Microsoft Alters Windows Files Regardless of Update Settings

Microsoft's update system is changing files on both Windows XP and Windows Vista -- even if a user disables automatic updates. Microsoft, however, calls it built-in behavior and no cause for alarm.

Microsoft's update system is changing files on both Windows XP and Windows Vista -- even if a user disables automatic updates. Microsoft, however, calls it built-in behavior and no cause for alarm.

As reported by Scott Dunn of the Windows Secrets Web site, Windows Update recently made changes to nine files on each OS, without the usual dialog box asking for permission to alter files.

Dunn quoted a poster on a Microsoft communities forum detailing the patches. The poster said:

"In Vista, the following files are updated:

1. wuapi.dll
2. wuapp.exe
3. wuauclt.exe
4. wuaueng.dll
5. wucltux.dll
6. wudriver.dll
7. wups.dll
8. wups2.dll
9. wuwebv.dll

In XP, the following files are updated:

1. cdm.dll
2. wuapi.dll
3. wuauclt.exe
4. wuaucpl.cpl
5. wuaueng.dll
6. wucltui.dll
7. wups.dll
8. wups2.dll
9. wuweb.dll"

The updates are upgrades to the Windows Update service itself, and are not harmful to a system.

Nate Clinton, program manager for Windows Update, admitted in a blog posting that Windows Update can bypass user-defined behavior. "The Windows Update client is configured to automatically check for updates anytime a system uses the WU service, independent of the selected settings for handling updates (for example, 'check for updates but let me choose whether to download or install them'). This has been the case since we introduced the automatic update feature in Windows XP. In fact, WU has auto-updated itself many times in the past," Clinton wrote.

Eric Schultze, chief security architect at Saint Paul, Minn.-based Shavlik Technologies, isn't thrilled with Microsoft's lack of disclosure. "As an IT admin, it would concern me that my machines were waking up and connecting to Microsoft without my knowledge," said Schultze, himself a former Microsoft employee.

Schultze also said that "Microsoft should have announced this and let people know ... Shame on Microsoft for not documenting the fact that the updating service can update itself."

It's a point that Clinton concedes in his post: "The point of this explanation is not to suggest that we were as transparent as we could have been; to the contrary, people have told us that we should have been clearer on how Windows Update behaves when it updates itself. This is helpful and important feedback, and we are now looking at the best way to clarify WU's behavior to customers so that they can more clearly understand how WU works."

Although Schultze said he has problems with Microsoft's communications in this case, he doesn't think the auto updating without permission is necessarily a bad thing for a corporation. "They're not installing updates; they're simply correcting the issue of updating the update infrastructure," he said. "IT administrators at corporations wouldn't be particularly upset at what happened here."

Dunn, of Windows Secrets, sees it differently: "For users who elect not to have updates installed automatically, the issue of consent is crucial. Microsoft has apparently decided, however, that it doesn't need permission to patch Windows Updates files, even if you've set your preferences to require it," he wrote.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Sep 19, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

This is planned behavior? Every un-intended re-boot is a System Crash! What are they thinking...

Tue, Sep 18, 2007 ET Anonymous

I use Windows Media Center as a DVR and every time windows updates itself it interferes with the operation as a DVR, especially when it reboots. Microsoft should learn that NO MEANS NO! Shame on you Microsoft!

Mon, Sep 17, 2007 Paul Long Island, NY

Unless the EULA includes this updating, it may be against some state laws that explicitly prohibit altering a PC's files without the owner's permission - thin ice, if you ask me...

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 EGJ NY

MS Should have disclosed that the Update system, in fact, updates itself and allows for admins to shut that off. However, I fail to see a system that automatically protects itself (given that it is one of the two platforms, Windows and LINUX, that have a high attack profile) as a reason to switch OS'. All of a sudden it brings legions of morons out of the wood-work to shout "switch to linux, switch to linux!!" without understanding that moving large and entrenched systems takes vast quantities of money, time and man-hours. Not just for moving the platforms and Apps, but retraining those people who use them (not to mention having to rebuild and possibly rewrite some of the apps and systems). I bet $100 most of the people who write this crap, have a small number of linux boxes at home and are arm chair quarterbacking and have no real clue how to run a large system with hundred or thousand of users and dozen to hundreds of systems (if not thousands).

Besides... if you want a better, more stable and slightly more secure platorm then Windows or Linux... install BSD or Solaris x86... god... even MacOS for that matter...

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 Orion Dog Star

Linux, Redhat, anything but Windows

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

This scorches me. This is unethical.

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 Ashley Australia

I'm unfortunate to have a slow Internet connection as it is. I don't need the bandwidth wasted by something I never knew about. Least now I can explain why it would be so randomly slower than normal. Seconded on Linux.

Fri, Sep 14, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

Linux Conspiracy Theorists at their finest.

Thu, Sep 13, 2007 ObiWan Cantina

Move along! These are not the droids you're looking for! These are not the Patches you are looking for!

Thu, Sep 13, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

Ah, yet another reason to either switch or stay with Linux...

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