Microsoft says malware causing blue screen crashes

A sneaky rootkit is blamed for a problem that has sidelined some XP users following patches

A hard-to-detect rootkit may be causing Windows XP systems to crash following Microsoft's latest security updates.

Windows users began flooding Windows support forums this week, saying that their computers had been rendered unusable with a blue-screen-of-death (BSOD) error after installing Microsoft's February security updates, released Tuesday. On Thursday, Microsoft stopped shipping the MS10-015 update, which had been linked to the issue, and said it was investigating.

On Friday, Microsoft offered a preliminary conclusion, saying that malicious software may be to blame. "Malware on the system can cause the behavior," wrote Microsoft spokesman Jerry Bryant on a company blog. "We are not yet ruling out other potential causes at this time and are still investigating."

"We have confirmed cases where removing malware allows the system to boot," Bryant said in a Twitter message.

Windows XP user Patrick Barnes said he'd traced the issue to a malicious rootkit program known as TDSS that he found on one of his systems.

In a post to the Internet Storm Center, Barnes said that he'd identified a nonworking file on his system called atapi.sys. When he submitted the file for analysis it turned out to be the TDSS rootkit.

It may not be the only cause of the problem, however.

"From the reports I have been receiving, the infected atapi.sys is the most common cause of this blue screen," Barnes wrote in his post. "However, any driver that references the updated kernel bits incorrectly can also cause this blue screen."

Barnes posted repair instructions to his blog Friday, but the site was unavailable Friday morning Pacific Time. Security vendor Kaspersky Lab has released a standalone utility that removes the TDSS infection, however.

Users must first remove the rootkit from their hard drive before they can repair the issue or apply the security update, Barnes wrote in the Internet Storm Center post. People who have experienced the BSOD should remove their hard drive and then scan it for infections using another PC to make sure they catch it. "If atapi.sys is removed, you will need to replace it from installation media or from another Windows system of the same version," Barnes wrote. "Restore your hard drive and attempt to boot again. If it still does not boot, you may try a repair installation of Windows. If that still does not work, you may need to reload your computer."

Because TDSS uses crafty techniques to hide itself on the operating system, many antivirus programs have a hard time detecting it, said Roel Schouwenberg, a Kaspersky antivirus researcher. "The more I look into it, the more plausible it becomes that this is indeed the (main) issue behind the BSOD. MS10-015 is a kernel update with atapi.sys containing the extremely advanced TDSS kernel rootkit," he said via instant message. "Microsoft pulling the patch obviously says something about how widespread this thing is."

Barnes' repair instructions "make sense," Schouwenberg said. "Given the nature of the BSOD I doubt there's an easier way."

Microsoft has said that the issue affects a "limited number" of customers.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags windows xpMicrosoftblue screen

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?