Every one of Facebook’s 350 million users are to receive free virus protection for six months, after the social networking website signed an unprecedented global deal with the computer security firm McAfee.
The offer, which will see McAfee distributing more than £7.5bn worth of free software, is available from today to Facebook users in the UK, United States, Australia, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Canada, Mexico and Brazil, with further countries set to be added over the next three months.
The move follows a rise in reports of malicious software, or malware, targeting Facebook users. The viruses, which are specifically designed to spread rapidly across the network, hijack people’s computers and send out messages to all their friends encouraging them to visit websites, where they are in turn attacked.
According to recent research, almost half of internet users do not have adequate virus protection, and 78 per cent do not regularly update the anti-virus and anti-spyware programmes they have bought. Those without protection pose a danger to those with whom they interact online, and the agreement between McAfee and Facebook is designed to tackle this problem.
“We are taking an unprecedented step towards making the entire internet more secure and reducing the possibility of threats being brought on to our service by unsuspecting users,” said Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice-president of global communications, marketing and public policy. “Keeping the internet secure requires that users, security vendors and internet companies all work together. We think we’ve developed an excellent model for this collaboration, and to ensure the greatest possible value to our users, Facebook will not accept any revenue from subscriptions. We hope this is something that other services will emulate.”
Under the terms of the agreement, McAfee will become Facebook’s exclusive provider of virus protection software for a year. Users are entitled to a free six-month trial of the firm’s Internet Security Suite software worth £22.50. If all of the site’s users take advantage of the offer, McAfee will effectively be giving away more than £7.5bn worth of software.
The package includes a scanning and repair tool to allow users to clean their PCs following a virus attack, as well as the basic McAfee security software. After six months, they will be able to buy a full subscription at a discounted rate. The two companies are also working together to educate people about viruses, updating a Facebook page with tips on how to stay safe online and telling them how to spot suspicious messages.
“We have seen an absolutely huge rise in malware worldwide over the past 12 months, probably more than the previous five years combined,” David DeWalt, chief executive of McAfee, told The New York Times. “We are seeing a lot more malware specifically designed and targeted at large social networking applications. These are just the trends in the industry.”