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Dell wants to teach Web surfers a security lesson

Company launches education drive to teach consumers to dodge spyware, adware and viruses before having to call tech support.

Dell on Tuesday unveiled a plan to educate its customers on how to protect their computers from an onslaught of spyware, adware and viruses.

Spyware programs keep a tab on a user's Internet activity and gather personal information from a computer--without the user's knowledge. Dell said nearly 20 percent of the calls received by its consumer desktop technical support team relate to spyware and virus problems. Malicious-software incidents are increasing in number, as more consumers begin using broadband and wireless access--which is always connected to the Internet.

The computer maker has also set up a new PC Security site to help customers identify online security threats and ways to handle them. The Web site also features antivirus and antispyware products as well as links to partner sites. Dell also said it would work with a consumer education group, the Internet Education Foundation, to help its customers.

For customers who find it difficult to help themselves, troubleshooting will be available for $39 per incident. Dell's warranty options typically cover only hardware and preinstalled software.

Dell aims to make its customers more aware of the problems spyware and viruses can cause so that they can avoid those situations. It plans to use several avenues to educate people about the malicious software and to protect them from it.

"We look at what our top (support) call drivers are and do whatever we can to alleviate them so that our customers can enjoy the technology" they've purchased, said Ricky Rodrigue, director customer assistance and resolution team.

Following Tuesday's announcement, Dell plans to further educate its customers about security and to later beef up the capabilities of its PCs in order to combat spam, spyware and pop-up ads using new software.

Dell will also begin touching on security in its advertising. Its August sales catalog, for example, will include a four-page insert with information on updating Windows, antivirus and antispyware software as well as keeping data backed up, Rodrigue said. The catalogs reach tens of thousands of customers in the United States via U.S. mail, Dell representatives said.

Later in the year, Dell plans to begin installing antispam, spyware protection and pop-up-blocking software on its PCs, Rodrigue added.

In some respects, Dell is catching up to others, such as Hewlett-Packard. HP has been shipping Intermute's protection suite, which features applications designed to prevent spam, pop-up ads and spyware, on its PCs.

However, Dell also intends to add more specialized help desk phone support cues for assisting customers in tasks such as setting up networks and troubleshooting printers.