Microsoft updates Windows without users’ consent

Scott dunn
By Scott Dunn

Microsoft has begun patching files on Windows XP and Vista without users’ knowledge, even when the users have turned off auto-updates.

Many companies require testing of patches before they are widely installed, and businesses in this situation are objecting to the stealth patching.


Files changed with no notice to users

In recent days, Windows Update (WU) started altering files on users’ systems without displaying any dialog box to request permission. The only files that have been reportedly altered to date are nine small executables on XP and nine on Vista that are used by WU itself. Microsoft is patching these files silently, even if auto-updates have been disabled on a particular PC.

It’s surprising that these files can be changed without the user’s knowledge. 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.

When users launch Windows Update, Microsoft’s online service can check the version of its executables on the PC and update them if necessary. What’s unusual is that people are reporting changes in these files although WU wasn’t authorized to install anything.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft has pushed updates out to users who prefer to test and install their updates manually. Not long ago, another Windows component, svchost.exe, was causing problems with Windows Update, as last reported on June 21 in the Windows Secrets Newsletter. In that case, however, the Windows Update site notified users that updated software had to be installed before the patching process could proceed. This time, such a notice never appears.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-09-13: