A serious bug within Norton Internet Security 2003 is responsible for the unexplained deletion of emails for some users.
Symantec is aware of the problem with the latest version of its security suite and is working on a fix. It promises to deliver a patch through its LiveUpdate automatic updating facility this week. The company has downplayed the significance of the problem by saying it affects a small number of people.
Symantec's product management team "has only received a handful of reports concerning this type of behaviour and we believe this to be an extremely rare occurrence", a spokeswoman told us. "The product is working as expected for the overwhelming majority of Norton Internet Security 2003 users."
For the unfortunate "few", the consequences are serious as a Reg reader and email deletion victim explains. "People are having their email permanently and inexplicably deleted by a product that is supposed to be giving "Security". I've seen Virii do less damage than this."
After using a separate utility (mailwasher) to cleanse his email of spam, he opened his email in Outlook XP only to discover dozens of identical emails with no time or date, no useful header information and all containing the following: "Symantec Email Proxy deleted the following email message". The deletion of these important emails, by a product that was supposed to protect them, has left our reader distinctly unchuffed.
He's also less than impressed with Symantec's handling of the issue thus far, pointing out that a thread on the bug on Symantec's Knowledge base indicates that the problem was first reported to the company on October 14.
The deletion of emails by AV products is rare but not unprecedented. Last year we reported a glitch in McAfee's VirusScan software which caused emails sent to Outlook Express users to 'disappear'.
An intermittent problem involving the interaction of Windows 2000 or XP with McAfee VirusScan 4.5.1 and Outlook Express 6 meant that the index file to existing email folders could become damaged when a user downloads new mail. In extreme cases folders were trashed - all users get is a message saying Welcome to Outlook Express 6 as if they were a new user.
The problem also affected Outlook Express 5.5 users, but to a lesser extent. The messages are still present in the .dbx file used by Outlook Express, but as the index is damaged, users can't read them from the email client itself.
Outlook users - or those of other email clients, such as Eudora - are unaffected.
McAfee fixed the problem with an update to its VirusScan software but was criticised by many customers for the time it took to come up with a fix.