Architecture, Application Security

Washington state sues accused spyware purveyor

March 26, 2008

Officials in Washington state have filed a civil lawsuit against an Arizona man accused of coercing consumers into buying pop-up blocking software after first spamming them with pop-up ads.

Attorney General Rob McKenna alleges in the suit that Ron Cooke, owner of Messenger Solutions, violated Washington's Computer Spyware Act and Consumer Protection Act while marketing programs under the names Messenger Blocker, WinAntiVirus Pro 2007, System Doctor and WinAntiSpyware.

Consumers were offered the opportunity to try a seven-day trial. When the trial period expired, the consumers were spammed with more pop-up ads, generated by Cooke's company, according to the suit.

In addition, consumers who downloaded the software were victimized when the program caused their computers to stealthily blast messages to other PCs at a rate of one every two seconds, the suit said.

"This is an important issue for consumers because pop-up ads are annoying, cost money in wasted time, and are used to coerce the computer user into buying products," McKenna told SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday.

The Washington, D.C.-based Anti-Spyware Coalition applauded the efforts of McKenna's office to go after perpetrators.

"This case is a good example of the kinds of deceptive behavior targeted as spyware by [us]," Heather West, program associate, told SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday.

"The case shows how important it is for states to aggressively prosecute these kinds of behaviors in order to protect consumers online."

Spyware protection is a priority in McKenna's office. He helped write the state's first spyware statute, which was passed in 2005, and has a staff of six full-time employees on the high-tech unit. The office also houses a computer lab that allows them to patrol the internet for spyware.

"The computers, called honeypots, run automatically, but emulate human users," McKenna explained. "We found out about [Cooke's] operation when one of the honeypot computers started receiving fake Windows Messenger pop-ups or Net Send messages."

The investigation began in October 2007.

Because of these initiatives, Washington has brought more cases against spyware and spam purveyors than any other state. Since the statute was enacted, McKenna's office has filed six anti-spyware act violation civil suits and eight anti-spam complaints.

Cooke could not be reached for comment.

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