Operating Systems

Windows 8 Will Be Less Bossy About Automatic Restarts

Windows 8 will change the way Microsoft’s flagship operating system will deal with updates, the company recently announced. Windows Update will consolidate all restarts released over each month to synchronize with Patch Tuesday.

This means users’ PCs will only restart when security updates are installed and require a restart.

However, when a critical security update is released, Windows Update will download and install the patch and restart automatically, Microsoft said.

That consolidation will help keep the system secure in a timely manner, reduce the multiple restarts for different application patches that cause users difficulties, and make restarts more predictable, Microsoft argues.

Security experts are divided over this move.

Consolidating the reboots to once monthly gives advanced persistent threats — the kind of continuous low-profile attacks that keep on until their target is penetrated — more time to do their nefarious work, Stina Ehrensvard, CEO of Yubico, told TechNewsWorld.

Update consolidation “is to solve the user’s desire to have one update for the entire system,” stated Mike Geide, senior security expert at Zscaler ThreatLabZ.

There Can Be Only One

Windows PC owners have sometimes complained about disruptive restarts during automatic updates because those restarts could interrupt important work, Microsoft said.

Allowing computers to restart without user interaction led in several cases to loss of user data, often because these actions are set for 3 a.m. when users aren’t around to save data, Redmond noted.

Microsoft designed the Windows 8 update to minimize intrusiveness to users, keep them aware of critical actions, minimize restarts and make restarts more predictable, all while continuing to keep the PC and its ecosystem up to date and secure in a timely manner.

Hence, all restarts required within the span of a month will be synchronized with Patch Tuesday.

“I’m glad someone at Microsoft is actually dealing with this problem,” Andrew Brandt, director of threat research at Solera Networks, told TechNewsWorld.

“I’ve lost files a bunch of times when I left my computer running over the weekend and came back to find that it had rebooted,” Brandt added.

The Pros and Cons of Consolidation

One concern about the new Windows 8 update process is that it might reduce the effectiveness of third-party application updates.

What would happen, for example, if a third-party software vendor such as Adobe issued an update for its app shortly after Patch Tuesday had passed? Would the PC user suffer from having to wait until the next Patch Tuesday for the Adobe update to take effect?

“Many application updates do not require an operating system restart,” ThreatLabZ’s Geide told TechNewsWorld. “For example, antivirus updates are often just updates to the antivirus signatures and detection algorithms.”

The Windows 8 updater will “presumably provide the same level of notification to the user if a restart is required for application updates to occur,” Geide opined.

Always Room for One More

Consumers with third-party antivirus apps on their Windows PCs will probably remain safe between Patch Tuesdays because “the third party AV vendors’ updates should be independent of Windows updates,” Nicholas Skrepetos, chief technology officer of consumer software at Support.com, told TechNewsWorld.

Further, fears that Microsoft might be pulling support for third-party vendor updates might be unfounded.

“There’s a clause in the [Microsoft announcement] that makes me wonder if Microsoft is preparing for such an eventuality, that they’d have to push an update to third-party software,” Solera’s Brandt pointed out.

Defining Critical Updates

Microsoft did say that when a critical security update is issued at any time to fix a dire threat, Windows 8 Update would download and install the update and restart users’ computers without waiting for the next Patch Tuesday.

What is a dire threat? “Microsoft has a severity rating of its updates as they relate to security,” ThreatLabZ’s Geide said.

Not everyone’s convinced that Windows 8 Update will improve things, however.

“This is a typical ‘marketing versus reality’ approach to get customers to sign up for the next version [of Windows],” Phil Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software, told TechNewsWorld.

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