Microsoft stealth updates confirmed by many
Windows Update has been updating itself on millions of PCs without their users knowledge or permission.Tom Spring | Friday, September 14 2007
Stealth tinkering by Microsoft of millions of Windows XP and Vista PCs sounds like a cheesy B-movie plot. That's why I had to read the Windows Secrets story "Microsoft updates Windows without users' consent" story twice.
Scott Dunn, an editor at the "Windows Secrets" newsletter, reports nine files in XP and Vista have been changed by Windows Update without displaying the usual notification or permission dialog box. The files are related to the XP and Vista versions of Windows Update itself.
Reported unauthorised tampering by Microsoft of user machines with no permission or consent has been confirmed by other sources as well. EWEEK Labs has independently confirmed the report and so has ZDNet.
So far Microsoft has not issued any statement. Dunn says Microsoft has only hinted at what its intentions are. In a Microsoft forum titled "Critical Update slipped in through the back door" there are some clues as to Microsoft's intent.
The only explanation found at Microsoft's site comes from a user identified as Dean-Dean on a Microsoft Communities forum. In reply to a question, he states:
* "Windows Update Software 7.0.6000.381 is an update to Windows Update itself. It is an update for both Windows XP and Windows Vista. Unless the update is installed, Windows Update won't work, at least in terms of searching for further updates. Normal use of Windows Update, in other words, is blocked until this update is installed."
Windows Secrets contributing editor Susan Bradley contacted Microsoft Partner Support about the update and received this short reply:
* "7.0.6000.381 is a consumer only release that addresses some specific issues found after .374 was released. It will not be available via WSUS [Windows Server Update Services]. A standalone installer and the redist will be available soon, I will keep an eye on it and notify you when it is available."
Unfortunately, this reply does not explain why the stealth patching began with so little information provided to customers. Nor does it provide any details on the "specific issues" that the update supposedly addresses.
Dunn and others are careful to point out that Microsoft is not doing any harm to the files it is modifying. We can only assume that those files are being changed to deliver a better Windows experience. However, what is very serious and disturbing is the stealth mechanism Microsoft is using to perform its OS updates.
The implications are huge. The tactics used by Microsoft are most commonly associated with those used by hackers, adware, and spyware companies.
This isn't the first time Windows Updates have taken centre stage among the privacy minded.
Privacy concerns were raised in October when it was discovered that Windows Updates included the anti-piracy program Windows Genuine Advantage. Users were never asked for their consent to download and install the program.
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