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'Catastrophic' Avira antivirus update bricks Windows PCs

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Security software biz Avira has apologised after its antivirus suites went haywire and disabled customers' Windows machines.

A service pack issued in Monday caused its ProActiv monitoring software to think vital operating system processes were riddled with malware and blocked them from running.

Users of the affected products - Avira Professional Security, Avira Internet Security 2012 and Avira Antivirus Premium 2012 - were left with malfunctioning or inoperable systems after they applied the dodgy update. A fix has since been issued.

Components reportedly blocked included iexplore.exe, notepad.exe and regedit.exe, plus applications including Microsoft Office and Google Updater were also sin-binned.

Unsurprisingly Avira's support forums quickly filled up with posts by frustrated punters. "This update has been pretty catastrophic," one small business user complained. "The whole company ground to a standstill."

Avira responded by withdrawing the malfunctioning update, Service Pack 0 (SP0) for Avira Version 2012, and issuing a replacement upgrade. In an advisory, Avira said it "deeply regrets" the inconvenience customers have experienced as the result of the snafu. It goes on to explain how users can disable its ProActiv behavioural monitoring technology in case it goes nuts again.

From time to time antivirus signatures, used to identify malware inside files, cause headaches for vendors when they report false positive matches. Things get really messy in cases where core Windows components, rather than just third-party apps, are wrongly labelled as potentially malign. Screwing up a signature pack is one thing, but Avira's mixup involves a major software update, raising questions over why the blunder was not caught during pre-release testing.

Avira is best known as a supplier of freebie Windows antivirus scanners to consumers in competition with the likes of AVG and Avast. The German firm uses its presence in this market to help it sell paid-for products to consumers and small businesses. ®

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