Samsung updates back in the news – for breaking Windows updates

A 22-year-old Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) who calls himself Patrick has hit the media spotlight with a blog article about Samsung’s updating software.

As a result, Samsung is in the computer security news again for all the wrong reasons.

Last week it was bad press over its exploitable keyboard on Android.

Samsung phones, it seems, regularly call home looking for keyboard updates, even if you turn the built-in keyboard off (you can’t uninstall it altogether) and replace it with your own.

The problem is that when your phone calls home, it doesn’t verify that it got through to the right number, metaphorically speaking.

Crooks with a hacked-up Wi-Fi access point, for example, could intercept the call home, feed you a fake update, and run just about any sort of malware they wanted, with system-level privileges.

But it seems that phones aren’t the only place where Samsung has its own ideas about how to keep you up-to-date.

Windows Update considered harmful

The latest brouhaha affects Windows, and is covered in some detail by Patrick, who describes himself as having a “love for Windows internals.”

Patrick’s article is mildly affected by the exuberance of youth (the transcript of his support session with Samsung has “attack is the best form of attack” written all over it), but it’s interesting nevertheless, because he took the trouble to investigate in detail.

His headline makes the problem pretty clear:

Samsung deliberately disabling Windows Update

Actually, there’s an amusing irony that Patrick’s headline misses, namely that the Samsung component that turns Windows Update off is Samsung’s own “SW Update” application.

According to Patrick, SW Update goes one step further, and makes jolly sure it keeps Windows Update off by setting up a program that runs every time you logon and makes sure it’s still turned off.

To be fair to Samsung for a moment: there’s nothing underhand about this behaviour, because the run-at-login program is explicitly named Disable_Windowsupdate.exe.

Why turn off Windows Update?

The obvious question, of course, is, “Why?”

Turning off Windows Update in favour of your own software implies that you intend to take the job over from Microsoft, presumably with the intention of offering additional features and controls that make fetching and installing critical updates even more reliable.

According to Patrick’s support call with Samsung, however, the reason for turning Windows Update off is much more mundane:

When you enable Windows Update, it will install the Default Drivers for all the hardware on your laptop, which may or may not work. For example if there is USB 3.0 on the laptop, the ports may not work after the installation of updates. So to prevent this, SW Update tool will prevent Windows updates.

According to various news stories, Microsoft has now weighed into the discussion, dispassionately stating that:

We do not recommend disabling or modifying Windows Update in any way as this could expose a customer to increased security risks. We are in contact with Samsung to address this issue.

What to do?

The quick fix you can implement right now is to uninstall SW Update and to turn Windows Update back on.

Unlike Samsung’s defective Android keyboard, which is baked into the base Android distribution and can’t be removed like a regular app, SW Update does show up in the Uninstall or change a program list under Control Panel | Programs | Programs and Features.

But there are two possible problems with that approach:

  • Patrick claims to have had reliability problems with the uninstaller, so your mileage may vary.
  • You won’t get any Samsung updates, which could leave you at risk of already-fixed bugs.

So, if you decide to leave things as they are, you probably want to set yourself a reminder (a Post-it note will do!) to run Windows Update by hand every now and then.

To do that on Windows 8.1, try this:

  • Do a search for Windows Update.
  • Launch the Windows Update application.
  • Use the Check for updates option.

And keep your eyes open for how Microsoft and Samsung resolve this impasse.