FTC Goes After 'Phony' Spyware Assassin
Elizabeth Millard, www.enterprise-security-today.com
The Federal Trade Commission has asked a U.S. District Court to bar
Spyware Assassin and its affiliates from offering consumers free
spyware detection scans and from selling antispyware software.
The FTC also is seeking a permanent halt to the alleged "marketing
scam," as well as redress for consumers.
"The defendants' free remote scan is phony, and the defendants'
representations that they have detected spyware on the consumer's
computer are deceptive," the FTC charges.
Bogus Claims About Spyware
In papers filed with the court, the FTC alleges that Spyware Assassin
and its affiliates use Web sites, e-mail, banner ads and pop-ups to
draw users to the company's site.
After dire warnings about spyware, users are offered a free scanning
tool, which inevitably finds "dangerous spyware virus infections,"
according to the company's post-scan pop-up message.
The message advises users to pay for and download Spyware Assassin
software, which does not remove all, or substantially all, spyware, the
FTC alleges. This violates the FTC Act, which bars deceptive claims.
Fraudulent E-Mail on the Rise
As the FTC was conducting its investigation, security firms also were
noticing the rise in Spyware Assassin's antispyware e-mail activity.
Reston, Virgina-based iDefense, a threat-intelligence firm, noticed
the fraudulent e-mails increasing over the past couple of months.
"There's been a dramatic increase in the number of messages from
Spyware Assassin," said iDefense director of malicious code research
Ken Dunham. "We checked it out and found they were bogus."
Unlike prescription drug scams, antispyware protection appeals to a
larger group of people, Dunham noted, because many users have heard of
spyware, but most are unaware of how to remove it.
Larger Spyware Issues
Although Spyware Assassin could be shut down permanently, that does
not solve the deeper issue of user naivete, according to Dunham.
"The larger problem that this highlights is that users are far too
trusting [of] junk e-mail and spam," he said. "There is an issue here
much bigger than this one fraudulent site, and that's user education,"
Without reliable information being disseminated to users about what is
safe and what is fraud, bogus e-mail claims are likely to proliferate,
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