Jan. 23, 2008 at 9:00 AM ET
Digital picture frames were one of the hit gifts this holiday season, but at least some consumers have ended up with an unwelcome extra present -- a computer virus.
Electronics retailer Best Buy acknowledged this weekend that some private label Insignia 10-inch digital frames it sold over the holiday season were contaminated with a unidentified virus. The frames have now been pulled from store shelves and the product discontinued, Best Buy said in a statement.
"While this is an older virus which is easily identified and removed by current anti -virus software, we are taking this situation seriously," the statement on the Insignia Web site read. "This situation is not characteristic of Insignia products. We have launched an investigation and will take the actions necessary to help ensure that a situation like this is not repeated."
Digital picture frames, which display digital photos without the need to print them or use a computer, are soaring in popularity. According to estimates by the research firm IDC, consumers bought about 1.7 million digital frames in 2006, about 5.6 million last year and will purchase nearly 10 million this year.
The infection was limited to the 10.4-inch version of the Insignia frames, with a model number of Number NS-DPF10A, Best Buy said. The firm did not identify the scope of the problem other than to say it impacted “a limited number” of the devices.
The problem was discovered in early January, but Best Buy didn’t post a notice about it until Saturday because the firm was trying to “get a handle” on its inventory,” said spokeswoman Nissa French.
The company has not directly contacted consumers who purchased the picture frame, French said. It will do that when it has developed a detailed solution. “We want to communicate everything at once, for the best customer experience,” she said. She said that "fewer than two dozen" consumers had returned the devices to stores complaining about the virus.
Some might question the firm’s delay in notifying consumers, who might still be able to avoid infecting their PCs. Only consumers who connect the gadget directly to a PC running the Windows operating system risk infection, Best Buy said. Even then, users with updated antivirus products would be protected. Consumers who only slipped memory cards into their picture frames are not at risk either, the company said.
It is not clear how the virus landed on the hardware, but the firm said the contamination occurred "during the manufacturing process." French could not say how many consumers have complained about infection.
Those who purchased or received the frames can call Insignia customer service at 877-467-4289 for more information.
“An Insignia representative will be available to answer questions about your digital picture frame and determine what actions are necessary to ensure your digital picture frame and computer are clean and fully functional,” the firm said.
The incident highlights a new risk for gadget users, said Zulfikar Ramzan, a researcher with the security firm Symantec Corp. Any time a gadget with any kind of memory storage is connected to a PC, bad things can happen.
“The reality is that when you plug anything into your machine you run the risk that whatever files are on that device could be executed on your computer, and that could include a virus,” he said.
Use of USB flash memory sticks raises the risks, he said, but any gadget can post a threat. “There are security issues and people have to understand the risks. From an attacker’s standpoint, this is a great way to get onto your machines. “
While there are many possible explanations for the Insignia frame infection, Ramzan said a “rogue employee” was the most likely possibility.
But he also said that consumers who buy returned merchandise should be especially wary, as a gadget could be infected by the initial purchaser, and then returned to the store contaminated.
“You just never know,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to have security software.”
An earlier version of this story indicated that Best Buy spokeswoman Nissa French said "fewer than 2,000" picture frames had been returned by consumers; that has been corrected to read "fewer than two dozen."