What Samsung Computers Are Doing With Windows Update

Photo credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Recently, news broke that Samsung was deliberately disabling Windows Update on at least some of its computers. As Emil Protalinski at VentureBeat reported, the problem was documented by Patrick Barker, a crash-debugging and reverse-engineering expert and Microsoft MVP who was involved in the discovery of the problem after trying to help Sysnative forum members troubleshoot problems with a Samsung computer.

Windows Update seemed to be getting disabled “randomly” until Microsoft’s Auditpol utility found that Samsung’s SW Update software was downloading and running a file called “Disable_Windowsupdate.exe.” Samsung describes the purpose of its update tool, which is overall a typical utility meant to keep the manufacturer’s software and drivers, as well as any third-party “bloatware,” updated: “You can install relevant software for your computer easier and faster using SW Update. The SW Update program helps you install and update your software and driver easily.” But as Barker pointed out, the major difference between Samsung’s update tool and that of other original equipment manufacturers is that it disables Windows Update.

Barker reported that Disable_Windowsupdate.exe is configured to load automatically, regardless of how Windows is set to start up. He also found that the SW Update software downloads the executable file as part of a zip file from Samsung’s website, and its digital certificate is signed by Samsung. Protalinski confirmed that that is the case, and noted that as far as he can tell, the installer is made to work with computers running Windows XP and higher across various language settings.

It isn’t clear how many Samsung computers are affected by SW Update downloading and activating Disable_Windowsupdate.exe because it doesn’t ship with Samsung PCs out of the box. But users have been complaining of related issues since at least April, with some reports going as far back as October. Windows Update is responsible for more than just updates to the operating system, software, and drivers, but also handles all security updates. Protalinski explains, “Let’s put this another way: Various forms of malware disable Windows Update any chance they get. This is a serious problem that Samsung needs to address immediately on all affected computers.”

Barker got in touch with Samsung’s support team and received the following explanation: “When you enable Windows updates, it will install the Default Drivers for all the hardware no laptop which may or may not work. For example if there is USB 3.0 on laptop, the ports may not work with the installation of updates. So to prevent this, SW Update tool will prevent the Windows updates.”

Samsung either noticed that Windows Update was overwriting drivers on some of its computers, and causing issues with their components, or decided to act preemptively to stop that from happening. Its solution was to disable all Windows updates — but Samsung should be working with Microsoft, instead of against it, to make sure that the drivers in Windows Updates aren’t breaking the functionality of its computers.

Microsoft told VentureBeat that it was talking to Samsung, and noted, “We do not recommend disabling or modifying Windows Update in any way as this could expose a customer to increased security risks.” And later, a Samsung spokesperson told VentureBeat, “We are aware of Mr. Barker’s claim regarding Windows 8.1 updates on our computers. We take security concerns very seriously and we are working with Microsoft to address this matter.”

Samsung later updated its statement to deny the issue, claiming, “It is not true that we are blocking a Windows 8.1 operating system update on our computers.” However, the problem isn’t with a Windows 8.1 update, but with disabling Windows Update, which Samsung didn’t mention at all.

A few days after the news initially broke, VentureBeat reported that a statement from Samsung finally demonstrated that the company planned to stop the questionable practice of disabling Windows Update. “We will be issuing a patch through the Samsung Software Update notification process to revert back to the recommended automatic Windows Update settings within a few days.”

Gregg Keizer reported for Computerworld that Microsoft is “very protective” of Windows Update, which is not only a core feature of Windows but also the only sanctioned channel for distributing code changes. Windows Update will become even more important with Windows 10, which is expected to launch on July 29. Microsoft will deliver the upgraded operating system to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users via Windows Update. The new operating system won’t let those running the consumer-tier Windows 10 Home pick and choose which updates they apply, as all updates will be automatically downloaded and installed. To users who are already unhappy that they won’t have full control over which updates are downloaded and when, Samsung’s move to further restrict users’ control over updates doesn’t sit well.

Barker applauded Samsung’s reversal on the issue “I’m very glad Samsung is committed to implementing a resolution to this issue so soon,” Computerworld reported he wrote in an email replying to questions. “OEMs need to disclose whatever they intend with their users with their software, and if possible, give them a choice. If this is done, it’s not ‘under the table,’ so to speak.”

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