AOL Arms Users With Cyber-Defenses

America Online AOL
America Online Inc. is packaging new features to combat viruses, spam and spyware in response to growing online security threats.

Subscribers will be able to get the free tools through a software download, known as AOL 9.0 Security Edition and available beginning Thursday.

"More often than not when a member faces a performance issue with the computer, they think they just have a performance problem, but what they really have is a virus or spyware," said Danny Krifcher, executive vice president for the AOL service.

The new package includes:

  • Anti-virus software from McAfee Inc. with free, automated updates. Such protection through AOL previously cost $2.95 a month.
  • Spyware protection. Before, AOL's spyware scanner ran once a week. A new SpyZapper checks the computer's memory every time you sign on to catch rogue programs.
  • Junk mail controls. To control how much legitimate mail gets mistakenly trashed, the spam filter now offers high, medium and low settings. It also blocks unwanted instant messages.
  • Pop-up blocker. It now blocks rich media ads that float across the Web page.
  • Parental controls. Beginning in two weeks, parents will be able to limit with whom their kids can exchange instant messages.

    "There's nothing here that you can't get elsewhere, but I suspect many people will find that it's easier, more convenient and cheaper to get it all from one place," reports CBS News tech guru Larry Magid.

    To combat identity theft, AOL also partnered with the credit agency Experian to create a service in which subscribers are notified when their credit cards exceed a preset spending limit.

    "AOL is tapping into a real need," says Magid. "People who use the Internet are feeling increasingly bombarded and insecure.

    "If they can make their users feel safer, they may wind up retaining members who appreciate the extra security."