The makers of Norton Antivirus are accused of running fake scans and bullying customers into purchases.
We've all seen the messages pop up on our screen. "Malware detected!" "Your computer is infected!" "Download this software now or cybercriminals will invade your privacy, steal your identity and obliterate your soul!" These are the tactics of third-rate scams, designed to have you click on them and - ironically - install viruses and malware on your machine, but I've always wondered how somewhat "trusted" antivirus companies like Symantec and McAfee got away with using similar methods. A new lawsuit alleges Symantec's Norton Antivirus performs scans that don't actually scan your computer but still warn of non-existent dangers in order to get you to pay $29.99 to upgrade. Further, the plaintiff James Gross contends that even if you pay the fee, Symentec's applications don't really do anything to help your computer at all.
"The scareware does not conduct any actual diagnostic testing on the computer," reads Gross's complaint filed in Northern California. "Instead, Symantec intentionally designed its scareware to invariably report, in an extremely ominous manner, that harmful errors, privacy risks, and other computer problems exist on the user's PC, regardless of the real condition of the consumer's computer."
Gross said he bought the upgrade based on the prompt and afterwards hired IT experts to look at his machine. They told him that the scans almost always returned a negative report and that the software could not fix what it said it could. The complaint continues, "The scareware does not, and cannot, provide the benefits promised by Symantec. Accordingly, consumers are duped into purchasing software that does not function as advertised, and in fact, has very little (if any) utility."
Symantec responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:
[Symantec] does not believe the lawsuit has merit and will vigorously defend the case. The Norton and PC Tools solutions at issue are designed to improve the system performance of our customers' devices in terms of speed, maintain the health of their machines, and protect our customers' information. The optimization and privacy functions of these solutions fix registry errors, wipe computer usage, and shred deleted items. Some include additional functionality such as recovery tools to restore lost items. Several independent third parties have tested and reviewed these products very favorably, verifying the effectiveness of their functionality.
I've certainly been unimpressed with so-called security suites for a long while. Freeware alternatives such as AVG do the job just as well, and are devoid of such fear-mongering messages. Gross's claim that the antivirus programs don't do anything at all is pretty daring, but I wonder if there's not some merit to it. Part of me wants to believe that virus-makers and antivirus companies are more in cahoots than they'd like to admit.