Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/04/3fn_shut_down/

US Federal Trade Commission shuts down ISP

Provider accused of harboring malware, child porn

By Dan Goodin

Posted in Security, 4th June 2009 20:02 GMT

Federal authorities have shut down what they said was the worst US-based web hosting provider after convincing a judge it actively participated in the distribution of child pornography, spam, malware, and other net-based menaces.

The US Federal Trade Commission obtained the court order against 3FN.net, a service provider with servers mostly located in San Jose, California that also operated under the name Pricewert. Dated June 2, it commanded all companies providing upstream services to 3FN to immediately pull the plug. The order was issued in secret to prevent the operators from being able to destroy evidence or find new hosts, something FTC attorneys said was necessary given the extreme nature of the data it hosted.

"This content includes a witches' brew of child pornography, botnet command and control servers, spyware, viruses, trojans, phishing-related sites, and pornography featuring violence, bestiality, and incest," they wrote in court documents. "In addition to recruiting and willingly distributing this illegal, malicious and harmful content, Pricewert actively colludes with its criminal clientele in several areas, including the maintenance and deployment of networks of compromised computers known as botnets."

This week's action is the most significant shutdown since the shuttering in November of McColo, another Northern California-based service provider with ties to online crime. In the months following the takedown, spam volume dropped by as much as 40 percent.

So far, we're not seeing a similar decline in junk mail this time around, even though 3FN was a major provider for Cutwail, a notorious spam botnet with more than 1 million infected machines under its control, security analysts said.

"We suspect it's been programmed in such a way that when the command and control goes down it just continues to execute" old instructions, said Matt Sergeant, a senior antispam technologist at MessageLabs, which was recently purchased by Symantec. "That gives the spammers time to find a new command and control host. McColo taught spammers that they needed multiple command and controls and not to put all their eggs in one basket."

Court documents alleged a litany of illegal services that 3FN operators actively offered. They include:

One of the biggest complaints among white hat hackers is the difficulty of shutting down networks that flagrantly violate the law. This week's action is the first time the FTC has used its congressional mandate to protect US consumer to sever a service provider suspected of illegal activity.

The temporary restraining order, issued by US District Judge Ronald M. White of San Jose, also freezes all of the company's assets. A hearing in the case is scheduled for June 15.

Assistance in the case came from a variety of sources including , computer forensics expert Gary Warner from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, NASA's office of the inspector general, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Shadowserver Foundation, Symantec and the Spamhaus project.

Court documents are available here. ®