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Conspiracy theories fly around Norton forum 'Pifts' purge

EXE phones home?

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Conspiracy theories are running rampant in the absence of a clear explanation of why Symantec deleted threads expressing concern about a file called pifts.exe from its Norton support forums.

Many users running Norton Internet Protection began seeing a popup warning on Monday that a file called PIFTS.exe on their systems was trying to access the internet. The location of the file was given as a non-existent folder buried inside the Symantec LiveUpdate folder.

The appearance of a file in a non-existent folder suggests rootkit-like behaviour. PIFTS.exe attempts to contact a server in Africa, which has been traced to Symantec.

Concerned punters started posting on Norton's support forums, asking what was going on. That's all normal enough, but then discussions on the subject were deleted without explanation from Norton's community pages. Follow-up threads mentioning the issue were deleted even more quickly.

Users unable to comment about the issue on Norton's community pages moved onto ZoneAlarm's forums instead. Meanwhile, numerous blog postings (example here) referred to the issue, some touting conflicting conspiracy theories.

4chan's bulletin board had a field day, and talk of the issue even prompted a popular urban myths site to set up a holding page. Theories about law enforcement backdoors ran rampant pending a response from Symantec clearing up the issue.

Some solid evidence also emerged.

The PIFTS.exe file has been submitted to VirusTotal numerous times, from which we only learn no vendor has defined it as malign. Submission to ThreatExpert suggests that the file phones home to Symantec (specifically stats.norton.com).

Symantec UK told us it was looking into the issue. The reliable Internet Storm Centre reports that Symantec told it the program is part of the Norton update process and is benign.

This fails to explain why support forum postings were deleted, a type of behaviour that might be cited as evidence that Symantec has something to hide. It also doesn't explain why the file reportedly appears in a non-existent folder. ®

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