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Friday, September 14, 2007
Microsoft Explains "Stealthy" Windows Update Procedure

Microsoft responded today to the the online reports regarding the behavior of the Windows update mechanism which turned into the running state even when users had explicitly disabled the operating systems' automatic update feature.

The company's response came after users expressed concern over updates to XP and Vista machines that were pushed out even when they had turned off the automatic updating feature of Windows Update. The updates were noted as "secret updates" in published reports and on user forums, and Windows users expressed concern that Microsoft would update their computer files without their knowledge or consent.

The story began when Scott Dunn, an editor at the "Windows Secrets" newsletter, said that nine files in XP and Vista ? but not the same files in each operating system ? have been changed by Windows Update, without displaying the usual notification or permission dialog box.

The Microsoft Update team has posted a statement addressing the Windows Update's self-updating behavior. The upshot is that a longstanding procedure in Windows Update requires it to self-update before it is able to recognize that new updates are available (note: WU does not conduct a self-update event each and every time it checks for updates). This self-updating is done regardless of whether the user has enabled automatic checking, download and/or installation of updates.

"It does so in an effort to avoid WU misleading the user to think s/he is up-to-date simply because s/he was not receiving notification that updates are available," Microsoft said. "Put another way, WU cannot alert the user that there are security updates available if it is not in the necessary updated state that will allow it to recognize those updates," the company added.

"Windows Update does not automatically update itself when Automatic Updates is turned off, this only happens when the customer is using WU to automatically install upgrades or to be notified of updates," said Nate Clinton, Program Manager, Windows Update.

However, Microsoft acknowledged that it could have better informed users about how Windows Update behaves so as not to spur the confusion that ensued with updates that were sent out last month.

"However, we do recognize that we should have been clearer in our explanation of this process earlier in the game," the company said in its statement.

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