Coles closes stores due to McAfee bug

Australian supermarket behemoth Coles was today hit by a McAfee bug that affected 10 per cent of its point of sales terminals and forced it to shut down stores in both WA and South Australia.
Written by Ben Grubb, Contributor

Australian supermarket behemoth Coles was today hit by a McAfee bug that affected 10 per cent of its point of sales terminals and forced it to shut down stores in both WA and South Australia.

A McAfee update released on Wednesday caused computers using Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 3 to incorrectly identify a legitimate operating system component as containing a virus. Affected computers experienced networking problems or repeated rebooting. McAfee has since removed the buggy update code from the company's servers.

Coles spokesperson Jim Cooper told ZDNet Australia that 1100 of the supermarket's terminals had been affected by the bug.

"What's happened is we're basically pretty prompt in updating our McAfee virus software as required and unfortunately that's where we got caught by it," Cooper said.

"It's affected our point-of-sale registers. We had about 1100 registers affected, which is about 10 per cent of the registers across the country."

He said the damage was restricted to WA and to a lesser degree South Australia. "And that's basically because of the time difference," he said.

"We were able to catch it before it hit the eastern seaboard, but it had already gone for the other guys [WA and SA]."

Asked whether Coles would be charging McAfee for the time it had to spend fixing 1100 terminals, work which is still ongoing, Cooper said it was "fair to say ... we'll be having some conversations with McAfee at some point down the track, but we're just focused on one thing at a time at the moment".

"Our guys have been battling to rectify it in the stores all morning. So we did have as many as 18 stores in WA predominately closed for a period of time over there this morning and that was basically because they either didn't have any registers that were functioning or they didn't have enough for the store to be able to operate properly," he said.

He said that he had never seen such a widespread outage at the company.

"We have had issues where there has been a technical glitch where it's affected stores," he said. "It's often more commonly a power outage or a surge or something along those lines. But it's not been anything on this sort of scale before in our recollection."

Only one store remained closed at the time of writing, according to Cooper.

"It was a store that was open earlier but it had to close because while it was able to function with limited registers operating when the store traffic was quiet, as the store had gotten busier the other registers weren't able to open, so we had to close that store subsequently."

Cooper said that a substantial number of people were working on the fix. "We've got an IT team and others that are all hands on deck, but I wouldn't want to put a number on it," he said.

"So it's a bit of a movable beast still, but we're progressively auto-rebooting lanes where we can and if we can't do an auto-reboot we're walking store teams through manual reboots."

Coles wasn't the only business to be affected by the problem. Jeremy Bree, IT manager at Fordham Business Advisors, a business development, risk management, superannuation and investment management company, told ZDNet Australia that 30 to 40 of his 130 desktops had been affected this morning. He said he had to spend three hours fixing the issue.

Yet McAfee's executive vice president, Worldwide Technical Support & Customer Service, Barry McPherson said on a blog that the problem wasn't widespread. "We believe that this incident has impacted less than one half of one per cent of our enterprise accounts globally and a fraction of that within the consumer base," he said.

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