Symantec anti-virus update makes some PCs inoperable

BOSTON Fri Jul 13, 2012 4:53pm EDT

Enrique Salem, CEO of Symantec Corp., speaks at the Reuters Global Media and Technology Summit in New York, June 12, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Enrique Salem, CEO of Symantec Corp., speaks at the Reuters Global Media and Technology Summit in New York, June 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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BOSTON (Reuters) - A bug in an update of Symantec Corp's anti-virus software caused some Windows PCs to crash, making machines inoperable until they were serviced in an embarrassing episode that angered some customers.

The company disclosed the problem on its website, saying that an update to its widely used Symantec Endpoint Protection 12.1 anti-virus software for businesses caused some PCs running Windows XP software to crash repeatedly, showing what is known as the "blue screen of death."

The embarrassment comes at a challenging time for Symantec, whose shares have lost about a quarter of their value since it warned of a pending profit decline three months ago.

"Enterprise security has continued to be an uphill battle for Symantec," said Daniel Ives, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets. "There is increasing competition. The company historically has not been consistent around executing."

Customers reported it took Symantec hours to identify and fix the bug and that they needed to fix computers broken by the tainted update on their own.

Symantec's advisory said the company did not know what caused the problem, but that PCs could be fixed if customers manually removed the software from each disabled computer.

"Phoning Symantec support this morning was the start of the hell we went through," one customer said in a support forum on Symantec's website.

"The support is a joke, the quality control is a joke, and the software is not much better."

Customers complained on a Symantec user forum that the removal process was time consuming, although one said the software maker had offered compensation for the inconvenience.

That customer said on the support site that he emailed technical support to ask: "How is Symantec going to compensate customers for the hours of lost worker production and the time and effort taken by IT staffs to rectify this huge error by Symantec?"

He said a company representative called him 20 minutes later to say they were working on a compensation package.

"I encourage everyone to ask to be compensated for the time and effort it took all of us (to) fix Symantec's software," the customer said on the support site. (bit.ly/LiH764)

Symantec spokeswoman Ellen Hayes said she could not immediately discuss the terms of any compensation that might be in the works. She was also unable to say whether the update caused machines running Symantec's Norton anti virus software for consumers to malfunction.

A technology manager with Dutch company PSO Beheer BV told Reuters the bug caused some 150 PCs to fail. His company had to close a laboratory with equipment running on Windows XP machines and also sent some workers home so they could access their network remotely.

"It did have quite an impact on our business," said manager Ron van den Broek. "My first impression is Symantec is downplaying the effects of this issue."

A Maryland-based insurance company temporarily shut down anti-virus software for all its 150 PCs to prevent them from getting damaged, leaving them without protection, the company's technology manager told Reuters.

Hayes also said she could not immediately say how many PCs had crashed after receiving the update.

(Reporting By Jim Finkle; Additional reporting by Joseph Menn; editing by Dan Grebler and Andre Grenon)

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Comments (3)
jhvance wrote:
This news makes me exceedingly glad I stopped using anything of Symantec’s about 3 years ago, after using their combined Systemworks & AV package for over a decade with periodic “loyal customer” upgrades to newer versions at a reasonable cost. The problems its foibles would cause and the annual update price kept increasing while the availability of high-quality and quite possibly better free AV packages from several vendors improved markedly — I finally reached a threshold point and used their own uninstall utility to scrub all of my systems clean, and have immediately done the same with every new computer I’ve gotten that had some version preloaded as a trial product. My sympathies to the users who have had their computers’ OS hosed as a consequence of a really bad update.

Jul 13, 2012 5:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
gregbrew56 wrote:
Yet another reason for not continuing to use an OS that’s over a decade old. At what point can app developers stop supporting an old OS?

Jul 13, 2012 10:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Himiko wrote:
Everyone with Windows 7 computers, this happened to my sister’s computer as well. So Norton quit lying, this crash occured after you sent an update.

Jul 14, 2012 1:31am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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