Security giant Symantec has been hit by a US lawsuit accusing it of scaring its customers into buying its products, by feeding them misleading information on the security of their computers.
Washington state resident James Gross alleged in a filing with the District Court in San Jose, California, that trial versions of Symantec's products, which scan users' PCs, report security problems irrespective of the health of the machine.
The filing effectively accuses Symantec of peddling ‘scareware' – software used by cyber criminals to trick users into believing their computers are infected when they're not.
Get Safe Online has estimated that around a quarter of all PC users have been tricked into buying software they don't need as a result of scareware, with V3 readers arguing that longer prison sentences should be handed out to their authors as a deterrent.
"The truth, however, is that the [Symantec] scareware does not actually perform any meaningful evaluation of the user's computer system, or of the supposed 'errors' detected by the software," the complaint claimed, according to Reuters.
"The scareware does not, and cannot, actually perform the valuable tasks represented by Symantec through its web sites, advertising and in-software display screens."
Ovum analyst Andy Kellett, however, argued that it would be very difficult to prove that Symantec was deliberately misleading customers, as it would come down to an argument about definitions over what is harmful to a PC and what is not.
"One person's spam is information another person wants to see," he told V3.
"It's probably unreasonable to say Symantec was finding things for the sake of it. Almost every scan will find something – these are sales techniques across the industry."
In a brief statement, Symantec said it was too early to give any more details on the case.
"Symantec is aware of the allegations made in court in San Jose, CA concerning some of our Norton and PC Tools solutions," it said.
"However, given the early state of litigation, we have no additional information to provide at this time."
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