“Lisa, you’re wrong and your technical claims are absurd.” So when do you throw in the towel? Especially when you keep debugging (for free)? I’ve hammered on this BitDefender “License expired” and now “no updates happening” problem for 14 days. I posted a few days ago about my BitDefender debugging - since then, I’ve provided additional updates on the BitDefender forum and then been awarded an extra year for free. And then attacked by a moderator.

Reward? Or bribe? Ahhhh well. Let’s ride the debugging train just a little bit further, shall we?

Daily States-of-the-States

So, detailed symptom/exploration processes are gonna get long and boring, so here’s just a list of daily behaviors so you can see how BD responds to all this through continuously released patches.

April 9: New information - BD can’t decide if it actually completed a scan

Symptoms that get me suspicious - Bipolar BitDefender:

Evidence that “Scan is complete”:

  1. I receive a pop-up screen telling me the scan is complete, with no errors found.
  2. BD also reports in the history file that the scan is complete. Good stuff.

Evidence that “Scan is NOT complete”:

  1. However, after the “Scan Complete” event entry, every update attempt fails because some other part of BD thinks the scan is still in progress. The event is, “Update error: The update process did not succeed because an on-demand scan task is in progress. To perform the update stop the running scan task and try again.”
  2. The main BD menu indicates that scanning is still in progress.

I see a process in Process Explorer called uiscan.exe that I’ve never seen before. It’s running but taking no cycles.

So, BD can’t decide if it finished the scan. I kinda think it has, but BD isn’t sharing the love all the way around.

Why is this happening?

I read on another forum that when uiscan.exe is present after the scan is apparently complete … “That mostly happens when the threat scanner has crashed.”

Well THIS certainly seems to be the smoking gun!

Attached pic shows inconsistencies of scanning.

  • History file shows scan done, but no updates because “scan in progress”
  • BitDefender shows scan still in progress in “Virus Scan” tab
  • I got the “scan complete” window a while ago
  • Update history shows the last two update errors

Any virus scan causes subsequent updates to fail.


April 10: More of the same after scanning

Again, no license expiration last night because no updates occurred successfully. The license failure happens after a successful download and update…and since my computer did HAVE a successful one…no error. And uiscan.exe is still loaded and not doing anything.

The scanning engine is hung.

April 12: “License expired” event changes

Now I am able to do a short scheduled scan without BD barfing out and expiring my license. It SEEMS like everything is fine.

But my history file is different - where it used to kill my license, I now get a “registration renewal” and a “registration extension” = these are both new events. But the “extension” is just to my endpoint next year. Hmmm. Okay, they’re trying - they are looking at this problem.

  • “license expired” event replaced by new event: “Registration Renewal”

Another symptom - this morning Firefix crashed when I was on Facebook, and then immediately BD came up with the “Expired License” message, but when I go to BD, it appears to be running happily. But my log file is full of “cannot update because scan is in progress,” after my scan completes. So Same Old Behavior at this point (no successful updates) but also NO INDICATION of update failures. I STILL have to reboot my machine to get new updates!

  • “Expired license” still occasionally slips through, but BD only sort of acknowledges it.

My first whiff of ethical problems

Here’s where I first started to get upset with BitDefender in a Whole New Way. Hey *shrugs* technical issues happen all the time. Tech support often isn’t supportful. (Oh, new word!)

  • But now … I get the same “update error” behavior, but BD No Longer Tells Me About It.

Now I am clueless that BitDefender is failing and I have no idea I am practicing Unsafe Computing.

<soapbox>

The program NOW APPEARS TO BE RUNNING FINE, but NO UPDATES ARE HAPPENING! Isn’t that just HIDING THE PROBLEM?

“Gee, users are getting upset at the errors and license expirations. So, let’s fix the SYMPTOM and NOT TELL THEM that ALL SUBSEQUENT UPDATES are FAILING!” For someone like me, who leaves my computer running until something like vsserv.exe sucks nearly every available byte of memory, I remain unprotected from new viruses and new program updates for as long as my machine remains “unrebooted.”

And I’ve no longer a reason to suspect it needs rebooting. (BitDefender, perhaps, needs rebooting. But I digest.)

</soapbox>

Is hiding symptoms ever not unethical?

Yes. As long as the user’s experience is in no way compromised and the problem is fixed.

I worked at a shall-be-nameless company and for a while we had an error that put the product into an Unhappy State. Some low-level function stopped working - don’t recall what it was, but something minor that would eventually affect performance in a way the user would notice. We secretly (to the user) initiated a reboot to recover the product’s operation until we fixed the problem. But … this DID NOT affect the user’s experience in any way. No effect on function, performance, safety … nada.

There are situations where hiding is perfectly acceptable. But outright REMOVING an existing (although broken) symptom that indicates a vulnerability (safety) is inappropriate and misleading. Unethical. I’d rather have license failures that require reboots than to have NO CLUE that the existing problem still exists.

</soapbox … sorry, didn’t realize I had crawled back up there again>

BitDefender has apparently finally taken notice of me

At this point, BitDefender technical support (the Real Deal and not just the forum) is communicating with me. I receive an email with the now apocryphal instruction to “Update Now Then Reboot,” this time with a happy little bonus:

Also, in order to compensate for this negative experience we would like to present you with this 2 year license key for BitDefender - (key removed) - that you can use free of charge.

Looking forward to your reply!

That whole “squeaky wheel” thing. My reply was polite but expressed concern over their “hide the symptom” thingie. No reply, as expected. (I really should temper my sarcasm here - it was a nice gesture to extend my registration.)

(PS - when automatic updates are failing, manual updates like that recommended above also fail.)

April 13: Tweaks by BD - what are they trying (curious engineer muses)?

Starting Sunday (April 12) around 11 am EST, 2 new event sources started to appear after a new download -

event source: PTweaks "Laptop mode is enabled"

followed 50 seconds later by

event source: PTweaks "Laptop mode is disabled"

Again that lapeop enable/disable thing about 6 hrs later.

From the BD interface, enabling and disabling Laptop mode allows you to select if a scanning task is to be postponed or skipped. Does this reset something within BD to get everyone back on the same page with regards to Opinion Of Current Scanning Status?

Could be. Kind of a local reset. I am amused at the outright debugging “PTweaks” - hell, I’ve done this countless times. Since I’d scheduled no scans and because updates were occurring successfully, I have no idea if this would have reset any Bad Behaviours on my machine.

Well, it didn’t work. I tried later to do that manually when my machine was in the Unhappy State. It didn’t do anything then either.

April 14: Another Brandy New Symptom

I am finally able to complete an on-demand scan. But it was followed by 5 hours of update failures until a new download was successful. So, kinda working. Sort of.

New Symptom

  • For the first time since this mess started, I put my laptop into Hibernate mode. At the time, updates were occurring successfully. After I “woke up” the computer, all subsequent update failed.

BitDefender behavior to light my ire again

In scanning through the log files to check the State of the State, I found all my logs cleared. Sometime around 9:30 am April 13th, one of the new downloads CLEARED ALL MY LOGS!!!!

Every virus scan, all the registration failures and license expirations!

This one really gets my goat, speaking nicely. I had been using that information for my own use. Why would they do this? Perhaps to erase the outstanding evidence of these problems?

Now, do you remember one of the critical rules of debugging - write down all sequences of testing, the results, and NEVER THROW ANYTHING AWAY?

  • All my log files are erased.

Am I being paranoid? Nahhhh. Just being a very logical technie who gets annoyed at efforts clearly refocused in the wrong direction. Please - someone just *think* about this problem. Really, your customers will respect you MORE for acting ethically, than when they find out you’ve been hiding symptoms and leaving them vulnerable to new virus attacks.

… and let me note that during the entire day not a single update was successful. Why? Because I had a scan scheduled to run in the night. It completed successfully. BitDefender again could not recover.

April 15: More of the same

Same thing. No successful updates. Either “error occurred” or the “scan in progress” error after a successful scan completion. BD has not had a successful update in 2 days. The update attempts are more random, sometimes every hour, sometimes it skips several hours. I’ve not rebooted in 2 days to see if that un-requested (my me) download happens to get through and reset everything without the need for a reboot.

No Luck Chuck.

Attempts to do a manual update fail. Updates begin succeeding after reboot.

April 16 and beyond: I give up.

I still have the same problems. I see in log files from others that they have variations on the same problem. One still shows hours of failed updates, but is somehow BD is able to recover eventually, so no reboots are required. He *thought* the problem was solved on his machine. He fell for the BD symptom-hiding - he still remains unprotected for hours at a time. But at least now he knows it.

Here’s another difference. A scan finishes and updates recover as above, but then many firewall enable/disable cycles occur followed by a load of update errors with a DIFFERENT message: “An error occurred during the update (Unknown error). If the problem persists, please contact BitDefender support (contact information available in About section).” Then a couple more firewall enable/disables and a download update is successful. The system has run without error for a day, but no scans were performed during that time.

I’ve given up trying to debug this. For a couple reasons. First, no moderator monitors the looooong debugging and technical discussions several of us have had.

Second, personal attacks by “people in power.”

Conflicting motivations and mixing technical and personal opinions

As a problem solver, you must recognize that even though you use logic and facts to debug, that you will tread well into ego-land. Your motivation is to fix a problem - recognize that other people’s motivations are often very different. And sometimes inconsistent with your own.

At some point(s) in your career, you will be attacked or smacked down for non-technical issues way beyond the actual problem solving. (Reminds me of a good, illustrative story I’ll tell in another post.)

Recognize that the idea of people-behaving-logically gets thrown out the window.

As it happens, a moderator came in in the middle of the BD forum discussion. His demeanor was not positive, so I asked that if he was going to respond in anything but a completely professional manner, that he PM (personal message) me instead. (Heh heh) so he took me up on that offer.

Insulting story short, he disagreed with my proven technical statements - fine. He was not happy that I was upset with BD for their handling of this. He’d drunk the kool-aid. Fine. But I should have recognized straight away that this guy was not interested in solving a problem - he was much more interested in pumping up his own self-worth and trashing me personally. I tried to be nice. I stated technical problems and provided evidence - he called my claims absurd, I was wrong, and other out-of-nowhere condescending statements.

ANNNND - that I don’t accept facts (?!? Me?!?).

** eyes rolling backwards in head multiple times **

Ohhhh, boy. Sigh.

So at this point, your best action is to walk away if possible. Accept that there are other factors involved that you are not aware of. When it reaches the point of personal attacks, perhaps you can deescalate by offering the olive branch, but don’t count on it. I tried, but it didn’t work for me.

‘Nuf said.

Summary

Existing problems I experience:

  • Current update failures are not reported to the user. You may be unprotected and you have no way of knowing unless you check one of two less-than-obvious places:
    1. They can be found through the BD interface by first clicking on the TINY “History” link on the lower right, and then clicking on Updates or the like.
    2. Opening up the history.xml file found (on my computer) at C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\BitDefender\Desktop\Events
  • Log files were mysteriously deleted (but only once).
  • The scanning engine hangs after scans completed and prevents further updates until reboot. BD has gotten confused about if the scan has actually completed or not.
  • Hibernate causes a previously-happy system to begin having update errors. Forever.
  • Reboot appears to save the world, but who wants to reboot their machine after every scan?

Final thoughts on actual causes

I think the December 31, 1969 thing has been addressed it seems. I’d love to know how they “fixed” it - treating a symptom or identifying the error. I’ll never know, but I’d looooove to know - just for my own curiosity.

Now my money is on a failure in the scanning process that gets different parts of BitDefender out of sync with one another regarding the current status of the system. uiscan.exe fails and doesn’t pass return or error codes properly. Or sends multiple codes to different parts of BD. Which may or may not be the same code. Perhaps when an update is attempted DURING a scan, BD gets confused and tells uiscan.exe something disturbing. All seems to be bad message passing or event passing. Exceptions not handled correctly. Multithreaded processes stepping on common variables.

ANNNNDDD, I could be completely full of shit. These are my hypotheses - YMMV. But like any good debugger, you develop your hypothesis and go test them.

To do this, I’d put in some logging - lots of logging. BD currently stuff events into history.xml, but they include nearly no data that could shed any light on WHY a process failed. It’s too bad - the logging is in place but ill-used. Especially the “unknown error occurred” message on my friend’s machine.

Closing thoughts

Well, I guess I must conclude with the sadness that BitDefender has released an untested product. The folks doing the debugging are not experienced debuggers. Someone (management?) has applied pressure to hide the symptoms rather than to fix the problem. And the ultimate insult - telling the user to just keep rebooting their machine rather than making sure the program cleans up after itself, and plays nicely with the rest of the system.

Yet another example of poor product quality and shabby customer support.

But a Really Good real-life example for us to practice our debugging skills on, right? *grins*

≈ ♦ ≈

See the comprehensive list of All the “Let’s Debug It” Mysteries

Let’s Debug It: A Rabid War between Technology and Nature (Jet Skis vs Mangroves)

Let’s Debug It: My Internet Security Software HATES me, TOLERATES me, REVILES me. Evil BitDefender

Let’s Debug It: Alaskan Scuba Stuff and iPods Don’t Exercise

Let’s Debug It: A Cat’s Plea to Microsoft - “Can You Hear Me Now?”

Let’s Debug It: “No Ma’am (Idiot), You’re Calling from Line 2″

Let’s Debug It: Keyboards and Endothermic Mammals

Let’s Debug It: Hacksaws are Your Friend

Let’s Debug It: My Computer Plays “I’m Ignoring You Now”