Microsoft: Don't Believe the Black Screen of Death Hype

Microsoft Black Screen of Death
Move over, BSOD: There's a new screen of death in town. The frightful-sounding "black screen of death" is striking Windows machines worldwide, if recent media reports are to be believed, and Microsoft itself is the one who unleashed the beast.

It sure sounds dramatic, doesn't it? Even I got under my desk and hid for a few minutes (I ate a sandwich while I was down there -- it was delicious). It turns out, though, the "black screen of death" debacle may be more sensationalized than severe -- and, what's more, Microsoft's security updates likely have nothing to do with it whatsoever.

The Big Bad Black Screen of Death

First, let me pause for a moment to apologize: Those "Black Screen of Death Will Destroy Us"-style headlines are pretty entertaining, and I hate to be the one to burst that bubble.

(My personal favorite BLSOD story: "Black Screen of Death Likely Part of ‘Equal Opportunity Campaign.'" To be fair, I may be biased in that preference.)

But back to the matter at hand: The deadly black screen issue does appear to be very real -- it just doesn't appear to be very widespread. Or to be caused by Microsoft's latest Windows 7 patch, as reports have indicated.

In case you aren't up-to-speed, the "black screen of death" story broke over the weekend by way of a British security firm's blog. The company, called Prevx, claimed Microsoft's November security patch was inadvertently changing registry keys. That change, it said, was causing applications to lock up and systems to be sent into black-screen-frozen lockdowns.

Prevx, for what it's worth, did not contact Microsoft about the problem directly. It did, however, publicly advise users to download its security tool in order to fix the problem.

Debunking the Black Screen

Microsoft's response: Don't believe what you've read.

"Microsoft has investigated reports that its November security updates made changes to permissions in the registry that that are resulting in system issues for some customers," says Christopher Budd, Microsoft's security response communications lead. "The company has found those reports to be inaccurate."

Microsoft's investigation also shows the black screen problem is barely even popping up on the radar, Budd says, when it comes to documented cases.

"Our support organization is ... not seeing this as an issue," he assures.

So what could be causing the black screen lockups in these seemingly limited instances? Budd speculates it might have something to do with malware: Trojans such as the Daonol family, he says, can cause behavior similar to what Prevx had described.

Either that, or maybe it really is a top-secret campaign for equal opportunity in error screen color. Hey, it's not entirely impossible.

If I were you, though, I'd stick with Budd's explanation.

JR Raphael is co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. You can keep up with him on Twitter: @jr_raphael.

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