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FTC fines three men $330,000 for pushing spyware

Slap on the wrist shows that cyber crime pays

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Three men accused of forcing spyware onto more than 15 million computers have agreed to pay $330,000 in fines and to to be monitored by federal authorities for up to eight years.

The penalty settles charges by the Federal Trade Commission that Elliott S. Cameron, Robert A. Davidson II and Garry E. Hill violated federal consumer laws by tricking people into installing malware dubbed Media Motor. The spyware was associated with various companies, including ERG Ventures, Joysticksavers.com and Privateinpublic.com.

The defendants collectively agreed to cough up $330,000. That's not exactly a king's ransom, especially considering the $3.6m in revenue generated by their scam. The agreement requires the men to surrender the entire amount, but also suspends all but the above-stated fine. So, if the lads behave themselves, they look to come out of the ordeal with quite a bit of cash.

For their part, prosecutors can certainly portray the arrangement as a carrot that entices the men to fulfill the terms of the settlement.

But the prosecutors' shell game makes it just as reasonable to say that pushing malware generates good money, in this case more than $3.2m.

The men stood accused of hiding the Media Motor spyware within screensavers and video files. Media Motor, in turn, unleashed a fury of other programs that visited all kinds of system changes on unfortunate end users, including changing default home pages, 2) adding a hard-to-remove toolbar that displayed ads on internet browsers, tracking consumers' browsing activity and generating repeated and occasionally pornographic pop up advertising.

For the next eight years, the men are required to keep records of their business activities and make them available to FTC investigators. They are also required to establish a mechanism for consumer complaints about any new business ventures they may establish. ®

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