Consumers and IT support personnel around the country found themselves in a nightmare situation this afternoon; at best, their Windows XP-based machines simply couldn’t connect to a network, but more often than not were stuck in an endless loop of reboots.
The update, labeled 5958, causes McAfee to misidentify svchost.exe (an essential Windows system file) as a piece of malware and delete it. The official statement from McAfee indicates that the flaw only effects Windows XP machines with SP3, and results in “moderate to significant performance issues.” Of course, reports from around the Web indicate this affects systems that are only up to SP2. And calling an endless cycle of reboots a “performance issue” is a bit of an understatement.
There are unconfirmed reports that the flaw has taken out banks of systems at Intel and Dish Network, and the New York Times is reporting that dozens of PCs at the Illinois State University in Normal were taken out as well.
McAfee has released a “fix” for the problem that really only suppresses the issue and doesn’t directly address the false-positive issue. The fix also requires that a technician individually visit and repair any affected system, meaning that it may be a long night for support staff at companies and institutions who turn to McAfee for their virus protection.