The Washington state attorney general's office has filed a lawsuit against Secure Computer LLC of White Plains, N.Y., alleging that the company's anti-spyware software falsely claimed that computers were infected in an attempt to encourage computer users to pay $49.95 for a fully-working version. According to the suit, the spyware cleaner does not remove spyware from the PC, but rather modifies settings on the computer.
The law suit claimed that some of the emails sent pretended to come from MSN Member Services with the subject line "Special Security Alert for MSN Members," giving the false impression that the emails were being sent by Microsoft security personnel. Other warnings are alleged to have been sent to computers running Windows Messenger, to force a pop-up message to appear on recipients' machines, posing as a message from the Windows operating system.
Named in the suit were Secure Computer President Paul Burke, who lives in the Bronx, and Gary Preston of Jamaica, N.Y., registered owner of websites used to promote Spyware Cleaner. Burke and Preston are said to have made more than $100,000 by selling the software through affiliates.
Attorney General Rob McKenna told AP that this was the first lawsuit filed under Washington state's new anti-spyware act, which the Legislature passed last year, and one of the first spyware lawsuits in the country.
"In general, we've made more progress on spam than we have on spyware," said McKenna. "Spyware in all its forms is a faster-growing threat than viruses."
Experts welcomed the news and voiced concerns over some of the dubious tactics used by companies to sell products.
"Computer users fear spyware on their computers, so to receive a warning that malicious spyware has been identified might easily lead someone to purchasing cleaning software," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "For anyone to prey on those fears and resort to displaying bogus detection messages, or promoting their products through spam, is simply despicable."
Other defendants alleged to be affiliate advertisers of Spyware Cleaner, and said to have advertised the product through spam email, messages and Google ads, have been named as Manoj Kumar, Zhijian Chen, and Seth T. Traub.
"This case reveals some of the underhand and criminal tactics which are being used to market goods to internet users," continued Cluley. "Everyone should exercise caution about whose software they run on their computer, and be careful not to believe every message or email their PC pops up in front of them. Just because a company or website has an impressive-sounding name doesn't mean they should be trusted."