The mystery continues: Why are Windows machines automatically updating themselves?

The mystery continues: Why are Windows machines automatically updating themselves?

Summary: Microsoft is continuing to investigate how and why some Windows Vista users saw their machines automatically patch and reboot last week, even though these users had opted out of Automatic Updates. Microsoft is now saying it was neither Automatic Update nor last week's batch of patches at fault.


A (slight) update on last week's report that some Windows users are seeing their Vista PCs automatically update themselves and reboot.

From Nate Clinton, a Microsoft Update Program Manager, via the Microsoft Update Product Team blog:The mystery continues: Why are Windows machines automatically updating themselves?

"We have been hearing some questions recently regarding Tuesday’s update release changing automatic updating settings. We have received some logs from customers, and have so far been able to determine that their AU settings were not changed by any changes to the AU client itself and also not changed by any updates installed by AU.

"We are still looking into this to see if another application is making this change during setup with user consent, or if this issue is related to something else. We are continuing the investigation, and as I have more information I will update this post.

"If you are running into this issue, your help would be greatly appreciated. You can contact support, and they can walk you through the steps necessary to provide logs and other useful data."

So, it doesn't seem to be Automatic Update (AU) or the patches themselves at fault. So what caused last Past Tuesday's patches to be installed automatically and machines to be rebooted for a group of users who had chosen not to allow automatic installation of patches -- as originally reported on the AeroXperience site? It's still not clear whether it is Vista only (or also XP) that is affected and whether Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) users have seen the same problem.

More to come when there's new info to share.

Update (3:30 p.m. EST): I've gotten notes from a few users saying that XP is also affected. Microsoft officials had declined to comment on which versions of Windows were affected by this update glitch. So far it seems to be XP and Vista. Other users of other Windows releases out there having the same trouble?

(74 actualitzacions de seguretat per instal·lar. Image by xcaballe. CC 2.0)

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • If MS actually was doing something sneaky...

    ...would you really expect the "Microsoft Update Program Manager" to admit it?
    Henrik Moller
    • Maybe not

      But they did the last time they got caught.
      • got caught? Not True - you must disable the service!

        People constantly referring to this "stealth issue"

        ITS NOT TRUE!

        You think that because you set ONE part of the component to NOT auto update, that it meant ALL components.

        This is not microsoft's view of what turning off the automatic updates does.

        To STOP automatic updates you MUST DISABLE THE SERVICE!

        If you don't disable the service, then you have a service running that at any time *CAN* call home, *CAN* get updates, and *MAY* respect the "turn off auto update" setting.

        Again, the update was an update to the updater SERVICE, and because the service was running that was microsoft's assumed permission to update IT, and because it required a reboot.. it rebooted the pc..

        SO.. No more.. you want auto updates off.. DISABLE THE SERVICE !!

        This also may be a new twist, as others report the settings were changed ... when were they changed.. BEFORE THE REBOOT? HMMmmm doens't that seem logical? If the service was set to "not get updates" and not set for disabled, then again, some other application could have come along and re-set the auto update setting, and at the very least could have updated the updater again again.. submitted for reboot.

        OFF and DISABLED are two different terms..
        • Yep, it true

          Microsoft dosen't recognize OFF and ON as binary conditions. There are many gradients, ranging from OFF, to partly OFF, through mostly ON, all the way to ON. Now when it comes to security, there is only LOW, MEDIUM, and HIGH. So in your five day forecast you'll see "Security LOW through Thursday, turning to MEDIUM on Friday and back to LOW for the weekend. Updates will range from Mostly ON to Partly OFF through Thursday, changing to Mostly ON on Friday, with scattered updates through the weekend.
        • But they admitted it when confronted

          That was the point.

          I don't. It didn't screw up my system, I've got the automatic updates turned on because I don't want to deal with them.

          I argued the same point you're arguing the last time this was an issue.
        • But they admitted it when confronted

          That was the point.

          It didn't screw up my system, I've got the automatic updates turned on because I don't want to deal with them.

          I argued the same point you're arguing the last time this was an issue.
        • solutions?

          I remember there's one OS that if there's an update, it will ask you to download or not,
          and if you do, it will warn you if the update needs restarting or not. No monkey
          business, no mystery, nothing to worry, no hidden thing whatsoever. What's the name
          of the OS again.. oh ya, <b>Mac OS X</b>
        • Disable How?

          My auto update was disabled, I did it myself, because it interferes
          with any games that are running, but MS still managed to download and switch auto updates back on some how.
          This was on an XP machine.
        • Just to add to this...

          You need to do more than just disable the service...

          Go into the Local Security Policy (gpedit.msc) and set these options:

          Computer Configuration - Administrative Templates - Windows Components - Windows Update - Configure Automatic Updates - Disabled

          User Configuration - Administrative Templates - Windows Components - Windows Update - Remove access to use all Windows Update features - Disabled

          User Configuration - Administrative Templates - Windows Components - Start Menu and Taskbar - Remove links and access to Windows Update - Enabled

          Of course, MS may still try to circumvent this but it's worked for us for the last several years.
        • "microsoft's view of what turning off the automatic updates does"

          Frankly my dear, I don't give a Smurf for "microsoft's view of what turning off the automatic updates does". If I press [u]any[/u] control that says, in [u]plain English[/u], turn off Updates, and Updates continue, I have been told double-minus untruth.
    • I suspect they really are confused.

      Given that they could easily make Windows do anything they want to, even make
      secret copies of your hottest porn for their own edification, I find it unlikely that
      they're doing anything as clumsily sneaky as forcing stealth updates for nefarious
      purposes. Not that they're incapable of nefarious purposes (check Eller's book for
      more details), but I don't think they're that daft.

      They might have had code in there to force updates because they thought they had
      legitimate reasons for it, and they're surprised that it triggered again after the row
      over the last update, or they don't and they're completely befuddled because...

      * They've got a bug in the update code they haven't found yet.
      * They've got a bug that's messing with the policy database.
      * The people who are reporting the surprise updates don't know how they have
      policies set.
      * Some other application (as they postulate) is fiddling with the updates or policies.

      Now, I could be wrong. It's been known to happen. But that's my take.
      • confused

        ok so if all that is or could be true then they come along and say "well this would never happen if you people did not put 3rd party software and security programs on your computer you must have MICROSOFT Onecare or what ever the Microsoft program of the month is!
      • Wasn't there...

        [b]* Some other application (as they postulate) is fiddling with the updates or policies.

        Now, I could be wrong. It's been known to happen. But that's my take. [/b]

        ...a virus a while back that tried to "do the right thing"...? Oh yeah - Netsky. It tried to do its best to remove other viruses - Blaster and MyDoom, if I recall correctly.

        So what's to say some well meaning wanker didn't write something that, like Netsky, is trying to "do the right thing.."? I know it's a bit of a stretch, but hey, stranger things have happened.
    • Microsoft wouldn't lie

      I've been a sysadmin for 4 months now so I know what I'm talking about. You guys need to read more of Microsoft "technical/marketing" material like I do to be up to date. Don't bother switching to Linux or Mac, I can tell you that I tried them one evening and couldn't get them to work. What a waste of 30 minutes that was. If you think you have a problem with your machine all you have to do is type in ping, then you can tell if it was Microsoft's fault or not. People shouldn't knock Bill & Steve, if Windows wasn't the best possible software ever they wouldn't be so [financially] successful. You must all start being nicer to Microsoft because otherwise they won't be able to take over the entire world. I must go now, I have a serial to VGA connection to solder.
      • Wow, now that was subjective!

        You tried for a whole whopping 30 minutes to set up a Linux box and you're a Windows admin for 4 months! Nice way to be unbiased there!

        I will give you a 7.5 for troll score. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • Permission...

          ... not being given is the real issue here.

          Microsoft should know better than to lie anyway, the truth is impossible to hide in the long term. That still doesn't mean that they are intelligent enough to follow common sense, after all look at their recent attacks on Linux!

          This new problem is disconcerting to say the least. I assisted a client in setting up Vista and had to use System Restore to remove an update that was causing the optical drives to disappear from her system. I hope I don't have to return to redo my work.

          The mystery to me is how a third party could have any involvement in this gaff at all. This sounds like a OS problem and yet if XP is effected as well it will be interesting to find out what the cause is. Has anyone not been effected? That would be a sign of the origin of the problem, would it not?
          • Same principle as DRM

            DRM and Windows Update suffer from the same problem: If you design a system so that the "Good" Guys can update/disable it, then there are three obvious corollaries:
            * The "Bad" Guys can 0wn the system at will;
            * Defective software can cause inadvertent denial-of-service;
            * the end user doesn't really own the system in question; he's just paying for it.

            The fact that millions of people put up with this sort of nonsense would have been unbelievable 30 or 40 years ago. The fact that people today accept it without question speaks volumes about the decline of personal freedoms and responsibility in "modern" culture. *Sigh*

          • In a nutshell! nt

            Ole Man
          • winblows auto update?!?

            Gee wiz guys, I haven't had a single problem with xp pro... of course I haven't updated winblows in over a year and a half. I just keep my third-party av and mal/spyware progs up to date. But my daughter has a hp laptop with Vista (with auto update) and she has had nothing but problems... Go figure!!
        • subjective!

          Linux user he's making a joke, it was meant to be funny! Sweetie lighten up!
          Do not take the little red pills with coffee or tea!