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AOL Bundles McAfee VirusScan in New Software

AOL Bundles McAfee VirusScan in New Software

Analysts applauded AOL's bundling of antivirus software, but they pointed out that user awareness is just as important as technical defenses. "You've got to have intelligence powering your technical procedures," said Ken Dunham of iDefense.

By Jay Lyman
10/28/04 12:15 PM PT

AOL has announced that the upcoming version of its software will ship with McAfee antivirus software included at no extra cost, an effort to appeal to customers' desire for privacy and security.

The Dulles, Virginia-based company said its AOL 9.0 Security Edition, to be released next month, will include McAfee VirusScan Online for no extra charge to subscribers, who previously had to pay US$3 a month for the antivirus service.

While the move may better protect the AOL Internet audience from viruses, there were also concerns that it may feed into a false sense of security among users, who must rely on their wits as well as technical defenses to ward off computer worm attacks.

Ken Dunham, director of malicious code intelligence at iDefense, referred to a study on home users released earlier this week that indicated many are in danger or infected but remain unaware of it.

"The average user has no idea his computer is infected," Dunham told TechNewsWorld. "Having antivirus may give [AOL users] a false sense of security."

You've Got AV

AOL said the free antivirus -- formerly a premium offering similar to virus protection from MSN and Yahoo -- would protect AOL users from viruses via peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, downloads from Web sites, infected disks and other sources.

Citing a study it sponsored with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), which revealed that nearly two-thirds of consumers have been a virus victim in the past and that more than two-thirds do not have current virus protection, AOL indicated the antivirus offering was the result of its focus on user privacy and security.

"Today we're taking the next major step in providing greater peace of mind for our members by extending comprehensive and automatically updated virus protection to the whole computer and making it a basic part of an America Online membership," a statement from AOL chairman and chief executive Jon Miller said.

AOL said the McAfee VirusScan Online software -- available for download to AOL subscribers with earlier versions and now free to premium users -- would not require any special equipment and would be automatically updated when users were online.

The antivirus software can scan AOL users' hard drives, folders, files, drives and downloads, according to AOL. It will automatically attempt to clean infected files, which can be deleted or quarantined if they cannot be cleaned.

Ensuring Updates

Dunham said AOL users have always been a large target for attackers because of the company's trademark ease of use, which appeals to less sophisticated users.

"[AOL users] are considered generally less skilled on the computer as a whole, at least by hackers," Dunham said.

The virus expert said the bundling of automatically updated antivirus software was a good thing and might help protect users who previously would have been open to attack.

Dunham added, however, that user awareness is just as important as technical defenses such as antivirus and firewalls, which were also found lacking in the AOL/NCSA study.

"You've got to have intelligence powering your technical procedures," Dunham said. "You've got to know your security. Antivirus and firewalls can't do it alone."

Standard Security

Dunham said antivirus, firewall software and other "core technologies" are likely to become integrated with operating systems or offerings from Internet service providers (ISPs).

Webroot vice president of threat research Richard Stiennon agreed, telling TechNewsWorld that the AOL-McAfee offering is good for both companies and for consumers.

"It's going to be part of the bundles," Stiennon said of security features such as antivirus. "We've seen this with other ISPs and we think this will be part and parcel of the ISP's job of protecting users."


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