It’s time to install most of July's Windows and Office patches

If you’ve been keeping your Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 machines clean with “Security-only” patches, July has an important change to consider. For most people, the coast is clear to install the July 2019 patches.

Patch + update options  >  Pixelized tools + refresh symbol with branching paths
Pashaignatov / Getty Images

With one glaring exception, July was a rather benign patching month. The Win10 versions got their usual two cumulative updates (the second considered “optional”). Visual Studio had some hiccups, but they’re fixed now.

Folks trying to upgrade from Windows 10 version 1803 or 1809 to 1903 encounter various problems, but for now there’s very little reason to push your machine onto 1903. We’ll be talking a lot more about that later this month.

When Win7 Security-only patches aren’t

The big pimple on the patching butt this month: The Win7/Server 2008 R2 “Security-only” patch. Without any warning or explanation from Microsoft, the July “Security-only” patch installs a full telemetry kit and hooks things up so information gets sent to Microsoft – precisely what most people are trying to avoid by taking the “Security-only” route.

We have late-breaking confirmation from Windows guru @abbodi86 that the July Security-only patch installs the same kind of telemetry found in the Monthly Rollups. Many (dare I say “all”?) of the folks who go to the bother of downloading and manually installing the Security-only patches specifically do so to avoid the snooping. But if you want the July security fixes, telemetry comes along for the ride.

Fortunately, there are ways to circumvent the telemetry, or at least minimize it. Details following.

McAfee Endpoint Protection conflicts – maybe

Again this month there are questions about McAfee Endpoint Protection’s interaction with Windows updates. Kevin Beaumont (@GossiTheDog) kicked off the latest round of suspicion and vituperations by posting:

McAfee Endpoint Protection has an interesting one, they've added a rule called RDP which I think is designed around BlueKeep (?), but it stops Windows Update applying July's security patches.

Günter Born has taken up the call with an article on his Borncity blog, but I’ve been unable to replicate the problem or find calls for help on the McAfee site. Anyway, if you have trouble installing the July patches and you’re using McAfee Endpoint Protection, you might try turning it off before retrying.

Update the safe way

Here’s how to get your system updated the (relatively) safe way.

Step 1. Make a full system image backup before you install the latest patches.

There’s a non-zero chance that the patches — even the latest, greatest patches of patches of patches — will hose your machine. Best to have a backup that you can reinstall even if your machine refuses to boot. This comes in addition to the usual need for System Restore points.

There are plenty of full-image backup products, including at least two good free ones: Macrium Reflect Free and EaseUS Todo Backup. For Win7 users, If you aren’t making backups regularly, take a look at this thread started by Cybertooth for details. You have good options, both free and not-so-free.

Step 2. For Win7 and 8.1

Microsoft is blocking updates to Windows 7 and 8.1 on recent computers. If you are running Windows 7 or 8.1 on a PC that’s 24 months old or newer, follow the instructions in AKB 2000006 or @MrBrian’s summary of @radosuaf’s method to make sure you can use Windows Update to get updates applied.

If you’ve been relying on the Security-only “Group B” patching approach to keep Microsoft’s snooping software off your PC, you’re faced with a tough decision:

  • You can hold off on installing any patches this month. Since Security-only patches are not cumulative, you may be able to skate by this month’s fix and pick up next month – assuming Microsoft doesn’t include telemetry with the patches next month – by no means a given. 
  • You can switch over to the Monthly Rollups. I’ve been recommending this approach for quite some time, but realize that there are folks who just don’t feel comfortable running Microsoft’s telemetry termites on their machines. 

If you’ve been installing the Security-only patches and want to continue doing so, be sure to follow @abbodi86’s advice, turn off the Customer Experience Improvement Program (gotta love the name) and, after the July patch is installed, disable the new scheduled tasks.

For most Windows 7 and 8.1 users, I recommend following AKB 2000004: How to apply the Win7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollups. Realize that some or all of the expected patches for July may not show up or, if they do show up, may not be checked. DON'T CHECK any unchecked patches. Unless you're very sure of yourself, DON'T GO LOOKING for additional patches. In particular, if you install the July Monthly Rollup, you won’t need (and probably won’t see) the concomitant patches for June. Don't mess with Mother Microsoft.

If you see KB 4493132, the “Get Windows 10” nag patch, make sure it’s unchecked.

Watch out for driver updates — you’re far better off getting them from a manufacturer’s website.

After you’ve installed the latest Monthly Rollup, if you’re intent on minimizing Microsoft’s snooping, run through the steps in AKB 2000007: Turning off the worst Win7 and 8.1 snooping. If you want to thoroughly cut out the telemetry, see @abbodi86’s detailed instructions in AKB 2000012: How To Neutralize Telemetry and Sustain Windows 7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollup Model.

Realize that we don’t know what information Microsoft collects on Window 7 and 8.1 machines. But I’d be willing to bet that fully-updated Win7 and 8.1 machines are leaking almost as much personal info as that pushed in Win10.

Step 3. For Windows 10 prior to version 1903

If you want to stick with your current version of Win10 Pro — a reasonable alternative — you can follow my advice from February and set “quality update” (cumulative update) deferrals to 15 days, per the screenshot below. If you have quality updates set to 15 days, your machine already updated itself on July 24, and will update again on August 21. Don’t touch a thing and in particular don’t click Check for updates.

1809 feature update 240 days Microsoft

For the rest of you, including those of you stuck with Win10 Home, go through the steps in "8 steps to install Windows 10 patches like a pro." Make sure that you run Step 3 to hide any updates you don’t want (such as the Win10 1903 upgrade or any driver updates for non-Microsoft hardware) before proceeding.

If you see a notice that, "You're currently running a version of windows that's nearing the end of support. We recommend you update to the most recent version of Windows 10 now to get the latest features and security improvements" you can safely chill. Win10 1803 is good through November. If you see a link to “Download and install now,” ignore it – for the same reason.

Step 3A. For Windows 10 version 1903

If you’ve already moved to Win10 Pro version 1903, and you set a 15-day deferral on quality updates, you’ll no doubt discover that the settings shown in the screenshot are no longer available on your machine. Microsoft hasn’t yet deigned to tell us what’s going on, but you can rest assured that your 15-day deferral was obeyed – and you got the July patches on July 24. Don’t worry about changing the deferral settings just yet. You’re protected until Aug. 21.

We’re still experimenting with all of the settings and seeing how they interact with one another, but at this point my best advice if you’re on 1903 is to click the link on the Windows Update page that says “Pause updates for 7 days,” then click on the newly revealed link, which says “Pause updates for 7 more days,” then click it again.

By clicking that link three times, you’ll defer cumulative updates for 21 days from the day you started clicking – if you do it today, you’ll be protected until Aug. 23 – which compares favorably to my preferred 15-day deferral, mentioned earlier.

There are several group policies and a handful of registry settings working in the background when you make those changes. It still isn’t clear to me how they interact (@PKCano has some details – and they’re hairy). But if you’re using Pro and set the quality update deferral to 15 days, and punch the “Pause updates for 7 days” button three times (on either Home or Pro), you should be in good shape.

Thanks to the dozens of volunteers on AskWoody who contribute mightily, especially @sb, @PKCano, @abbodi86 and many others.

We’ve moved to MS-DEFCON 4 on the AskWoody Lounge.

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