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PointCast gets false alarm

In a reminder that even common procedures for virus detection are not infallible, a bug mistakenly leads some PointCast users to think they had contracted a hideous-sounding virus.

In a reminder that even common procedures for detecting viruses are not infallible, a software bug has mistakenly led some PointCast users to think they had contracted a hideous-sounding virus.

PointCast's customers started experiencing problems when they downloaded PointCast version 1.2, an upgrade that contained new content such as a health channel, the New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and Miami Herald.

According to some users, the popular Norton antivirus software from Symantec detected that the software allegedly had a virus named "Virogen.asexual (7)."

But in fact, the alert is a false alarm, said Andreas Guralas, PointCast's director of products. He blamed the problem on "an erroneous message" that a virus existed.

Guralas said that PointCast had received 10 to 15 inquiries about the problem but that the company is still trying to determine whether the error stemmed from PointCast or from the Norton antivirus software.

While unusual, the problem of false virus alerts is not unheard of. "Unfortunately, most of the popular scanners have a few false alarms," said virus expert Wolfgang Stiller, president of Stiller Research. "That's just bound to happen in a certain number of cases. It happens to just about all the products."

For example, according to Stiller, the McAfee antivirus software has been known to mistakenly detect a virus in a file called "ghost.exe," which creates an entertaining graphics image of ghosts moving across your monitor.

Still, such problems are an annoyance for users, who are justly concerned about real viruses, and some users have complained that PointCast did not respond to their queries about the problem, raising their anxiety level even further. "No one at PointCast has contacted me," complained one PointCast user.