The buggy patch was released last Wednesday and was automatically installed on systems running Norton 2009 and Norton 360 using the company's LiveUpdate system. For most customers the install went fine, but for "less than 1 percent" of users, the update didn't work, according to Symantec spokeswoman Cecilia Daclan. Hundreds of users have complained about the issue on the company's online discussion boards, she said.
Users who experience the error get the message: "Symantec Service Framework has encountered a problem and needs to close..." before their software crashes.
"The problem was intermittently completely disabling my machine. I was afraid to open programs with critical data for fear that they would crash. CPU usage could hit 100 percent," wrote Norton user Robert Charlton in an online forum post.
Charlton spent seven hours on-line with Symantec Tech support on Friday. "It took them much too long to catch on," he wrote. "I've been telling them it's been their problem all week, and they've been telling me I need to take that up with vendors of much of my software."
Symantec's Daclan couldn't say exactly what caused the issue. It has to do with the way Norton handles responses from some custom-configured Windows machines, she said. "Most of the customers who are reporting the issue are using PCs that have been specifically configured or customised," she said. "They're not out-of-the-box PCs."
Although most Norton users have already been automatically updated, Symantec has pulled the patch and will release a fixed version later this week.
Users who experience this problem can download a software fix from Symantec's website.
This isn't the first problem with Symantec software updates this year. In March, Symantec engineers forgot to digitally sign a diagnostic program called PIFTS (Product Information Framework Troubleshooter). That caused it to be flagged by Norton's firewall.
Scammers soon tried to take advantage of the problem, by flooding Symantec's forums with bogus messages and setting up malicious Web pages that popped up when people searched for PIFTS.exe.