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District court halts keylogger spyware sales

U.S. District Court has temporarily halted the sale of RemoteSpy keylogger software, which the Federal Trade Commission says harms consumers and violates the FTC Act.

A U.S. District Court has temporarily halted the sale of RemoteSpy keylogger spyware at the request of the Federal Trade Commission, which claims the software violates the FTC Act.

The FTC filed a complaint (PDF) against Florida-based CyberSpy Software on November 5, alleging the company has violated the FTC Act by selling software that can be deployed remotely by someone other than the owner or authorized user of a computer, can be installed without the owner's knowledge, and can used to surreptitiously collect and disclose personal information. The FTC also claims CyberSpy unfairly collected and stored personal information gathered with RemoteSpy.

In its complaint, the FTC asked the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, to issue a temporary restraining order halting the sale of RemoteSpy while its case is pending, permanently ban the sale of RemoteSpy, and require CyberSpy to pay restitution for any injury to consumers resulting from its violations of the FTC Act.

The court, in its temporary restraining order filed November 6 against CyberSpy, said there is a "substantial likelihood" that the FTC will be able to prove the spyware maker violated the FTC Act.

"The sale and operation of RemoteSpy is likely to cause substantial harm to consumers that cannot be reasonably avoided and is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition," the court wrote. "The likely harm includes financial harm (including identity theft) and endangering the health and safety of consumers."

Along with barring CyberSpy from selling RemoteSpy, the restraining order bars the company from disclosing or making available any information obtained through the software. It also requires CyberSpy to ensure any Web sites associated with the product, including www.remotespy.com, are not publicly accessible.

The FTC's complaint names Tracer R. Spence, the registered agent and manager of CyberSpy, as liable for the charges against the spyware maker.

CyberSpy's possible violations were first brought to light to the FTC in a complaint (PDF) filed in March by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Though other federal agencies have been known to use keylogger software, the FTC has been challenging the distribution of spyware for the past four years.