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Adware maker: We were victims of cybergang

180solutions says it was the target of blackmail by Dutch cybercriminals who have been accused of hacking about 1.5 million PCs.

Advertising software maker 180solutions on Wednesday said it was the target of a scheme to extort money by Dutch cybercriminals and is helping in the case against them.

Dutch police in early October arrested three individuals, whose names have not been disclosed. The three are suspected of commandeering about 1.5 million PCs using a Trojan horse. They allegedly used the network of so-called zombie PCs to steal credit card numbers and other personal data, and to blackmail online businesses.

Authorities had not disclosed which online businesses had been targeted in the blackmail schemes. 180solutions on Wednesday came forward and identified itself as one of the victims and said it helped gather evidence against one of the three suspects.

"While these suspects may have been clever and effective in amassing a huge botnet, one of the largest ever seen, they left a significant trail of evidence that we turned over to authorities. We're told that evidence resulted in the continued detention of the suspects," Ken McGraw, chief compliance officer for 180solutions, said in a statement.

180solutions, based in Bellevue, Wash., makes the 180search Assistant and Zango Search Assistant applications that deliver pop-up ads to users as they perform Web searches. The company relies on many third parties for distribution. Those parties get paid for each installation of the software. 180solutions has been busy cleaning up its image as an aggressive adware pusher.

One of the three arrested men was a distributor of 180solutions' software, said Sean Sundwall, a 180solutions spokesman. The suspect got involved with botnets, or networks of hijacked computers, to install the adware, moving 180solutions to stop payments to the individual.

"We shut him off and he asked to be reinstated," Sundwall said. When he was not, the individual threatened with a denial of service attack unless 180solutions paid him an undisclosed sum. "The attack ensued in early August and that is when we involved the FBI," Sundwall said.

In a denial-of-service attack a flood of information requests is sent to a server, bringing the system to its knees and making it difficult to reach. In the attack on 180solutions, a site for the company's distributors was attacked, Sundwall said.