If you want a hint of how fragile our tech-reliant world is, look no further than the Oculus Rift. This morning, Rift owners the world over discovered that their $400 virtual reality headset had become a paperweight overnight—at least temporarily.
Seems as though Oculus uh...forgot(?) to issue an updated Windows certificate, the security feature that confirms that, yes, Oculus’s software is actually Oculus’s software. As Microsoft’s decade-old primer puts it, "Digital certificates function similarly to identification cards such as passports and drivers' licenses." That’s a pretty good analogy.
When the certificate expired, Windows stopped recognizing Oculus Runtime Service and thus stopped allowing it to run—for good reason, I might add. As the end user though, this manifests as a pretty opaque "Can’t reach Oculus Runtime Service" error.
The upshot: It should be a relatively easy fix. The hardware is fine. Nothing is truly broken here. Oculus needs to issue an updated certificate, and then there’s a good chance people will need to manually download the update. Why? Well, since Oculus’s software won’t run (due to the expired certificate), it’s likely that it can’t auto-update either. The process won’t even initiate. Pain in the ass, for sure, but probably a minor annoyance for anyone who’s gamed on PCs for any length of time. I could tell you some real horror stories.
On the other hand, this never should’ve happened. Windows certificates are a pretty basic part of modern software, and it’s embarrassing for a company as big as Oculus—with the backing of Facebook—to let this happen. It’s understandable, and as Reddit user TrefoilHat pointed out, Oculus’s certificate was generated in 2015 prior to the Rift’s actual public release, when the company was a lot more rough and tumble than it is now. But it’s still embarrassing, especially if the manual update premonition comes true.
In any case, this serves as a decent reminder of the fragility of the digital ecosystem. Someone forgets to check a box, and suddenly millions of devices break. We’ll keep you updated when there’s an ETA on a fix—for now Oculus has only said it’s "aware of an issue." There’s also a temporary workaround: If you set your PC back to an earlier time, pre-March 7, Windows will recognize the certificate again. User beware though, as tampering with your PC’s clock can wreak havoc with other internet-connected programs.