Feeds

Microsoft dispels rumors of stealth Windows updates

It's all about updating the updater

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

Microsoft officials are seeking to dispel rumors the company is performing stealth updates on Windows machines. They are also pledging to be more transparent in the future to prevent such misunderstandings from happening again.

Reports of secret updates began circulating after at least two sites reported that Windows Update pushed patches on machines - even though the automatic update feature had been disabled. Both this post on ZDNet Hardware 2.0 and this one from Windows Secrets said machines running Vista and XP SP2 versions of Windows each had nine files updated on them despite being configured to prevent the auto-updates.

"It's surprising that these files can be changed without the user's knowledge," the Windows Secrets post said. "The Automatic Updates dialog box in the Control Panel can be set to prevent updates from being installed automatically. However, with Microsoft's latest stealth move, updates to the WU executables seem to be installed regardless of the settings - without notifying users."

That prompted a Microsoft program manager to write his own blog post, explaining that the nine files related to the Windows Update service itself. Microsoft updates them from time to time to ensure that Windows Update will behave in dependable manner in the future.

"Had we failed to update the service automatically, users would not have been able to successfully check for updates and, in turn, users would not have had updates installed automatically or received expected notifications," the product manager, Nate Clinton, wrote. "That result would not only fail to meet customer expectations but even worse, that result would lead users to believe that they were secure even though there was no installation and/or notification of upgrades."

Windows Update can be configured in several ways. They include: (1) automatically download and install new patches, (2) automatically download them but allow the user to install them at a later time, or (3) simply notify the user that updates are available. Users who selected any of these options would have had files updated, he said.

There is a fourth option for Windows Update, which is for it to be turned off altogether. Windows Update "does not automatically update itself when Automatic Updates is turned off," Clinton wrote.

The issue has touched off concern among some that allowing Microsoft or any other company to install files without their prior knowledge and consent sets a dangerous precedent.

"The point of this explanation is not to suggest that we were as transparent as we could have been; to the contrary, people have told us that we should have been clearer on how Windows Update behaves when it updates itself," Clinton wrote. ®

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
'Windows 9' LEAK: Microsoft's playing catchup with Linux
Multiple desktops and live tiles in restored Start button star in new vids
iOS 8 release: WebGL now runs everywhere. Hurrah for 3D graphics!
HTML 5's pretty neat ... when your browser supports it
'People have forgotten just how late the first iPhone arrived ...'
Plus: 'Google's IDEALISM is an injudicious justification for inappropriate biz practices'
Mathematica hits the Web
Wolfram embraces the cloud, promies private cloud cut of its number-cruncher
Mozilla shutters Labs, tells nobody it's been dead for five months
Staffer's blog reveals all as projects languish on GitHub
SUSE Linux owner Attachmate gobbled by Micro Focus for $2.3bn
Merger will lead to mainframe and COBOL powerhouse
iOS 8 Healthkit gets a bug SO Apple KILLS it. That's real healthcare!
Not fit for purpose on day of launch, says Cupertino
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.