Sunday, February 05, 2006

Alert: AOL’s Safety and Security Center – DO NOT DOWNLOAD!

Okay boys and girls, you’ve probably seen the ads for America Online’s new Safety and Security Center. This is their all-in-one center for anti-virus protection, anti-spyware protection, firewall protection, and computer checkup along with a couple of other features that you can put in at an additional cost.

Up until this point, AOL users were able to get a FREE version of McAfee’s VirusScan program when they upgraded to the new Version 9 Security Edition of AOL. But now that the SSC is out, and it’s anti-virus system is “powered by McAfee”, that option has more or less gone away.

Well I wanted to give this new system a try, so I went ahead and downloaded it from AOL to my laptop computer. I figured that if it worked, I’d be able to put it in on my main computer and tell other people about it so they could run it as well.

It’s a good thing that I just put it on my laptop and not on all computers.

For the first week things were going fine. I got the occasional notice about the software being upgraded, and it ran the scheduled scans.

Then it went crazy. I was getting update notices every few minutes! Some of the notices wouldn’t even close, which would force me to close them through Task Manager, which would also close my link to AOL. Look, ONE notice per day is enough, especially if you have to manually close them.

Then I was getting this message occasionally: “We are unable to upgrade your Anti-Virus program. Please reboot your computer so we can try again.”

Uh, excuse me? Reboot my computer so YOUR program can check for even MORE upgrades so you can hit me with even MORE notices? No, I don’t think so.

Needless to say, I’m not happy with AOL’s Safety and Security Center.

So after repeated uninstalls and reinstalls of the SSC – and one IGNORED email message - I finally go on AOL and hit up their live tech support for some assistance. The first support person told me that my AOL is corrupt and that I need to not only uninstall the SSC, but also AOL itself, and then download and reinstall everything. That took about two hours to do (thank you broadband!) but by the evening I was right back to square one with the repeated notices.

Went back to the live tech support…

Attempt one: Before I could even say two words, I got “Session has expired!” Expired? WTF???

Attempt two: I actually got a live person, who then said that they were experiencing some problems with the anti-virus program and wanted me to open the SSC to check the Virus Definitions. Unfortunately right as he was asking me this, that damned update notice hit again and refused to close. I had to force it closed through Task Manager, which shut the whole SSC down and disconnected me from the live tech support chat.

Attempt three: I got a different live person, and after explaining the situation quickly, he asked me to check my installation CD. Uh, no, I didn’t install this from a CD. I downloaded this from the website like those commercials said that I should do! Fortunately I made sure I had the SSC program up so I could find out exactly where the problem is as this person explained it to me.

Here’s the skinny, folks: The version that you download from AOL has a bug in it. That bug blanks out the Virus Definition field. The SSC doesn’t recognize the latest upgrade (because the field is blank) so it will continually download it, thus giving you the continual update message.

So until AOL gets around to actually fixing this problem, this is what you need to do: DO NOT DOWNLOAD THE PROGRAM! I’m serious. Go to keyword “SAFETY ROM” and order their free CD of the SSC.

If you’re currently using the SSC and you don’t have any problems with it, hey, great, more power to you. Count your blessings and hope that it stays that way.

If you’re currently using the SSC and are getting the same repeated notices like I have, go ahead and order the free CD, then uninstall the whole SSC, and then hope you still have your previous anti-virus program to use while you’re waiting for the CD to arrive.

I’m currently trying Microsoft’s Windows OneCare Beta program, which is similar to AOL’s program only it uses its own anti-virus program, anti-spyware program, and the built-in firewall from XP Service Pack 2. Right now it’s free (because it’s in beta), but they will be charging for it in the future, so this will just be an interim program. But right now, I'm not getting a million notices every five-ten minutes and I'm not getting prompted to reboot my computer because their program doesn't want to work.

Meanwhile, AOL definitely needs to do something about their SSC program! I’m one of the more tech-friendly people you could ever know, and if this program could get under MY skin, imagine the kind of aggravation that other people are experiencing with it! Either they need to put a notice up on their website about getting the program through the FREE CD, or they need to stop running those ads telling people to download the program - or preferably both.

Oh, and AOL? Remember the LAST time you had something "powered by..."? It was the browser, and it was the reason why most of your AOL people ended up either using Microsoft's full Internet Explorer or using Netscape (which you ended up buying outright) or getting Mozilla's Firefox. Next time, don't play around with this "powered by" crap.

I’ll give you an update on this after I get the CD from AOL.