Woody Leonhard

About the Author Woody Leonhard


Microsoft’s December Patch Tuesday a real yawner, so far

Microsoft released its Patch Tuesday passel a couple of hours ago, and it looks like we can all go home and enjoy some eggnog. There were two fixed vulnerabilities for Win7, and two for Win 8.1, and the (five) supported Win10 versions had three fixes apiece, all of them bundled into cumulative updates.

There were no “critical” patches for Windows this month, although Internet Explorer with 13 patched vulnerabilities (9 critical) and Edge with 13 vulnerabilities (12 critical) should certainly turn your head. Assuming you still use either or both. Not many folks do.

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It’s time: Make sure Windows Auto Update is turned off

It’s time to make sure your computer is locked down. If history is any indication, we’re going to be in for a rocky ride over the next week or two.

In September, folks who were set to update Windows automatically were greeted by Word docs and Excel spreadsheets that wouldn’t display merged cells, switched languages and intentionally broke one-click printing on custom forms. In October, admins who let patches go through automatically were greeted by oceans of blue screens and failures in Microsoft’s own Dynamics CRM. Last month, every version of Windows was hit with a patching bug that blocked Epson dot matrix printers — and those who had told Win10 Creators Update to wait to upgrade found themselves “accidentally” upgraded to Win10 Fall Creators Update, version 1709.

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Microsoft quietly repairs Windows Defender security hole CVE-2017-11937

Many malware researchers were surprised to find an unexpected patch on their machines yesterday. It didn’t arrive through the front door — Windows Update wasn’t involved. Instead, the new version of mpengine.dll arrived automatically, around the back, even if you have Windows Update turned off.

This vulnerability is particularly nasty. If the Malware Protection Engine scans a jimmied file, the file can take over your computer and run whatever it wants. Since the MPE routinely runs all the time, in the background, that means a bad file could infect your computer in myriad ways. To quote Microsoft’s Security Vulnerability notice:

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Windows Update for Win7 broken, throwing error 80248015

Reports are piling in from afar that Windows Update in Win7 is broken. My first sighting was late Sunday afternoon, when KarenS posted on the AskWoody Lounge:

When I clicked on the Windows Update icon today to start the updates it said that my computer was up to date and that there were no updates available which I know was not the truth because I hadn’t installed any of the [recent ones]

KarenS reported that the machine would only regurgitate the message shown in the screenshot.

win7 no updateWoody Leonhard/IDG

There was an attempt to isolate the problem on KarenS’s computers, to no avail — the update service was working fine.

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Retro Start menu star Classic Shell heads out to pasture

Hundreds of millions of downloads just doesn’t cut it, apparently. Ivo Beltchev, who first released the Start Menu replacement in 2009, has decided it just isn’t worth the effort any more. Yesterday he posted this on his official web blog:

After months of deliberation, I have decided to stop the development of Classic Shell…

There were few factors that led to my decision:

1) Lack of free time.

2) Windows 10 is being updated way too frequently

3) Each new version of Windows moves further away from the classic Win32 programming model… The new ways things are done make it very difficult to achieve the same customizations

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Reports of IE 11 failing to start linked to font size

Throughout history, there have been a million reasons why Internet Explorer won’t start: You click on the icon in the taskbar, and nothing happens. Thanks to some stellar sleuthing by @PKCano on AskWoody, it now appears that there’s an identifiable cause for some of the failures. If you’ve recently installed any of the Win 7 or 8.1 Monthly Rollups from September onward and you can’t get IE to start, check your icon font size. Yes, you read that right.

Earlier this week I received an email from reader JB:

Have you heard of or seen an issue with Internet Explorer 11 crashing when the cumulative update for the Win 7 OS KB4048957 is installed? (not the IE patch mind you – the OS cumulative patch. Weird right?)

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Reports of IE 11 failing to start linked to icon font size

Throughout history, there have been a million reasons why Internet Explorer won’t start: You click on the icon in the taskbar, and nothing happens. Thanks to some stellar sleuthing by @PKCano on AskWoody, it now appears that there’s an identifiable cause for some of the failures. If you’ve recently installed any of the Win 7 or 8.1 Monthly Rollups from September onward and you can’t get IE to start, check your icon font size. Yes, you read that right.

Earlier this week I received an email from reader JB:

Have you heard of or seen an issue with Internet Explorer 11 crashing when the cumulative update for the Win 7 OS KB4048957 is installed? (not the IE patch mind you – the OS cumulative patch. Weird right?)

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Get November Windows and Office updates installed — carefully

The list of complaints about this month’s patches goes on forever. I covered the high points a couple of days ago. We’ve seen people who are running Win10 Creators Update and who specifically said they didn’t want to upgrade to Fall Creators Update get pushed into an upgrade anyway. Those using Epson dot matrix or POS printers lost them for a couple of weeks. Add to that a heaping handful of hooey and there were enough problems to keep most Windows customers shaking their heads. Or quaking in their boots.

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Microsoft Patch Alert: November’s forced upgrades, broken printers and more

There are so many issues with this month’s security patches that it’s hard to decide where to begin. Let’s start with the problems that have been acknowledged, then move into the realm of what’s not yet fully defined.

Forced upgrades

Many users have remarked about how much the forced 1703-to-1709 Windows 10 upgrades feel like Microsoft’s detested forced upgrades from Win 7 and 8.1 to 10 – the “Get Windows X” campaign. Although the situation’s different on the surface, the net result is the same. Many people who were happily using Windows 10 Fall Update – version 1703 – were forcibly upgraded this month to the Fall Creators Update – version 1709 – even on systems that were not supposed to be upgraded.

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HP stealthily installs new spyware called HP Touchpoint Analytics Client

Hard to imagine in this age of privacy scandals, but HP is installing a telemetry client on its customers’ computers — and it isn’t offering any warning, or asking permission, before delivering the payload.

Dubbed “HP Touchpoint Analytics Service,” HP says it “harvests telemetry information that is used by HP Touchpoint’s analytical services.” Apparently, it’s HP Touchpoint Analytics Client version 4.0.2.1435.

There are dozens of reports of this new, ahem, service scattered all over the internet. According to Günter Born, reports of the infection go all the way back to Nov. 15, when poster MML on BleepingComputer said:

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Microsoft Thanksgiving turkeys: One patch disappears, another yanked

For those of us keeping track of Windows patches, the long four-day weekend in the U.S. felt like another instantiation of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Here are the developments, in more or less chronological (which is to say, not logical at all) order.

While many of you were sneaking out the door early on Wednesday, Microsoft released KB 4055038, a fix for bugs that clobbered Epson dot matrix printers, introduced in this month’s Patch Tuesday security patches. I talked about the bug two weeks ago. In short, a bug in all of this month’s Windows security patches caused Epson dot matrix printer drivers to fail. The bug appeared in:

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A breakthrough in Surface Book battery problems?

I’m not vouching for Microsoft, mind you, but if the latest official assertion about the Surface Book 2 battery is true, it’s a game changer.

Since the dawn of Surface time, there’s been no way to have a battery replaced: Your only option was to swap out the entire unit, an expensive proposition. A recent post by a Microsoft employee on the official Microsoft Answers Forum raises a glimmer of hope that batteries in the Surface Book 2 can be replaced.

Surface owners have complained about short-lived batteries and their expensive replacements going all the way back to the original Surface and Surface Pro. Way back in February 2013, poster Hyperlexis described his interaction about a bad Surface Pro battery with a Microsoft Surface rep:

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Patch alert: Microsoft acknowledges printer bug; forced 1709 upgrades continue

The patches have been out for only a few days, but as best I as can tell at this early juncture, November’s Patch Tuesday bugs aren’t as bad as they were in October. Thank Redmond.

If you use an Epson dot matrix printer, if you’re seeing an error that CDPUserSvc has stopped working, or if you were forcibly upgraded from Win10 Creators Update, version 1703, to Fall Creators Update, version 1709, I have some good news and some bad news.

Dot matrix dissed

Microsoft has acknowledged a bug in its Patch Tuesday updates that causes “some Epson SIDM and Dot Matrix printers” to fail. The bug appears in this month’s patches for every version of Windows:

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Microsoft forces Win10 1703 customers onto 1709, and other Patch Tuesday shenanigans

Another massive outpouring of Microsoft patches yesterday — more than 1,100 separate patches — brought a few surprises and shouts of indignation from a forced but unannounced upgrade. Some bugs are already evident, and there’s a storm brewing over one Office patch. But by and large, if you don’t use Internet Explorer or Edge, it’s a non-event.

Every version of Windows got patched yesterday (Win10 1709, Win10 1703, Win10 1607, Win10 1511 Enterprise, Win10 1507 LTSC, Win 8.1, Win RT 8.1, Win 7, plus Server 2016, 2012 R2, 2012, 2008 R2, 2008). Almost every version of Office (2016, 2013, 2010, 2007, plus 2013 and 2010 Click-to-Run). Plenty of miscellaneous, too: IE 11, 10, 9 and Edge, Flash for all, SharePoint Server, the ChakraCore package, and various .Nets including ASP.NET. The good news? Unless you use IE or Edge, there’s nothing pressing — you can sit back and watch the bugs crawling out of the woodwork.

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Microsoft promises fixes for several long-standing Surface problems

Microsoft’s multibillion-dollar Surface brand has taken many hits in its relatively short and sordid career, while customer support vacillated between inadequate and non-existent. Now, official posts on the Microsoft Answers Forum lend a ray of hope to those who have specific problems. It remains to be seen if the posts reflect a corporate change of heart, or if they’re just more of the same-old same-old.

Last week I wrote about the apparent bug in the Win10 Fall Creators Update that makes some Surface Pens stop writing. In that article I list 10 separate Answers Forum threads and two Reddit threads, packed with complaints from similarly afflicted customers.

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Non-security Office patches appear with the reprise of KB 2952664 and 2976978

November’s two dozen or so non-security Office patches won’t raise any eyebrows: A bad antivirus scanning sequence problem (KB 4011188, 4011229, 3162081, 4011138), an upgrade from Lynch 2013 to Skype for Business (KB 4011255), and lots of miscellaneous bug fixes. Two patches caught my eye.

First, I’m surprised that the antivirus scanning problem is characterized as non-security:

If Windows Defender is enabled and registered for IOfficeAntivirus scanning, Office applications still run registry key scanning first instead of using Windows Defender for documents scanning. After you install this update, Office applications will use Windows Defender instead.

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Microsoft yanks buggy Windows patches KB 4052233, 4052234, 4052235

As I reported last week, Microsoft released a handful of buggy patches designed to fix the “Unexpected error from external database driver” bug introduced by all of the October Windows security patches. As noted then, the bug fixes have bugs themselves, and the cure is worse than the disease.

Now comes word that Microsoft has not only yanked the bad patches; it’s also deleted the KB articles associated with the patches.

Specifically, all of these KB articles report that the page does not exist:

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Surface Pen malfunctions after installing Win10 Fall Creators Update

If you have a Surface Pen, and you installed the latest upgrade to Windows 10 – the Fall Creators Update, version 1709 – you may be experiencing problems with your pen.

No, the battery doesn’t need replacing.

No, your pen isn’t wearing out.

Instead, it looks like there’s a bug in 1709 that makes “pinch to zoom” fail – or simply disables the pen as a whole.

Poster GabrielleRice describes the worst problem on the Microsoft Answers Forum writes:

I have a Surface Pro 4, for which I’ve had a Surface Pen. My pen, however, has been malfunctioning. In essence, it stops writing. I can still use the buttons and my screen responds to touch, my keyboard still works, etc., but my pen simply will not write. Most puzzling, this problem comes and goes seemingly at random. The pen will be completely nonfunctional for hours at a time and then, without warning, will write flawlessly again. I’ve tried every troubleshooting tip to no avail, and have even replaced the battery. Replacing the battery helped briefly, but the problem has persisted. I went back again and tried the troubleshooting tips, but they haven’t stuck. As someone who bought this tablet to help me with my digital art, it’s really unhelpful to have a malfunctioning pen.

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MS fixes ‘external database’ bug with patches that have even more bugs

Yesterday, Thursday, a date which will live in infamy, Microsoft unleashed patches for five versions of Windows. They were supposed to fix the widely reported bug in all of the mainstream October Windows security patches that gave rise to a bogus “Unexpected error from external database driver” message.

It’s too early to assess all of the damage, but reports from many corners say installing these new patches brings back old, unpatched versions of many files. If you installed one of the patches from yesterday, best to uninstall it. Now.

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MS fixes ‘external database’ bug with patches that have even more bugs

Yesterday, Thursday, a date which will live in infamy, Microsoft unleashed patches for five versions of Windows. They were supposed to fix the widely reported bug in all of the mainstream October Windows security patches that gave rise to a bogus “Unexpected error from external database driver” message.

It’s too early to assess all of the damage, but reports from many corners say installing these new patches brings back old, unpatched versions of many files. If you installed one of the patches from yesterday, best to uninstall it. Now.

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Surface Pro 4 screen shake/dead Type Cover problems fall on deaf ears

Microsoft’s ongoing record of shoddy response to Surface Pro problems continues unabated. This time, the Surface Pro 4 (born October 2015, superseded June 2017) takes the limelight: Complaints about shaky screens and dead Type Covers abound.

We’re seeing a repeat of the all-too-familiar pattern of Surface denial, aided and abetted by clueless, paid, outsourced support personnel on the Microsoft Answers forum.

Surface Pro 4 shaky screen

If you haven’t yet seen the shaky screen problem, look at this YouTube video submitted by DimkaSuperStaR 18 months ago. The Microsoft Answers forum has been flooded with complaints about the problem. I wrote about it six months ago and again three months ago.

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Free Windows 10 upgrade offer’s days are numbered

One of the best known nudge-nudge-wink-wink features of Windows 7 and 8.1 is about to fade into the sunset. As of Dec. 31, the offer to upgrade from either version of Windows to Win10 for free will end. At least, it looks like the offer will end. With no clear announcement from Microsoft, the nods and winks seem more furtive than ever.

At the core of the conundrum: Microsoft has officially permitted “genuine” Windows 7 and 8.1 machines to upgrade to Win10 for free, long after the original free upgrade program expired on July 29, 2016. The trick? You had to verify by asserting, “Yes, I use assistive technologies.”

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Get Windows and Office patched – but watch out for creepy-crawlies

Those of us who have to keep Windows 10 working have hit yet another rough course. This month’s patches haven’t been pretty. In fact, if your admin set the WSUS or SCCM update servers to automatically approve Windows 10 updates, you may have had to deal with oceans of blue screens.

Right now, the biggest threat is not KRACK – Computerworld‘s Gregg Keizer has an overview here and the Krackattacks.com site has the latest details; it hasn’t (yet) started infecting normal Windows users. The big threat now is from that Wacky Wascal BadRabbit, which started with a fake Flash update on a Russian site and an ancient DDEAUTO field exploit in Word (and Excel and Outlook and OneNote) and is being used to carry Locky and other ransomware.

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Win10 Fall Creators Update’s rapid, rocky rollout

A week ago today, Microsoft rolled out the “RTM” build of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (FCU), version 1709, build 16299.15 – which should’ve been immediately upgraded to 16299.19. At least anecdotally, the initial push brought in far more Win10 machines than any previous rollout. I’ve seen few reports of problems from those who had FCU thrust upon them, but there are plenty of problems among those who installed the upgrade manually.

Yesterday, Windows servicing and delivery director John Cable talked about the phased rollout approach on the Windows Blog. Cable said:

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Excel, Access, external DB driver errors linked to this month’s patches

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How to block Windows 10 Fall Creators Update from installing

Some people want to install the latest version of Windows 10 the moment it’s available. They’ll line up — intentionally or not — to participate in a beta testing cycle that’s disguised as a four-month-or-so exercise, designed to winnow the last bugs out of the new version before it’s deemed ready for corporate use.

If you want to help beta test an unpolished version of Win10, you don’t need to do a thing. Microsoft plans to release Fall Creators Update on Oct. 17 and will roll it out over your machine when the company figures it’s fit.

On the other hand, you might want to consider waiting until any initial problems get ironed out, keeping Win10 Fall Creators Update off your machine until you’re ready for it. Blocking the update isn’t easy, in many cases. But if you’re persistent, you can do it.

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Microsoft patch problems persist: bad release sequences, CRM blocks and more

We’re sitting at PT+2 — two days after Patch Tuesday — and the problems continue to roll in. Here are the latest mug shots in a rapidly devolving rogue’s gallery.

If you’ve been following along, you know about the initial problems I reported on Tuesday — the Word zero-day, TPM patches that don’t patch, known and acknowledged bugs in Windows patches. You saw the late bloomers I reported on Wednesday — delayed, failed and rolled back Windows patches, a non-existent Flash update, confusingly no .NET security patches, an incorrect description of the CVE-2017-11776 fix, and more TPM follies.

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Early reports of myriad Microsoft Patch Tuesday problems

This month’s massive bundle of Patch Tuesday patches almost certainly contains more than a few surprises, and they’re only starting to surface. Here’s a rundown of what I’ve seen in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

There are lots of reports of delayed, failed and rolled back installations of KB 4041676, the Win10 Creators Update (version 1703) monthly cumulative update, which brings 1703 up to build 15063.674. A quick glance at the KB article confirms that there are dozens and dozens of fixes in this cumulative update — a remarkable state of affairs, considering the Fall Creators Update, version 1709, is due on Oct. 17.

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