FTC Goes After Alleged Click Fraud and Spam Perpetrator

The Federal Trade Commission is after what it calls a “rogue” ISP that, although appearing to do business with shady Russian-speaking webmasters and operating from Belize, has an Oregon connection.

The FTC filed suit against the obscure Internet service provider alleging it engaged in click fraud, phishing scams, malware dissemination, and hosting of unseemly Web businesses. Acting as the plaintiff in a U.S. District Court based in California, the FTC sued Pricewert, otherwise known as 3FN, for wittingly hosting child pornography, and taking over computers to enable click fraud, spam, and phishing. 3FN, which runs the Triple Fiber Network, even ran display advertising on a Russian site it hosted in order to solicit clients.

The commission argued the activities amounted to unfair practices under federal law, and led to substantial consumer injury, according to documents associated with the case. Though a preliminary hearing won’t take place until later this month, the court has effectively ended the company’s ability to provide hosting services and frozen its assets.

In addition to blatantly admitting its willingness to host content that’s illegal in the U.S. (a 3FN representative in a Web forum said the firm would, “of course,” host rape and incest Web sites), the company was found to be running banner ads promoting its hosting services on a Russian language Web site, crutop.nu, which features forums for webmasters.

The FTC alleges 3FN “has gone to considerable lengths to hide from law enforcement.” Court documents describe Pricewert as “a shell company” created by 3FN, incorporated in Oregon and reportedly operating from Belize.

Phrases like “bot herder” and “zombie drones” pepper a supplemental document posted along with the FTC’s statement about the case. The commission alleges 3FN enabled botnets, or networks of computers essentially commandeered for nefarious purposes. The agency noted that the ISP, as an alleged “bot herder,” hosted 4,500 malicious software programs enabling things like password stealing, data stealing, and spam distribution.

“Pricewert causes massive harm to consumers through the content it recruits and distributes,” noted the court document. “These harms run the gamut from direct consumer injury — including Pricewert’s active participation in botnets…to those injuries less easy to quantify, but undoubtedly significant, such as Pricewert’s hosting of child pornography, pirated software and music, and participation in click fraud.”

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