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Windows Update clients normally download updates over an Internet connection, although Microsoft makes provision for installing updates on computers without an Internet connection and a range of alternative methods and programs also exist to install updates. Security updates or critical updates protect against vulnerabilities to malware and security exploits.Other updates correct errors unrelated to security, or enhance functionality.The Active X component then executes the downloaded installation files in their silent/unattended mode to install or update those components, and to report the success or failure of those installations back to Microsoft's servers.The first version of the Windows Update web site (usually referred to as "v3") did not require any personally-identifiable information to be sent to Microsoft.Windows Vista and later provide a Control Panel to configure update settings and check for updates.The Windows Update Control Panel also has the function of downloading Windows Ultimate Extras, optional software for Windows Vista Ultimate Edition.
The check was performed by querying the server for a file, "cucif.cab", which contains a list of all the critical updates released for the user's operating system.
For previous versions of Microsoft Windows, users can download updates from the Windows Update website, using Internet Explorer.
Windows Update was introduced as an Internet web site with the launch of Windows 95.
The Critical Update Notification Tool then compared this list with the list of installed updates on the user's machine, and displayed a message to the user informing them of new critical updates if they were available. Moore in early 1999 was critical of this approach, describing it as "horribly inefficient" and susceptible to attacks.
Once the check executed, any custom schedule defined by the user was reverted to the default; Microsoft stated that this was by design in order to ensure that users received notification of critical updates in a timely manner. In a posting to Bug Traq, he explained that, "every single Windows 98 computer that wishes to get an update has to rely on a single host for the security.
Microsoft routinely releases security updates on the second Tuesday of each month (Patch Tuesday), but can provide them whenever a new update is urgently required to prevent a newly discovered or prevalent exploit targeting Windows users.