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Windows Update struggled to cope with the load created by the release of four security patches on Tuesday night, prompting Microsoft to deploy extra servers to cope with demand.

The four patches, three of which are critical, are designed to address 20 security vulnerabilities affecting a wide range of Microsoft software. Their release created a stampede of users to Windows Update, resulting in slow response times yesterday. Home users trying to download 3.1MB of Win XP updates over dial-up connections were right out of luck, as some readers told us.

By today the sluggish performance problem had largely been resolved. Microsoft US said the number of requests to Windows Update on Tuesday was double the usual volume. In a statement issued to Netcraft, Microsoft US said: "The slowdowns didn't last very long. We've added some system resources to support Windows Update, and are not seeing much trouble anymore."

Microsoft UK played down the issue. A spokeswoman described this week's download demand from Windows Update as nothing out of the ordinary for a monthly "patch Tuesday".

Among the vulnerabilities addressed in patches released this week is a fix for an SSL flaw that left Windows 2000 and NT4 SSL sites open to remote compromise.

Mike Prettejohn, a director at Netcraft, said scanning activity for SSL vulnerabilities across the Net increased last Friday in advance of the release of Microsoft's April patch batch. This hostile behaviour underlines the need to make patches available as quickly as possible, he added. ®

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