Samsung yesterday denied it had blocked a Windows update on its hardware but acknowledged that it was manipulating Microsoft's Windows Update, a charge leveled Tuesday by a researcher.
"It is not true that we are blocking a Windows 8.1 operating system update on our computers," a Samsung spokesperson said in an email. "As part of our commitment to consumer satisfaction, we are providing our users with the option to choose if and when they want to update the Windows software on their products."
Samsung had responded to a request for comment on allegations that its homebrewed SW Update -- a tool used to update its personal computers and tablets with new drivers -- included an executable that disabled Windows Update, the only authorized distribution channel for bug fixes and security patches for Windows.
The Korean company's denial of blocking "a Windows 8.1" update -- note the singular -- was odd, as the claim made by Patrick Barker wasn't related to a single update, or even Windows 8.1.
"I don't understand what this statement is implying," Barker wrote on a revised blog post today. "I never implied it specifically blocked a 'Windows 8.1 OS system update,' just that their SW Update software is preventing Windows Update from automatically installing updates."
Earlier yesterday, Samsung had only said that it was looking into the allegation. "We are aware of Mr. Barker's claim regarding Windows 8.1 updates on our computers," a spokesperson said. "We take security concerns very seriously and we are working with Microsoft to address this matter."
That was vaguely similar to what Microsoft said yesterday when one of its spokesmen reported, "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."
Barker is a crash-debugging and reverse-engineering expert, as well as a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) -- a recognition Microsoft awards to those who contribute extensively to its community forums and projects. He expanded on his Samsung findings today.
Rather than disabling Windows Update outright, Samsung's SW Update changes the service's settings to prevent it from automatically downloading and installing updates, the default setting that Microsoft recommends.
Instead, SW Update silently changes the Windows Update retrieval and installation setting to "Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them." That's the second-most restrictive of the four options Microsoft offers for Windows Update in Windows 7. (The most restrictive is, "Never check for updates.")
"If you attempt to change [the setting made by SW Update], it'll switch right back on a reboot," Barker said. "Microsoft has openly stated that they do not like the fact that it's persistently changing, or even existing in the first place without the user's consent. It's disabling Windows Update from working as the user intends it to."
Samsung's statement implicitly admitted as much when its spokesperson said, "We are providing our users with the option to choose if and when they want to update the Windows software on their products."
Microsoft has long recommended that Windows users, particularly consumers, let the default Windows Update setting ride -- it's described as "Install updates automatically" -- as that is the surest way to ensure that the operating system is always up to date. Other options notify users when new updates are available to manually download, or have been downloaded and are ready to install.
In fact, Microsoft will move to full automation with Window 10, which will ship next month: The new OS will not let consumers pick and choose which updates they apply, but will only automatically download and install all of them.
Samsung's persistent changing of Windows Update's setting was accomplished by the executable tagged Disable_Windowsupdate.exe included with SW Update.
According to a transcript of an online chat with a Samsung technical support representative that Barker included in his blog, the company acknowledged it was monkeying with Windows Update, but said it was necessary to provide customers with the correct drivers for their systems.
"[What] we have is what the representative told me, which is that their SW Update software is used to consistently disable Windows Update so Windows Update doesn't install any drivers," said Barker in an email late yesterday where he answered follow-up questions posed by Computerworld. "They [said they] didn't want Windows Update installing drivers to conflict with their SW Update software when it came to installing drivers for the system."
It was unclear how long Samsung's Disable_Windowsupdate.exe had been changing Windows Update's settings, but there is evidence going back at least several months. In April, an owner of a Windows-powered Samsung tablet reported on Microsoft's support forum that Windows Update was not working after the device downloaded an update from SW Update that included the executable.
Samsung's spokesperson said owners of its hardware who had questions or concerns related to SW Update and the changes made to Windows Update could contact the company's customer support by telephone at 1-800-SAMSUNG.