Citing the urgent need to protect its users from online threats, America Online (AOL) will begin bundling anti-virus software from McAfee with the latest version of its software, AOL 9.0.
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The company is making McAfee's VirusScan Online available at no additional cost to both broadband and dial-up AOL customers, eliminating a premium service for the anti-virus protection.
The software will allow AOL members to protect their AOL account and scan their computer hard drive for viruses and quarantine or disinfect corrupted files, AOL said.
Customers who upgrade to AOL 9.0 Security Edition, will be able to download and activate VirusScan after the AOL upgrade is complete. AOL members using earlier editions of the 9.0 software will have to download the software separately from AOL's website.
AOL has been offering VirusScan as a premium service since April 2003, for users of AOL 7.0 and 8.0 software. The service previously cost $2.95 (£1.60) a month, a price that entitled customers to VirusScan and periodic software and virus definition updates.
Customers who signed up for the premium anti-virus protection will continue to receive the service, but will not be charged for it, according to Andrew Weinstein, a company spokesman.
In addition to the desktop anti-virus protection, AOL already scans file attachments in incoming and outgoing e-mail messages, the company said.
AOL has taken an increasing interest in online security and is promoting security as a key benefit of AOL membership.
In September, RSA Security and AOL announced a new premium service called "AOL PassCode" that will allow AOL customers to use secure tokens to protect account information.
The company released study results, conducted in conjunction with the National Cyber Security Alliance, that found 20% of home computers were infected by a virus or worm, and that various forms of snooping programs such as spyware were on 80% of systems.
The survey of home computers and their owners also revealed a gap between users' perceptions and the prevalence of actual threats on the internet, with more than two-thirds of home users interviewed for the survey saying they felt safe from online threats.
AOL 9.0 Security Edition will be released in November.
Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service