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Jim Hu

Staff Writer, CNET

America Online on Thursday launched an updated version of its proprietary online service that includes more security features.

The AOL 9.0 Security Edition software includes McAfee VirusScan Online, AOL Spyware Protection, antispam control and a system to thwart instant-messaging spam (or “spim”), the company said. Additionally, the new software offers features that earlier versions did, including McAfee firewall protection, pop-up controls, parental controls and alerts for unauthorized bank and credit card activity.

AOL previously charged $2.95 a month for McAfee VirusScan, but decided to bundle it for free to attract customers looking for additional security. The new software can be downloaded from AOL’s Web site.

Security Edition is free to subscribers of AOL’s $23.90 dial-up access service and to its $14.95 “bring your own access” (“BYOA”) version.

AOL has been making ongoing updates to its service in hopes of retaining existing members and attracting new ones. During the past two years, millions of AOL’s dial-up subscribers have fled the service, defecting largely to phone and cable companies that provide faster broadband access.

AOL is pushing “bring your own access,” a service that lets departing members keep their AOL experience for use on top of a broadband connection from another provider.

At the same time, the company is trying to migrate many of its exclusive features to the free Web. The idea is to increase AOL’s exposure on the Web, which would let it tap into the resurgence in online advertising spending.