NEW YORK -- Computers in companies, hospitals and schools around the world got stuck repeatedly rebooting themselves Wednesday after an antivirus program identified a normal Windows file as a virus.
Antivirus vendor McAfee Inc. confirmed that a software update posted at 9 a.m. Eastern time, specifically a McAfee for Windows XP update, caused its antivirus program for corporate customers to misidentify a harmless file. It has posted a replacement update for download.
McAfee sent a statement to Engadget regarding the problematic Windows XP (read the full text here):
Our initial investigation indicates that the error can result in moderate to significant performance issues on systems running Windows XP Service Pack 3.
The faulty update has been removed from McAfee download servers for corporate users, preventing any further impact on those customers. We are not aware of significant impact on consumer customers and believe we have effectively limited such occurrence.
Online posters begged to differ, saying thousands of computers running Windows XP with Service Pack 3 were affected.
Twitter was flooded with tweets by users who had experienced problems with McAfee's flawed update:
a2tech: McAfee..thanks for proving yet again what a bunch of tools you are-not only do you provide a worthless service you actively destroy machines
gorgiasinpurple: Good thing I have a mac. Campus wide virus - all windows xp computers are down! Bio lecture canceled!
@shawnp0wers: I don't follow many Windows news sites or users - but the McAfee thing is kinda funny. I mean, horrible, but funny. :)
At Rhode Island Hospital, the state's biggest, the computer lock-up prompted personnel to divert emergency room visitors without traumas to other hospitals. The hospital also postponed some elective surgeries. Patient care continued uninterrupted using backup procedures, according to Nancy Jean, spokeswoman for the health system.
In Kentucky, state police were told to shut down the computers in their patrol cars as technicians tried to fix the problem.
Peter Juvinall, systems administrator at Illinois State University in Normal, said that when the first computer started rebooting it quickly became evident that it was a major problem, affecting dozens of computers at the College of Business alone.
"I originally thought it was a virus," he said. When the tech support people concluded McAfee's update was to blame, they stopped further downloads of the faulty software update and started shuttling from computer to computer to get them working again.
Intel Corp. also appeared to be one of the victims, according to employee posts on Twitter. Intel did not immediately return calls for comment.
McAfee has more information on its website.
Were you affected by the faulty update? If so, tell us how in the comments section below.