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Webmaster pays $3,300 to settle malware charges

Promises he'll never do it again

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A webmaster is to surrender $3,300 in ill-gotten gains and refrain from making misleading claims, to settle federal charges he deceived consumers into installing spyware, dialer programs and other types of malware.

Nicholas C. Albert lured unwitting computer users into installing the payload by promising a file that allowed bloggers to stream free songs on their websites, according to a complaint (PDF) filed in late 2005 by the Federal Trade Commission. What Albert failed to mention is that the file came bundled with a malware package from an outlet that went by the name Enternet Media, among others.

Bloggers who downloaded the file were treated to a Javascript that caused their sites to display links to Enternet offerings. Web users who visited sites infected with the scripts received pop-up windows that gave alarming security warnings such as: "YOU have an OUT OF DATE browser which can cause you to get infected with viruses, spam and spyware. To prevents this, press YES now." Those who fell for the ruse didn't actually receive a browser update but instead got code that tracked their online activity, changed browser settings, installed toolbars and displayed advertising.

According to FTC prosecutors, Albert was an affiliate for Enternet. He agreed to permanently stop "interfering with consumers' computer use," including distributing malware, and making false claims about software he may offer in the future. He also agreed to allow FTC officials to monitor any affiliate marketing activities he may take up in the next eight years.

Officials with Enternet, which also went by names such as as Conspy, Lida Rohbani, Nima Hakimi, and Baback (Babak) Hakimi, agreed in September to pay $2 million to settle FTC charges related to their role in the scheme. Their badware masqueraded under benign-sounding names such as "Search Miracle," "Miracle Search," "EM Toolbar," "EliteBar," and "Elite Toolbar," according to the FTC.

Commissioners' vote to approve the settlement was 5-0. Albert lived or still lives in Ohio, while Enternet officials are in California, according to the FTC. The case was brought with the assistance of Microsoft, Webroot Software and Google. ®

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