Friday, September 28, 2007

How to Put an End to Microsoft's Sneaky "Silent Updates"

The following is an excerpt from Scott Dunn's informative September 20th article in Windows Secrets Newsletter on how to keep Microsoft from installing silent updates without your permission...

If you're an individual or a small business using Windows Update (or its enhanced sibling, Microsoft Update), you may be concerned about Microsoft installing patches before you've had a chance to research their reliability. In that case, you can completely turn off the Automatic Updates Agent, thereby preventing updates or even notifications from occurring. If you take this step, you'll become solely responsible for learning about new Microsoft patches yourself. I'll explain below how to adapt to this situation. In the meantime, here's how to turn off Automatic Updates and prevent stealth installs:

In Windows XP, take these steps:
Step 1. Open Control Panel and launch Automatic Updates (in the Security Center
Step 2. Select Turn off Automatic Updates. Click OK.

In Windows Vista, take these steps:
Step 1. Open Control Panel and launch Windows Update (in the System and Maintenance category).
Step 2. In the left pane, click Change settings.
Step 3. Click Never check for updates (not recommended). Click OK.
Step 4. Click Continue, if prompted by User Account Control.

With Automatic Updates turned off, Windows Update will still update itself (and notify you of patches), but only when you manually launch Windows Update and give your consent.

What to do about repeated boot-up warnings:
Turning off Automatic Updates can cause Windows Security Alert pop-up balloons to appear in the taskbar tray every time you log on. (See Figure 1.)

Automatic Updates off
Figure 1. Turning off Automatic Updates causes scary
error balloons featuring a red shield.

If this bothers you, Windows XP allows you to suppress any warnings that relate to Automatic Updates. You can also do this in Vista but, unfortunately, the newer OS forces you to turn off all security alerts just to suppress the Automatic Updates warnings.

To eliminate the warning balloons about Automatic Updates in both XP and Vista, take these steps:
Step 1. Double-click the red shield icon in the taskbar, or open the Control Panel and launch the Security Center.
Step 2. In the left pane or box, click Change the way Security Center alerts me.
Step 3-XP. In XP, uncheck Automatic Updates and click OK.
Step 3-Vista. In Vista, select the second or third option.

Use Secunia's Software Inspector to check for updates:
With the Windows Update Agent turned off, how will you know if you have the latest security patches and updates you need?
First, read the Windows Secrets Newsletter that comes out two days after Patch Tuesday. Look in their paid section for descriptions of any patches that are reported to have negative side-effects, and use their recommended workarounds if any problems might affect you. Then, to check for needed updates to Windows and dozens of other programs, use the Secunia Software Inspector. This is a free service.

Once you know what updates you need, you can visit the Microsoft Update Web site, which offers updates for both Windows and Microsoft Office. The Secunia report includes a link to Microsoft's site and other update sites so you don't even have to bookmark them. Download and install the necessary patches. Reboot your PC and you should be good to go -- without the sneaky, underhanded, stealth "updates" Microsoft is trying to force on computer users.