Automatic Update My Have Led to Email Denial of Service

I have been on the road a lot in the last month and haven’t had much time to perform basic computer maintenance on my primary workstation. My workstation is somewhat of a monster of cables and external hard drives, external DVD writers, and a dual wide screen monitor setup. There’s about 4 terabytes connected to this box, including all my research and work materials, virtual machines, and the standard and non-standard applications someone in the info security spaces collects over the years.

The machine runs Windows XP SP2 (yes, I haven’t taken the leap to Vista, mostly because the “Remote Desktops” administrator MMC does not work with Vista) and after running the uptime tool I discovered that it had been running for 42 days. I wasn’t too worried about that uptime, but I was concerned that I hadn’t installed any updates during that time. So I clicked the Windows Update icon in the system tray to get things going. It seemed to take quite a while to get the updates running and after about 15 minutes I saw a pop-up windows come from the tray saying “Your Antivirus Definitions Have Been Updated”. Oh great, Norton decided to install AV definitions and update its application at the same time I was installing Windows Updates.

Well, nothing bad seemed to happen after the restart. About an hour later I needed to reply to an email message and received the error “There is a Problem with the Messaging Interface — please restart Outlook”. I knew this was going to be bad, because when Outlook goes sour its going to be a long day.

I tried to repair Outlook, but received an error that a file was missing from the MSOCache. I tried to reinstall Outlook, but that didn’t work. I considered uninstalling and reinstalling Outlook, but decided to cut my losses (of time, that is) and just restore an image of the machine when it was working.

Since then, Norton AV has updated itself and Outlook still works. I haven’t installed the Microsoft Updates yet. However, I suspect that the unholy confluence of installing Windows Updates and AV Updates did something that had a negative impact Outlook, and maybe other applications if I had taken the time to find out.

Solution? That’s the hard part. I would recommend that you set your AV updates to be manual, but that’s not a good idea. Perhaps I should have set the Windows Updates to automatic? That’s probably the best solution, but again, it doesn’t make sure that that both update installation processes take place at the same time.

At this point, I’ll just have to chalk this up to a “day in the life” of a sysadmin 🙂



Thomas W Shinder, M.D.

Email: [email protected]
MVP – Microsoft Firewalls (ISA)

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