Symantec product activation causing headaches

An anti-piracy feature in Symantec's popular Norton AntiVirus software is causing headaches for some users, who are being prompted to re-enter product activation codes for the antivirus, firewall and antispam products whenever they reboot their machines.

Symantec acknowledged the problem in a note posted on its website, last week. It said the company was investigating the problem, but did not know what was causing it or how to fix it.

The problem affected Norton AntiVirus 2004, the latest version of Symantec's desktop antivirus program, Symantec said. After installing Norton and successfully activating the product using the product activation code, users were prompted to re-enter the code each time their computer restarted. After a number of reboots, the product displays a message saying, "The trial period has expired. This product has been disabled because you have not activated it."

Both US and international versions of Norton AntiVirus have exhibited the problem, as have other Symantec products in the 2004 line containing the product activation feature, senior product manager for Symantec, Del Smith.

Fewer than 2000 customers were affected, out of about 1.2 million who have used the product activation feature since the introduction of the 2004 versions in September, Smith said.

From those users, Symantec had not been able to narrow the problem to a particular operating system or hardware configuration, he said.

The company had only recently been able to reproduce the problem internally and could not say whether a problem with the product activation software or a conflict with another application or hardware device was to blame.

The problem did not turn up in a 250,000 person test of the product activation feature.

In the website note, Symantec asks customers who were experiencing the problem to install a utility called the Symantec Automated Support Assistant that gathers information about their system configuration.

The company said sending computer system information would "help Symantec product development resolve this issue."

In August, Symantec said that it was introducing product activation features in all its new products, starting with Norton AntiVirus 2004. The product activation feature worked in a similar manner to those used by other companies, including Microsoft, which introduced product activation for many of its products in recent years, including Windows XP.

As with Windows XP, Symantec's software uses a unique alphanumeric value based on information unique to the user's machine, such as serial numbers on hard drives and video cards in the machine. That value is combined with the unique product software key to create the activation code.

The company has said its decision to use product activation features was prompted by widespread piracy of Symantec's products.

This is not the first time this year that Symantec has come under scrutiny for releasing faulty code. In June, the company ran into trouble when a software update for Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition caused the software to fail. Symantec's antivirus software would not start on desktop systems that installed the faulty update, leaving some customers without antivirus protection on desktops and servers running the software.

With no fix for the latest problem available, Symantec recommends that affected customers not reboot their machines if possible to avoid having the product deactivated.

Smith was confident the company would resolve the problem quickly.

He said that a fix would be posted on Symantec's Web site as soon as it was available.

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