To patch or not to patch – that is the question

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

After the recent episode of problems with a “security” update by Microsoft for Windows XP that disabled not only the Zone Alarm firewall on my system but, basically, all Zone Alarm firewalls left, right and center, that is to say the firewalls of thousands of other users worldwide, I am beginning to wonder, yet again as to the question of patch or no patch.

The question is as to whether downloading patches, and other such so highly tauted important updates and patches, from Microsoft for Windows is such a great idea. I have had problems in that department before but we shall touch on the advice given to me by computer personnel later in this article.

Obviously, initially, and I assume I was not alone there, I thought that the Zone Alarm program had gone bonkers for some reason or other and I uninstalled the older version, that is to say 6.5, downloaded the latest version, installed same but, guess what? Well, you guessed it... zilch. The problem persisted. No access to anything on the Web, neither my emails via the email client nor web pages. Nothing was loading.

As I wanted and need Internet access, which I just could not get, I disabled Zone Alarm, accessed the Web and downloaded PC Tools' Firewall which though nice and rather powerful if just not Zone Alarm (sorry PC Tools... nothing wrong with the program... just me having used Zone Alarm now for so many years and that...). I am sure you all know what it is like when you have gotten used to and used to trusting something for many years.

Had it, however, not for the fact that I got PC Tools' firewall I would not have been able to get online and finally find out that I was not the only one affected and that Zone Alarm was advising that there is a problem for all Zone Alarm users with the Microsoft Security Update for Windows KB951748. Cheers Microsoft! I followed the instructions provided by Zone Alarm's website and uninstalled that patch and put Zone Alarm back on and all is well.

But back to the question of “to patch or not to patch”...

Years ago some geeks told me not ever to install any patched and so-called “security updates” from Microsoft as some of them were doing more harm than good and I must say I have had a couple of occasions in those days when that did happen and when, according those that then sorted out the PC for me (before I learned a lot of how to deal with them things), the reason for the malfunctions were those “security updates” from Microsoft.

I may just about go back to those days after the above events when I no longer installed any “security updates” and “patches” from Microsoft and do as I did then, while ensuring, obviously, that all possible security software is in place and continually updated.

I must say that, after some bad experiences with patches, such as disabled Open Source software on my PC and disabled add-ons to Firefox I am beginning to think and to believe that there is something in what some of the geeks used to say and still say about Microsoft's patches and such; namely that some of those pieces of software are there to check on one's system and disable software in use that Microsoft does not agree with or approve of. I have no proof for that and therefore make no claims as to whether or not what others have said and claimed is the truth or not.

All I am beginning to wonder is as to whether “to patch or not to patch?”

Who would have believed that an update patch, in this case Microsoft's Security Update for Windows KB951748, direct from a supposedly reputable source would disable a firewall on PCs and only, so it would appear, the firewalls of one particular company.

Let me hear your thoughts, theories and even conspiracies on this.

And, the question remains, “to patch or not to patch?”

As I have indicated already, I am of a mind right now to turn off, as I had done with previous Windows operating systems, automatic updates, and leave the operating system as it is and just just run the best third-party protection software and keep said programs updated, obviously, ate a more-or-less daily basis.

The “game” with Microsoft updates “killing” off Zone Alarm cost me hours of productive work and while I managed to get back online, protected, with PC Tools' firewall, which, as said, is quite neat and has lots of features, I was missing my Zone Alarm that I was familiar with and with which I have good experiences. This was time that I could have use much better in researching and writing articles or doing other productive work and things. Messing around with a computer when you are not really certain as to what has happened in the first place does not rather as very good entertainment in by book.

I would love to hear Microsoft's response and excuse with regards to this as to how and why and wherefore this happened and what guarantees they are proposing to give and what safeguards they are putting in place that this is not going to happen again with other patches. Mind you, I doubt that we will get a real response from Microsoft at all. Corporations such as that one and especially that one think that they are different and do not have to do things like that.

So, “to patch or not to patch?”

I think my answer – for the time being at least – you all can guess. What say the rest of you?

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008