November 10, 2005 4:37 PM PST

Court puts clamp on alleged spyware ring

A Los Angeles court has temporarily shut down an operation charged by the Federal Trade Commission with bundling spyware with downloads that allegedly hit 600 blog sites.

The district court issued a temporary restraining order against Enternet Media and three of its officers, Lida Rohbani, Nima Hakimi and Baback Hakimi, the agency said Thursday. A similar order was placed on an affiliate, Nicholas C. Albert.

Federal regulators allege that Enternet Media distributed spyware through a wide net of affiliates, largely comprised of Webmasters who would receive payments from Enternet.

The Webmasters would place installation boxes supplied by Enternet on their sites. These boxes purported to offer free downloads of music, cell phone ring tones or photographs, the agency alleged. When a visitor clicked on an installation box, Enternet's spyware would be loaded onto the PC alongside the download without the owner's knowledge, the FTC charged in its complaint.

In the case of Albert's Web site, IWebtunes, some 600 bloggers downloaded music off that site to post on their own sites, according to the complaint, the FTC said. As a result, the blog sites would find they in turn became distributors of spyware, with installation boxes appearing on their sites.

Enternet Media's spyware tracked a user's Internet activity, changed their preferred home page settings, inserted a new toolbar onto their browsers, or displayed numerous "pop up" ads on their computer screen, the FTC said.

And once the spyware was installed, it was very difficult for users to remove or uninstall. The FTC noted that Google, Microsoft and Webroot aided in its investigation, but declined to give more details.

Enternet, based in Woodland Hills, Calif., and its officers operated their business under a variety of names, the FTC said. Their sites included Searchmiracle.com, c4tdownload.com and cash4toolbar.com. Albert ran IWebtunes.com, the FTC said.

The FTC is seeking a preliminary injunction against the defendants, and a hearing is to be conducted soon in the Los Angeles court, a representative of the agency said.

 

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