Norton, one of the most well-known virus-checkers and the first line of defense for many users worldwide, paralyzed millions of computers across China by deleting two system files on each workstation running the simplified Chinese version of Windows XP on May 18.
"This is an unforgivable safety software mistake," said Li Tiejun, an anti-virus programmer with Kingsoft, one of the country's leading software companies. "Norton's action is the equivalent of the police shooting an innocent civilian by mistake."
Li explained that false virus reports had surfaced before but were usually limited to rarer software. This is the first time a false report has generated such a disastrous incident.
The original error lay in the lap of Symantec, the company that has captured 60 percent of the global market and 30 percent of China's. It seems that the mistake originated when false virus definition codes were entered during an update of the virus database on Friday.
"Symantec runs an interior test before the company upgrades its database, and this includes a false report test," said Li, adding that "apparently, Symantec might not have included the simplified Chinese version of Windows XP in its testing system."
Industry experts have already blamed Symantec for not paying attention to Chinese customers and for blowing off the issue. Afflicted users complained that the company had put in place a solution package swiftly enough with enterprises in the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou rumored to be planning legal action.
However, while Symantec dawdled, domestic anti-virus software companies such as Rising and Jiangmin, leapt into the fray.
Rising issued a red safety alert, its warning for the most serious threats, at 2:00 PM on Friday, and it predicted that the economic losses incurred from this crash would top those experienced during the spread of the "panda burning joss stick" virus, or "Xiongmao Shaoxiang." Jiangmin braced itself for a major backlash, comparing the Norton cock-up to the backdoor.gpigeon virus.
"For years, companies and netizens have trusted foreign anti-virus software as being more reliable," said Gao Min, a safety software expert from Beijing. According to him, most enterprises use foreign safety software brands since these had an established international reputation when their domestic competitors were still starting out. Furthermore, domestic customers also advocate foreign brands due to the IT industry originating abroad.
"We must admit that domestic companies have improved in recent years. According to virus reports, computers are facing more threats from viruses attacking from within the country. Remember that 'panda burning joss stick' was first intercepted by domestic software," said Gao, suggesting that customers abandon their superstitions about foreign software.
(China.org.cn by Huang Shan, May 23, 2007)