Microsoft Pulls Crashing XP Security Update

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Microsoft has suspended automatic distribution of a recently released security patch that it says may be causing a spate of crashes for some Windows XP users.

The offending security patch, dubbed MS10-015, was released earlier this week as part of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) regular Patch Tuesday event.

Problems for XP users cropped up immediately, resulting in systems caught in endless reboot cycles and so-called "Blue Screen of Death" (BSoD) crashes, leaving many users in dire straits.

Even though Microsoft moved to pull the suspected update by Thursday afternoon, it was too late for many users.

"Dell Gold Tech support had to work with me ALL DAY to rebuild my pc from scratch and this just sucks... it's still not right," wrote forum user "Skrichard" in a post on Friday morning.

"My mom is 70 and lives 2500 miles away. Her computer is completely hosed with this problem and she's in a panic," said another dissatisfied user who goes by the screen name "Ala123," also Friday morning.

By Thursday afternoon, the number of entries on the topic at Microsoft's user forum had hit 157 with nearly 17,000 views -- ostensibly other users with the same problem looking for solutions. By Friday morning, those numbers had swelled to 297 entries and some 108,000 views.

"I am writing to let you know that we are aware that after installing the February security updates a limited number of users are experiencing issues restarting their computers. Our initial analysis suggests that the issue occurs after installing MS10-015 (KB977165). However, we have not confirmed that the issue is specific to MS10-015 or if it is an interoperability problem with another component or third-party software," Jerry Bryant, senior security communications manager lead at Microsoft, said in a post on the Microsoft Security Response Center blog on Thursday afternoon.

Microsoft removed the patch from Windows Update, although corporate administrators using either Systems Management Server (SMS) or Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), can still deploy the patch, Bryant said in his post.

The nettlesome patch, however, was not ranked as "critical" on Microsoft's four-tiered severity rating system for security. Rather, it was ranked at the second-highest severity level of "important," meaning that it is not as easy to exploit as a critical security flaw.

Partly, that rating is based on the fact that to take advantage of the security hole, an attacker would have to have physical control of the PC and have administrator access to the system. That would tend to indicate that a successful attacker would be an insider, not just a random hacker.

While Microsoft is working to fix the rebooting and crashing problems, Bryant suggested that concerned users can protect themselves from the potential security breach by disabling 16-bit applications, as described in MS10-015, Tuesday's Security Bulletin.

Bryant also reiterated his earlier statement that Microsoft provides free technical support for users who encounter problems applying security patches.

Users in the U.S. can reach Microsoft consumer technical support here or can call in on the company's PC Safety hotline at 1-866-727-2338 (PCSAFETY). International users can find contact numbers here.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.