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Dodgy Kaspersky update borks THOUSANDS of NHS computers

Windows-killing false positive topples networks nationwide, NHS sysadmin tells El Reg

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A misfiring antivirus update from Kaspersky Lab "effectively levelled several networks" last months including systems at Britain's NHS, The Register has learned.

A Kaspersky update released on 25 October falsely classified a Windows system file, specifically tcpip.sys, as malign and quarantined it. The procedure left Windows PCs running Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6 for Workstations without network connectivity or otherwise borked after applying the dodgy update, creating all sorts of problems in the process.

A reader who works as a sysadmin in the NHS, who has asked to remain anonymous, explained: "As I work for an enterprise with several thousand computers, many of them in mission-critical areas, you can imagine the overtime that’s been worked over the weekend given that EVERY PC that was affected has to be visited manually and a pain-in-the-ass process has to be done to remove it."

In a statement, Kaspersky Lab acknowledged the issue and apologised for the inconvenience. The Russian security software firm didn't respond directly to our question on whether borked machines had to be fixed manually but did say that it was obliged to develop a "special remediation procedure" in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

On Friday, October 25, several Kaspersky Lab customers using Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6 for Workstations reported a problem with network access as a result of a false positive detection in Kaspersky Lab’s antivirus databases.

Kaspersky Lab technical specialists immediately started investigating the issue and removed the detection in the new antivirus databases, which were released at 8 pm MSK Friday, October 25.

In addition, on Saturday morning, October 26, Kaspersky Lab specialists developed a special remediation procedure to address several cases in which customers encountered loss of network connectivity even if databases were updated. The remediation procedure is available on Kaspersky Lab’s technical support website.

Kaspersky Lab would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused. Actions have been taken to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.

Other contacts with previous experience in frontline NHS IT work told El Reg that decisions on which antivirus to run are left to individual trusts.

"While I was at the NHS, there was talk from time to time of standardising on a centrally supplied solution throughout the service on the grounds of consistency, easing central support, and economies of scale ... but to my knowledge that never came to fruition," he explained. "The prevailing philosophy was very much that local endpoint/server/network protection was a local responsibility, and the emerging National Programme was focused in security terms on confidentiality of centrally-held data and central services, with the protection of those central services largely outsourced."

False positives involving antivirus signature updates are a perennial problem that have affected nearly every vendor at one time or another. Even though testing procedures have improved, and security software packages these days place a much greater reliance of cloud-based detection and other techniques, the higher volume of updates needed to cope with the rising trojan tide means that screw-ups remain a regular occurrence.

The consequent problems present the biggest headache when Windows operating system files are falsely flagged as potentially malign and quarantined, as happened in the latest case involving Kaspersky Lab. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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