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Antivirus Glitch Creates Headache For Many PC Users

July 11, 2009

Antivirus software made by CA Inc. recently began infecting and quarantining files on users computers that were actually needed to keep their machines running properly, The Associated Press reported.

Such software, which is used for blocking known viruses, can sometimes mistakenly flag clean files as malicious, causing the computer to delete important files.

One user reported the problem occurring on his computer Wednesday night when he noticed his software was quarantining files that were parts of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system.

“I’m back, but it took me about six hours to get back,” said Lee Jay Mandell, a 60-year-old retired computer consultant and patent attorney from the Los Angeles area.

Mandell’s past technical experience allowed him to restore the machine, but he feared that many less adept users might not notice or have the know-how to reverse such a problem.

These issues, known as false positives, are known problems for companies whose job is to protect people’s machines from being taken over by malicious programs.

However, some legitimate files have programming code or behaviors that are identical to those of viruses and the software registers them as malicious and starts to quarantine them.

When critical files are targeted it can often result in annoyance and an outright meltdown of the machine.

Several users of McAfee Inc.’s antivirus software reported that a false positive caused their computers to crash.

The company stated that a false positive only happened on older versions of McAfee software that it no longer supports, and assured users that newer versions were more stable.

CA said its last major false positive was three years ago and apologized to Mandell and others who encountered the glitch.

“Minor false positives happen periodically, but CA has historically maintained an industry low rate of false positives,” the company said in a statement.

Users sometimes have to go into the list of quarantined files and manually rename them, or call the company to request software to automatically do the task for them.

Fortunately, the files that CA’s software wrongly spotted as viruses this week were quarantined or renamed, not deleted, and were easily recoverable.

Security experts suggest users pay close attention to your home computer if it’s telling you it’s found a virus and is cleaning it up.

And if the cleanup was a false alarm, users are encouraged to call their antivirus vendor’s customer support to help them recover files and make sure their machine is totally clean.

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