AOL has announced that the upcoming version of its software will ship with McAfeeantivirus 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, tobe released next month, will include McAfee VirusScan Online for no extracharge to subscribers, who previously had to pay US$3 a month for theantivirus service.
While the move may better protect the AOL Internet audiencefrom viruses, there were also concerns that it may feed into a false senseof 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 astudy on home users released earlier this week that indicated many arein danger or infected but remain unaware of it.
“The average user has no idea his computer is infected,” Dunham toldTechNewsWorld. “Having antivirus may give [AOL users] a false sense ofsecurity.”
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AOL said the free antivirus — formerly a premium offering similar to virusprotection from MSN and Yahoo — would protect AOL users from viruses viapeer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, downloads from Web sites, infected disksand 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 virusvictim in the past and that more than two-thirds do not have current virusprotection, AOL indicated the antivirus offering was the result of its focuson user privacy and security.
“Today we’re taking the next major step in providing greater peace ofmind for our members by extending comprehensive and automatically updatedvirus protection to the whole computer and making it a basic part of anAmerica Online membership,” a statement from AOL chairman and chiefexecutive Jon Miller said.
AOL said the McAfee VirusScan Online software — available for download toAOL subscribers with earlier versions and now free to premium users — wouldnot require any special equipment and would be automatically updated whenusers 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 infectedfiles, which can be deleted or quarantined if they cannot be cleaned.
Dunham said AOL users have always been a large target for attackers becauseof the company’s trademark ease of use, which appeals to less sophisticatedusers.
“[AOL users] are considered generally less skilled on the computer as awhole, at least by hackers,” Dunham said.
The virus expert said the bundling of automatically updated antivirussoftware was a good thing and might help protect users who previouslywould have been open to attack.
Dunham added, however, that user awareness is just as important as technical defenses such as antivirusand 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 firewallscan’t do it alone.”
Dunham said antivirus, firewall software and other “core technologies” arelikely to become integrated with operating systems or offerings fromInternet service providers (ISPs).
Webroot vice president of threat research Richard Stiennon agreed, tellingTechNewsWorld that the AOL-McAfee offering is good for both companies andfor consumers.
“It’s going to be part of the bundles,” Stiennon said of securityfeatures such as antivirus. “We’ve seen this with other ISPs and we thinkthis will be part and parcel of the ISP’s job of protecting users.”
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