The Internet might just have gotten a little safer.
The Federal Trade Commission announced Thursday that it had Pricewert shut down by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division.
Pricewert is a San Jose, Calif.-based Internet service provider that allegedly recruits, intentionally and actively participates in the distribution of spam, child pornography, and other harmful electronic content.
Generally, the commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.
The court issued a temporary restraining order to prohibit Pricewert's illegal activities and required its upstream Internet providers and data centers to cease providing services. Pricewert is now completely off the Internet. The order also freezes Pricewert's assets.
According to the FTC's complaint, Pricewert, which does business under a variety of names including 3FN and APS Telecom, recruits and colludes with criminals seeking to distribute illegal, malicious, and harmful electronic content over the Internet. The content reportedly includes child pornography, spyware, viruses, Trojan horses, phishing, botnet command and control servers, and pornography featuring violence, bestiality, and incest.
Pricewert allegedly advertised its services via a forum established to facilitate communication between criminals. In addition, the company shielded its criminal clientele by either ignoring take-down requests issued by the online security community, or shifting its criminal elements to other Internet protocol addresses it controlled to evade detection, according to the FTC.
The FTC also alleges that Pricewert engaged in the deployment and operation of botnets--large networks of computers that have been compromised. Transcripts of instant-message logs filed with the district court show Pricewert's senior employees discussing the configuration of botnets with "bot herders."
In its filings with the district court, the FTC estimates that more than 4,500 malicious software programs are controlled by command-and-control servers hosted by 3FN. This malware includes programs capable of keystroke logging, password and data stealing, programs with hidden backdoor remote control activity, and programs involved in spam distribution.
This case was brought to light with the assistance of multiple agencies and people including NASA's Office of Inspector General; the Department of Justice's Computer Crime Division; Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; the Shadowserver Foundation; the Spamhaus Project; and Symantec.
Talking to CNET News, Vincent Weafer, vice president of Symantec Security Response, said that this crackdown, more than anything, sent a message to the bad guys that now corporations and law enforcement are more willing to work together to fight illegal online activities.
In regard to how much safer this would make the Internet, Vincent said it would take time to find out but it likely won't change much in terms of how many spams you'll receive a day, as there are many other companies like Pricewert around the world. Symantec has been working closely with law enforcement by providing intelligence via its 240,000 Internet activity sensors located in 200 countries around the world.
The court will hold a preliminary injunction hearing on June 15.