By Brian Livingston
Thanks to massive publicity about the subject, computer users are now widely concerned that their machines might be infected with "spyware" programs. These applications monitor users’ activities and perhaps transmit to a hacker the users’ passwords and other confidential information. But many Web sites that claim to “scan your computer” to detect spyware are, in fact, spreading spyware themselves.
In one of the latest examples, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced on Mar. 11 that Spyware Assassin, a $29.95 program sold by MaxTheatre Inc., was promoted by bogus pop-up windows. These windows falsely claimed, "You have dangerous spyware virus infections on your computer. Click OK to install the latest free update to fix these errors."
The FTC said that if a computer user clicked OK, a phony "local scan" then reported that spyware has been found, displaying a phony list of supposedly infected files and folders. Both the original message and the "local scan" reported problems even if the computer was free from infections, the FTC said.
The federal agency persuaded the U.S. District Court in Spokane, Wash., where MaxTheatre is based, to issue a temporary restraining order. The site is now shut down.
This kind of scam is now so common on the Web that it’s generating its own macabre jokes. One wag suggested in a Slashdot posting that, if the FTC really got serious, we’d soon see the following story:
- "The Federal Trade Commission has shut down Microsoft, alleging the company participated in fraudulent practices with its Windows and Office software, which purportedly gave the illusion of an operating system and/or increased productivity at work, even though no improvement was done and in most cases, the user machine would stop working correctly after a day. The company’s site then offered the user a $30 product to enhance security, which the commission reports ‘didn’t do a thing.’“
All kidding aside, the number of bogus programs that now pose as "antispyware" applications is enormous and still growing.