Flawed McAfee update paralyzes corporate PCs

Cripples Windows XP machines with endless reboots after critical system file quarantined

A flawed McAfee antivirus update sent enterprise administrators scrambling today as the new signatures quarantined a crucial Windows system file, crippling an unknown number of Windows XP computers, according to messages on the company's support forum.

The forum has since gone offline.

McAfee confirmed it had pushed the faulty update to users earlier today. "McAfee is aware that a number of customers have incurred a false positive error due to incorrect malware alerts on Wednesday, April 21," said company spokesman Joris Evers in an e-mail reply to questions. "The problem occurs with the 5958 virus definition file (DAT) that was released on April 21 at 2:00 P.M. GMT+1 (6:00 A.M. Pacific)."

According to users on McAfee's support forum, today's update flagged Windows' "svchost.exe" file, a generic host process for services that run from other DLLs (dynamic link libraries).

"HOW THE F*** do they put a DAT out that kills a *VITAL* system process?" asked Jeff Gerard on one thread. "This is goddamn ridiculous," added Gerard, who identified himself as a senior security administrator with Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada. "Great work McAfee! GRRRRRRRRRRR."

As of 3:30 p.m. ET, McAfee's support forum was offline, with a message reading "The McAfee Community is experiencing unusually large traffic which may cause slow page loads. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."

Both users and McAfee said that the flawed update had crippled Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) machines, but not PCs running Vista or Windows 7 . "Our initial investigation indicates that the error can result in moderate to significant performance issues on systems running Windows XP Service Pack 3," acknowledged Evers.

Affected PCs have displayed a shutdown error or blue error screen, then gone into an endless cycle of rebooting, users claimed.

McAfee reacted by warning users not to download today's update if they haven't already, and by posting recovery instructions and a signature update to suppress the defective one seeded to users earlier. "Apply the EXTRA.DAT to all potentially affected systems as soon as possible," the company recommended. "For systems that have already encountered this issue, start the computer in Safe Mode and apply the EXTRA.DAT. After applying the EXTRA.DAT, restore the affected files from Quarantine." Unfortunately, those instructions and the suppression EXTRA.DAT update file are not currently available, again because McAfee's support site has gone dark.

Instead, users can reach the instructions and EXTRA.DAT file from elsewhere on McAfee's site .

"The faulty update has been removed from McAfee download servers for corporate users, preventing any further impact on those customers," Evers said. "We are not aware of significant impact on consumer customers and believe we have significantly limited such occurrence."

The company has yet to produce an updated signature definition file to replace the one that crippled computers. A month ago, a BitDefender update clobbered 64-bit Windows machines. In 2005, Trend Micro released a flawed signature update that slowed PCs to a crawl, and McAfee is far from the first antivirus vendor to ship a flawed signature update. In May 2007, a Symantec definition file crippled thousands of Chinese computers when the software mistook two critical Windows .dll files for malware.

McAfee is working on helping customers affected by the rogue update, said Evers. "McAfee apologizes for any inconvenience to our customers," he added.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securitymcaffee

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.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

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 >

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?