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Windows 10 Anniversary update adds headaches for antivirus vendors

The struggling antivirus software industry has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons.

To recap, Google’s Project Zero has discovered and disclosed a flurry of head-scratching vulnerabilities in many leading antivirus products. The most serious of these included critical flaws in the core engine of Symantec’s flagship antivirus software. To add insult to injury, the discovery of these Symantec vulnerabilities revealed a shocking design flaw in its products: the antivirus engine was loading itself in the Windows kernel to scan malware.

Bringing potentially malicious code in the Windows kernel is like putting Ozzy Osborne in a roomful of doves and hoping he’ll be on best behavior. The Symantec episodes were a sad reminder of the woeful state of the antivirus industry.

And now the beleaguered antivirus industry is back in the spotlight once again. This time, however, it’s not the fault of the security vendors.

Many top antivirus programs have been rendered useless on Microsoft systems that installed the Windows 10 Anniversary update. Users have reported problems with Kaspersky Lab, Intel Security, Avast and others, ranging from features being disabled in the AV programs to systems crashes and blue screens of death. Microsoft confirmed that the problem is with the Windows 10 Anniversary update’s compatibility checks, and expects a patch to be issued in September (Kaspersky has released its own temporary fix for the problem).

While the antivirus industry has been on the decline lately, Microsoft depends heavily on these products to protect Windows systems from the waves of malware flooding cyberspace. No enterprise worth its salt would allow its employees to rely solely on Windows’ own embedded security features to protect their systems. So one would expect that Microsoft would take extra care in making sure its update would be compatible with programs and not leave systems without proper security protection.

But apparently that didn’t happen. And the reason, according to Intel Security’s advisory, is pretty upsetting:

“The intent was to have upgrade and installation checks implemented in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update to ensure that no incompatible McAfee product versions could be installed or present. Because of time constraints, these checks could not be implemented prior to the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update on August 2, 2016.”

Time constraints? I find it hard to believe that Microsoft didn’t have the resources available to implement these checks and avert this headache. Antivirus vendors have had a hard enough time fighting threat actors and their own lackluster product quality. They really don’t need a third adversary in the ring with Microsoft.

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