Symantec offers free software as amends for antivirus snafu

Not enough for some. 'They call this compensation?' asks Chinese user.

Five weeks after an errant virus update crippled thousands of Chinese PCs, Symantec Corp. has decided to compensate users by giving them free backup software and extending their subscriptions to the same antivirus software that knocked out their computers.

"Symantec regrets any inconvenience caused to customers by the recent false positive incident affecting simplified Chinese versions of Windows XP and is pleased to offer affected customers a gesture of our goodwill," Symantec said in a statement provided to Computerworld.

Customers affected by the buggy update will be offered a 12-month extension to their Norton AntiVirus subscriptions, said Symantec. Consumers will also receive a free copy of the Norton Save & Restore 2.0 backup software, while enterprise users will be offered a free license of Symantec Ghost Solution Suite, an image-based backup and restore program.

Symantec's China syndrome started around 1 a.m. Beijing time on May 18, when it delivered a virus-signature update to customers running the Simplified Chinese edition of Windows XP Service Pack 2. The new signatures misidentified two critical Windows system files as Trojan horses and quarantined them, stopping the machines cold if rebooted. Symantec learned of the problem around 9:30 a.m., reworked the update and re-released it at 2:30 p.m. Beijing time, but the fix was too late for many machines, which had been rebooted in the meantime.

The company blamed an automated threat-analysis system for creating the flawed update, which Chinese state-controlled media reported as having paralyzed thousands or even millions of PCs. Symantec, however, contested the higher-end figure. "Contrary to several news reports, we estimate that a maximum of 50,000 PCs were impacted," the company said.

Symantec hinted that it might compensate users at about the same time that reports circulated that some enterprise users were demanding up to $130,000 for their troubles. Within a week, at least two lawsuits had been filed in China against the U.S. developer.

The subscription extension and backup software offer, however, left some Chinese users unhappy. "They call this compensation? Who will compensate us for our other losses?" wrote a user on the news portal Sina.com, as translated by reporter Lu EnJie on Texty.com. (A Babel Fish translation into English from the original was considerably rougher.) "This is hard to accept. Loads of companies have lost all their data; who is going to compensate them for this?" wrote another. (For instance, Babel Fish translated that original as "this condition accepts truly with difficulty, the very many companies' data all lost, this who does compensate.")

Users must run a validation process before qualifying for compensation, said Symantec, which urged users to register at a site specially set up to handle the requests. Registrations must be completed by July 15.

A Symantec spokesman declined to provide any additional information beyond the statement.

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