Researchers: Microsoft changes PC files without clearance

Silent mods to XP, Vista occur even with auto updates off, claims 'Windows Secrets'

Microsoft has started updating files on computers running Windows XP and Vista, even when users have explicitly disabled the operating systems' automatic update feature, researchers said today.

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, the Microsoft update mechanism, without displaying the usual notification or permission dialog box. The files, said Dunn, are related to the XP and Vista versions of Windows Update (WU) itself.

"We started hearing from readers that Windows was modifying files in the middle of the night, even when Windows Update was turned off," Dunn said Wednesday. Some machines' event logs pinpointed Aug. 24 as the date when the invisible updates began, but on one of Dunn's personal machines, the log showed the changes taking place this week.

Dunn identified the changed files on Vista as wuapi.dll, wuapp.exe, wuauclt.exe, wuaueng.dll, wucltux.dll, wudriver.dll, wups.dll, wups2.dll and wuwebv.dll.

And on XP SP2, he said, the changed files were cdm.dll, wuapi.dll, wuauclt.exe, wuaucpl.cpl, wuaueng.dll, wucltui.dll, wups.dll, wups2.dll, and wuweb.dll.

In the past, Dunn noted, any changes to WU have been presented to the user for approval. "They at least warned you in advance," he said.

Not so this time, said Brian Livingston, the founder and editorial director of the newsletter. "We don't completely understand the [WU] technology, but apparently this doesn't go through the Auto Update settings. A lot of companies are very sensitive about changes made to their PCs, and although there's absolutely no sign of any malicious intent on the part of Microsoft, if it starts doing this, people should have a lot of concerns."

Microsoft allows gives users some flexibility in how their XP- and Vista-powered PCs retrieve and install updates and patches from the company's servers. In Vista, for example, users can turn off automatic updates entirely; check for, but neither download or install, any fixes; or download files but not install them.

Although Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Dunn provided Computerworld with a copy of an e-mail he said "Windows Secrets" had received from Microsoft's online partner support. In the message, Microsoft only hinted at a reason for the changes: "7.0.6000.381 is a consumer-only release that addresses some issues after .374 was released. It will not be available via WSUS [Windows Server Update Services]."

"What's waking up at 2 a.m. and downloading files?" asked Livingston.

"Windows Secrets" plans to offer more details tomorrow on its Web site and to subscribers via its normal e-mail channel.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?