McAfee apologizes for antivirus update disaster

In a late-night blog, McAfee formally apologizes for the havoc it wreaked by releasing a faulty update that crashed PCs for thousands upon thousands of customers.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

It's been a rough week for McAfee, but an even rougher one for many of its customers.

Acknowledging the chaos it caused by pushing out a buggy antivirus update on Wednesday, McAfee apologized to its customers in the form of a late-night blog on Thursday.

Barry McPherson, executive vice president of support and customer service, issued the apology on behalf of McAfee, saying the company was sorry for the headaches it caused for so many customers.

At 6 a.m. PDT Wednesday, the company released a faulty update to its antivirus software that hosed computers running Windows XP with Service Pack 3. The update, a DAT file, misidentified a key Windows file called svchost.exe as a virus, causing PCs to crash or keep rebooting. The problem affected customers worldwide, including chipmaker Intel, Rhode Island hospitals, Kentucky police, University of Michigan's medical school, and an Australian supermarket chain

In response, McAfee staffers have been working around the clock to help customers get their systems back online, McPherson said. The company believes most impacted PCs are back up.

He also detailed the fix that McAfee quickly patched together for early Thursday morning. The SuperDAT Remediation Tool stifles the updated driver that creates the false positive and then restores the svchost.exe file. McAfee said support reps are available for anyone who needs further help.

How did this problem occur in the first place? The short answer: poor testing. McAfee recently changed its quality assurance process, leading to the buggy DAT file to get past the test environment and onto the PCs of customers, MacPherson said.

To help ensure this doesn't happen again, McAfee will add new QA steps to address any update that directly affects crucial Windows system files. McPherson also said the company will beef up its Artemis system, which provides users with cloud-based virus identification, to include a more comprehensive list of Windows system files to leave alone.

McPherson closed his blog with another apology. "Again, on behalf of McAfee, I'm very sorry for how you may have been impacted by the faulty DAT file update and thank you for your continued support and cooperation as we work to remediate the situation," he said.

Will the apology and fix be enough to soothe angry customers? Based on some of the comments to the Thursday-night blog and to another McPherson blog on Wednesday, that may not be so easy.

Among the more than 100 comments to the Wednesday blog, a large number vented about lost hours of business and productivity and a lack of confidence in McAfee. Many also disparaged a company claim that the problem affected only a small number of customers.

There were only a few comments to the Thursday blog at press time, but a couple made their frustration clear.

"First of all let me say I am glad we have switched nearly 75 percent of our clients away from your product prior to this happening," wrote one commenter. "I can't imagine the chaos if we hadn't. It was chaos enough for us running all over town and billing our clients for a software glitch on a program that we recommended to them."

Wrote another: "If you expect customers to buy your product you...better make sure what you release is as solid as a rock. You shouldn't be on the list of risky software downloads!"