An awful experience at Symantec

I’m looking forward to a future in which I no longer need to do business with dinosaur enterprise software companies like PGP, and their recent acquirer, Symantec.

My encryption needs have always been simple — I’d like to selectively encrypt files that I keep on a company-accessible server, and I’d like to be able to occasionally encrypt the text of an email message. I could do this easily with earlier versions of PGP — around version 6, and back when PGP felt like small company.

But then they turned their sights on the enterprise, and everything has gone downhill since.

  • Required paid upgrades (for example, to be able to use PGP on a new OS version) began offering less and less additional value.

  • Features went from simple to complex. One PGP version changed its approach to email encryption, no longer involving selectively encrypting/decrypting mail, but rather highjacking entire protocol streams in the background. It took me a while to recover from that mess.

  • It became impossible to get support. Your options nowadays are wading through a knowledge base swamp, whose contents were about 5% Mac, of which about 95% was outdated, contracting an expensive support package, or posting to a “Community Forum” where you’d get boilerplate responses from people you were never quite sure were associated with the company.

  • The company website became ever more complex, full of products and packages that seemed targeted to dorky middle-managers of large enterprises who sit on “security” budgets they need to spend before year-end, and feel good about telling their boss they’ve purchased some “Enterprise Vaults,” “Endpoint Protection” and maybe a “Ghost Solution Suite”. I mean, seriously, just hop over to Symantec.com and poke around.

And now there’s the current issue — Mac OS X Lion compatibility.

Lion has been out since July. I’ve bought every version of PGP since maybe 4, and so PGP have had my email address on record for more than 12 years.

Do you think I received an email from PGP prior to Lion’s release advising me to be careful about upgrading, since they’re not going to be ready with a PGP update? Nope. Nada.

Do you think I’ve received any emails from PGP with a status update about a Lion-compatible version? Nope. Nada.

Do you think if I visit the Symantec website and search on “Mac PGP Lion”, I’ll find useful information? The first hit is, “Is Norton Compatible with Snow Leopard”.

But, YES! Turns out, there’s actually a link to an article mentioning that a Lion-compatible version has just been released! PGP Desktop 10.2.0 MP1 is Lion compatible, and they recommend everybody download it. For a fleeting moment I feel hope (along with the irritation of realizing they could have emailed me to mention this).

Anyway, all that’s left now is to figure out how to download it — since they obviously wouldn’t bother providing a convenient link on this page.

I’m told to download it from my “Symantec File Connect account” — whatever that is. No link. No mention of what that might be. There’s a “Login using SymAccount” in the sidebar, but that’s not it.

Google. Ah ha. It’s talking about the “Symantec Licensing Portal”!

Login there, and it’s an enterprise experience cesspool nightmare. Click “Version Upgrade”, and I’m being asked for my “Upgrade Notification ID”. Click “I don’t have an Upgrade Notification ID”, and I get an error, “We are unable to retrieve your Version Upgrade.” Of course.

Click, “Available Products”, and I’m presented with a list of — no joke — 629 products. Six hundred, and twenty nine. Can you imagine that? The company has 629 different products.

This is why Steve Jobs did so well — he simply countered an equally powerful, but strategically negative force at Symantec, to keep balance in the universe.

Anyway, to make sure my day doesn’t get any better, PGP for Mac is, of course, absent from that list.

“License Management”, “Move License”, “Upgrade License”, “Get Software”, “Get a Key”, the options in this “portal” are legion and bewildering.

I eventually find a link called, “Manage my licenses”, and — finally — I get a list of my products! Two are listed — PGP Desktop Professional and PGP Desktop Home, version 10 with perpetual licenses.

But when I enter their Serial Numbers into the “Get Software” prompt, I get an error, “We are unable to process your request at this time. Your product may no longer be available for download or physical shipment.”

WTF. So which is it? An error that you can’t process my request? Or, that my product isn’t available for download? And what’s with may; you don’t know whether it’s available or not!?! And anyway, I’m looking for the upgrade!

Click “View Details” on one of my listed products. Error — “License History not found !!” Of course. (And they obviously find that concerning, as noted by the double exclamation points.)

Click, “Customer Support”. Link to another website. No, I’m not an “enterprise customer”. Click “Visit Customer Care Information Center” (I thought that’s where I was.) Try “Submit a Request”, and I’m taken to the “SymAccount Login”.

The first positive experience of the day — almost shocking: my licensing portal login works there too.

Found a place to submit a request, and tried submitting one. Error — “Category Required Level has not been met.” Of course. Figured out what that actually meant, and finally got my request submitted.

Nearly a full hour of my time lost.

They’ve promised that a member of their “professional staff” will personally respond within 48 hours.

Just wonder if this is all by design. I’m guessing this experience would make a dorky enterprise middle-manager’s day. Given little otherwise to do, this experience involved nearly five errors to follow up on, and a great excuse to do nothing for the next 48 hours, waiting for a response from the Professional Staff at Customer Care!

Update: Oct 10

After posting a note on Symantec’s community forum, I got a reply from Tom — a technical support representative. He said I need to raise a support ticket at mysupport.symantec.com, after which they’d put the patch in my account at pdc.pgp.com. (Can you believe that — two more portals! How many do they have?)

Anyway, I wasn’t so lucky that my logins to License Portal and SymAccount Portal would by chance work at the MySupport Portal. After figuring out how to get in there, I went through the process of raising a support ticket.

Unbelievable — Only after having gone through the process of writing up a support request (including specifying all kinds of information through drop-down menus), I’m told that to continue, I need to enter either my “Tech Contact ID”, “Support Number” or “Tech Case ID”.

OMG. I have no idea what those are, nor where to get one. And, of course, there’s not a word of advise about what to do if you’re stuck.

And so that was that. No support ticket. And more time lost. (For what it’s worth, the tech support guy — Tom, bless his heart — did express his wishes that things were going more smoothly for me.)

The saga continues…

Update: Oct 11 — Closure

I finally got a reply from Symantec. Apparently when I bought PGP version 10.1, I only purchased a year of “Upgrade Assurance”, which has now expired. So in order to get Lion compatibility, I’ll have to spend another $99 to purchase a license for version 10.2 — which adds nothing other than Lion compatibility.

Left with no choice, I headed off to the Symantec store. I challenge anyone reading this to visit store.symantec.com, and try to find PGP for Mac. Just kidding, don’t bother, you won’t find it.

Tom, the helpful tech support guy, sent me a deep link into the store, to a page that does exist, but has apparently no navigation path from the root. Whatever.

Clicked “Purchase”, paid my $99, added the dashes between my phone number, since their system isn’t smart enough to figure out any other format, and placed the order.

My download started, and I got an email thanking me for my purchase of:

PGP for WINDOWS!!!

I can hardly believe my eyes. I’ve just purchased the wrong thing. My mind is immediately imagining a return into the awful enterprise Symantec cesspool to try to get this sorted out.

But, turns out, the download kindly also includes the Mac version. Whew! I guess they did the Windows thing in a final effort to mess with my mind. Good on ya, Symantec!

So now I’m off to decrypt decades of PGP-encrypted files, and then will remove this product from my drive — forever.

Update: Oct 13 — Uh, not quite closure.

Symantec weren’t about to let me off the hook so easily. No no no. Less than 48 hours after getting a fresh $99 from me, for PGP Home — the kids version of PGP — Symantec struck again.

After upgrading my MacBook Air to 10.7.2, it bricked. Can’t login. Try to login, get the dreaded gray circle with a line through it.

After an hour of troubleshooting, including a restore from backup and re-update to 10.7.2, I gave up and headed for Google.

This article reports that the culprit is PGP. Why PGP “Home”, without Whole Disk Encryption, installs kernel extensions is simply beyond me.

Rebooted from a backup, fired up Terminal, removed every shred of PGP (someone was thoughtful enough to document that) on the machine, and was finally able to successfully login again. Go Symantec!

16 thoughts on “An awful experience at Symantec”

  1. Sounds like great reasons never to patronize Symantec for anything, until their customer service, portals and corporate culture changes completely — which quite possibly may be never.

  2. FYI i just got off the phone with symantec. I have to upgrade my server to 3.2 MP1 and they told me that if i upgrade the clients before decrypting i could run into problems.

  3. Yep, I have been down this road. My small business and I have been PGP customers since way-way back. I’m glad to know that I am not the only one who, upon logging into the Symantec licensing portal, thought “what the…?!” I am presently in the process of eliminating every shred of PGP from our business process solely because I can’t afford to have my employees held hostage to “maybe it will brick our computers” when we upgrade. And also to a completely unusable license management process.

    Your remark that Apple was a counterforce to Symantec — natural opposites, if you will — struck me. There’s a certain sense of opaqueness to Apple as well (which is unfortunate), but they sure are in different leagues. I’ll side with Apple every time!

  4. Thanks for the writeup. I had a similar, but not quite as involved experience, culminating in two different end states. I uninstalled pgp 10.2 on my machine, upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion, installed PGP and then encrypted with FileVault2 (PGP WDE isn’t worth the risk). System running fine (using it now). I then installed PGP 10.2 MP1 on a user’s machine running lion with an FV2 encrypted drive, upon reboot I get the circle with the line through it. The major downside is this user is traveling more than 3,000 miles from his most recent backup. Could you post a link to the instructions for removing PGP via the command line?

    Thanks.

  5. The instructions here worked well for me. https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3374161?start=0&tstart=0

    I was able to get the second machine back. Turns out that it is an OS 10.7.2 / PGP 10.2 MP1 incompatibility.

    I was able to unlock the encrypted disk and execute the necessary commands using the recovery console. After deleting everything pgp related (find / -name ‘PGP‘ -print) I was able to boot into the bricked system.

    I’ve removed PGP from both machines now.

  6. So, I guess it goes without saying, I shouldn’t expect to be able to get PGP Desktop working on my MBA running Lion, even if I spend $99 on the upgrade? (I’m in the same boat, where I had 10.1 “Professional” for Mac, but the support expired so I no longer get free updates even when Symantec’s software has rendered my hard drive(s) completely useless until I get a fixed version of pgpwde.) Ugh. I hate Symantec, and will never buy or use any of their products ever again. 🙁

  7. Hey Guys,

    Just wanted to say that I had the same experience with Symantec. Unfortunately I cannot get rid of PGP completely because my work requires it.

    I don’t need to use the WDE, I can just use the FileVault which comes with OS X. But I need to be able to encrypt individual files as well as some emails. I am thinking to use GNUPG.

    So I was wondering if any of you know any other products, perhaps an open source product, which is compatible with PGP and easy to use for non-technical end-users, perhaps with GUI.

    Thanks in advance.

  8. All I want is PGP to decrypt emails and occasional one off files. I don’t understand why they go out of their way to make existence more painful by requiring their WDE hooks for versions that don’t even support WDE.

    Dear Symantec, thanks for bloating your products with crap that makes them not work. You can’t seem to handle OS X updates without destroying systems so please stay out of the kernel and bootloader. Just write a fucking app that works.

  9. I feel everyone’s pain her, we use this at Sea Shepherd and lately we have moved over to more MACS and in comparison to the Windows the MAC version is woefully crap and complex, tends to crash and wobble about alot, keys come and go willy nilly, and over all people are never quite sure what they are doing or how to use it. It’s just too complex for the average busy Joe to use.

  10. OK, I’m on OS X 10.7.4 but need to decrypt some PGP files. Now what? Sigh…

    Thanks for any insight into this disaster.

  11. this post makes a compelling argument for staying away from the mac and all things apple

    if you want to do serious computing, get a serious computer, not a consumer appliance

    (ps: i used to work at apple)

    1. “this post makes a compelling argument for staying away from the mac and all things apple

      if you want to do serious computing, get a serious computer, not a consumer appliance

      (ps: i used to work at apple)”

      I call bullshit on that last statement

  12. Wow. I second all this pain. Been trying to buy upgrade for 5 hours now. Sadly, I no longer trust the upgrade. I used to swear by Norton. And PGP. I will never go near a Symantec product again.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?