursday, said Akiko Yamaguchi, a spokeswoman for Microsoft Ltd. in Tokyo. The show runs until Saturday.

The company decided on the CD to make updates easier for narrowband Internet users, who made up the bulk of the calls to the company’s security help line at around the time the Blaster Internet worm struck, Yamaguchi said. The CD also helps answer a request recently made by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

“METI asked us to provide an easier was to get Windows updates,” Yamaguchi said.

The CD contains all Windows XP security patches that have been released to date, XP Service Pack 1, and an agent that automatically checks the Windows Update site for future patches and software upgrades. The agent does not come preinstalled as part of Windows XP and can be download from Microsoft’s Web site. By default, the agent will automatically download future patches and updates and then ask the user if they should be installed, Yamaguchi said.

This is a step towards automatic updates of the operating system, which is an issue that the company began considering after the Blaster worm attacked thousands of computers running unpatched versions of its operating system.

In Japan, the company responded to the Blaster worm by issuing around 200,000 CDs containing the 1.2M-byte patch that can insulate systems from attack by Blaster. The patch had been made available on Windows Update since before the Blaster worm struck however the chaos caused when the worm hit pointed to a large number of unprotected systems. The CD also contained anti-virus software and was distributed by a handful of anti-virus software companies.

The current campaign in Japan is being done by Microsoft alone and the CDs do not contain any third-party software, Yamaguchi said.

Following its debut at World PC Expo, the giveaway gets underway nationwide from Saturday when the CDs will start being made available at around 2,000 PC retailers. The giveaway will run until the end of October and the number of discs that will be given away is only limited by demand, Yamaguchi said.

Additionally, Microsoft is also beginning a newspaper, radio and TV advertising campaign to carry home the “Protect your PC” message, Yamaguchi said. The company’s toll-free security telephone hotline is also expanding its hours until 9pm, local time, on weekdays and will operate on Saturdays and Sundays for the benefit of home users.

Japan has a large number of broadband users who connect at speeds up to 26Mbps over Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and 100Mbps over Fibre To The Home (FTTH) but they are still outnumbered by narrowband users.

There were 11.3 million broadband users in Japan at the end of July. At the same time, the top 15 service providers had a total of 19.7 million dial-up subscribers, according to information from Japan’s Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPHPT).