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Spyware spurs Dell to offer protective software

Twenty percent of support calls to Dell are linked to spyware, an exec tells CNET News.com. That's up from 2 percent in 2003.

ROUND ROCK, Texas--With spyware problems now accounting for 20 percent of it support calls, Dell will start to bundle a security package on its PCs that will help inoculate users.

The bundle, coming in November, will combine a firewall, antivirus software and anti-spyware software, Mike George, the company's chief marketing officer, said in an interview at Dell's headquarters here. Dell will offer the bundle for free, but consumers will pay for continued subscriptions. George declined to identify the software vendor that will provide the software.

Spyware is software that is installed surreptitiously on a computer for a variety of purposes. At its worst, the software sends out spam, launches denial-of-service attacks against Web sites, and steals information about the PC user--such as credit card data. Many people also consider adware to be spyware; adware tracks a user's movements on the Web and assails him or her with pop-up ads.

The addition of anti-spyware tools comes at a time when Dell customers are facing a deluge of problems with such software. Fourteen months ago, spyware accounted for less than 2 percent of support calls. Now, it accounts for 20 percent. More support calls leads to higher costs and, of course, customer dissatisfaction, George said.

Dell will also continue to conduct educational campaigns to get its customers to understand security issues better and to more actively use security software.

George also said that, starting in November, Dell will allow customers to get the basic version of Microsoft's Windows Media Center, instead of standard Windows, on any PC for $39. This version of the entertainment-oriented OS does not include a TV tuner. Windows Media Center, which makes it easier to catalog pictures, songs and other entertainment media, is now available on only a few Dell models.

"We were not an early adopter of Media Center," he said.