Symantec experiences woes over Norton anti-piracy feature

A problem with the product activation key in Symantec Corp.’s 2004 U.S. and International English versions of its Norton product line is preventing some customers from using the offering, Symantec confirmed Friday.

Product activation is a feature designed to prevent software piracy. When a user installs the software, a product key must be entered for it to start up. A glitch in this feature is causing some users of Norton Antivirus 2004, Norton Internet Security 2004, Norton Antispam 2004 and Norton SystemWorks 2004 to be asked for a product activation code every time their PCs are rebooted.

“This can lead to a situation where product activation eventually fails because users have reached the activation limit for the product key,” explained Del Smith, senior product manager for Symantec in Santa Monica, Calif.

Right now Symantec does not know what is causing the problem. Smith said there have been few customers affected and, from the information the company has been provided with so far, it has not seen a consistent pattern. The glitch has affected multiple PC platforms, configurations and regions.

Two days ago, Symantec engineers were able to reproduce the glitch in one specific software configuration, which is the first step to finding a solution, the company said. However Smith said it is uncertain when the problem will be resolved.

He urges users of these Norton 2004 products to leave their PCs turned on, so they do not have to reactivate the software. He said users that are experiencing this problem should visit Symantec’s support Web site so the company can gather information from their computers. The more data the company has to work from, the faster the bug will be worked out, Smith said.

For users who have reached the limit for the activation key, Smith said Symantec would reset their activation codes if they called support.

Jim Hurley, vice-president of security and privacy at the Aberdeen Group in Boston said Symantec is not the first company to have problems with product activation.

Last year, Intuit Inc. had problems with the product activation feature on its TurboTax application. Users were required to visit the Intuit Web site after inputting the activation key to have it verified. This posed a problem for users who did not have Web access, and there were some instances where users could not get the key verified, Hurley said.

In the end, Intuit decided to remove product activation from TurboTax.

However, Hurley said simply because there have been some problems with product activation is not a reason for vendors to call it quits on the technology permanently.

He said that software companies are experiencing huge losses from piracy and that when product activation runs smoothly, there are no user complaints.

For more information visit Symantec’s Canadian Web site at