A faulty antivirus software update distributed by McAfee Inc. this month mistakenly identified hundreds of legitimate programs as a Windows virus, a mix-up that led some unsuspecting corporate users to accidentally delete data from affected computers.

The update, released by McAfee on March 10, was designed to protect systems against the W95/CTX virus.

But because of a programming error, the update also incorrectly identified, renamed and quarantined hundreds of legitimate executables, including popular ones such as excel.exe, lsetup.exe, reg.exe, shutdown.exe and uninstall.exe.

Joe Telafici, director of operations at McAfee’s virus-research unit, said the problem was the result of “a subtle logic flaw.” The error resulted in at least 290 executable files being incorrectly identified as the targeted virus, he said.

“We are looking at a relatively small percentage of our customer base” that was affected, Telafici said. “But it is a large problem for those who were impacted.”

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