Symantec Software is Crashing PCs Worldwide

How bug in popular Symantec antivirus programs is taking down lots of systems—and how you can fix it.
Business Writers
July 16, 2012

If you're forced to read this on your smartphone or tablet because your computer has been stricken by the blue screen of death, your antivirus software may be to blame. (Don't have antivirus software? Click here and here for some sobering reminders why you may want to consider some.)

A bug in an update of Symantec Endpoint Protection 12.1 (including the small-business edition) and Norton antivirus software for businesses has caused some PCs running Microsoft Windows XP to crash repeatedly.

The company confirmed the problem and blamed it on software compatibility issues from the update, released Wednesday night. People who updated the enterprise security software between 9:25 p.m. EST on July 11 and 5:51 a.m. on July 12 are affected. You can fix the computer yourself by manually removing the software from each disabled computer, the company says. (Click here for an explanation how.)

Effect on Businesses

Not surprisingly, the buggy update is causing its share of problems for businesses. Reuters reported that a Maryland-based insurance company temporarily shut down antivirus software for all its 150 PCs in an effort to keep them from getting damaged. This left them vulnerable to attack.

Meanwhile, Ron van den Broek, a technology manager with Dutch company PSO Beheer BV, told the news service that the bug had caused some 150 PCs to fail. The company was forced to close a lab with equipment running on Winows XP machines and send workers home to access the network remotely.

Customer Service Failure

“[The software update] did have quite an impact on our business,” van den Broek says. “My first impression is Symantec is downplaying the effects of this issue.”

So far, Symantec does not appear to be winning points in the customer service department with this one, either.

Customers complained that the removal process was time-consuming, and that the company itself was not especially helpful in the wake of its error.

“Phoning Symantec support this morning was the start of the hell we went through,” wrote one customer 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.”

A Common Issue

Symantec isn't the first to goof in the antivirus department—and it probably won't be the last. Two years ago, a McAfee error that mistakenly classified an important Windows system file as a virus crippled PCs around the world. Observed one tech commentator: "Cleaning up that problem involved a lot of work, and McAfee’s reputation was seriously damaged, possibly helping to soften it up for eventual take-over by Intel."

He noted that problems are bound to happen: "The whole business of antivirus is based on users handing power to a third party. We ask those companies to set traps against intruders. When those traps snap on the wrong ankles, we can switch the vendor to one that is less trigger-happy or more careful."

Were you affected by Symantec's error? What is your preferred anti-virus software and why?

Photo credit: Thinkstock