I'm innocent!

2019-03-07 12:09:07

By Kurt Kleiner YOU’RE sitting in the office doing some legitimate research on the Web. Perhaps you are trying to access the website of the Harvard Law Review. Instead, to your horror, up pops a page of pornographic pictures. As you frantically try to go back, or close down your browser program, more and more porn appears on the screen. Then your boss walks by. This is exactly what happened to at least one hapless office worker, thanks to fraudsters who have hijacked legitimate websites in order to increase traffic to their porn sites—and so boost their advertising revenue. Now American regulators are cracking down on the practice. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has closed down a number of websites run by two companies which, between them, had “pagejacked” as many as 25 million Web pages. “These operators hijacked websites, kidnapped consumers and held them captive. They exposed surfers, including children, to the seamiest sort of material and incapacitated computer `close’ buttons so they couldn’t escape,” says Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The fraudsters started by taking someone else’s Web page—one offering news about the situation in Kosovo, for example —and copying it onto their own website. Then they would add additional invisible keywords, known as “meta tags”, to try to ensure automated search engines would list their copied site ahead of the original. So when a user went to the search engine looking for information on Kosovo, they would probably click through to the copied page instead of the original. The scammers also inserted computer code in the copied page that immediately redirected the user’s browser to a porn site. And when the user tried to click the browser’s back or close button, further code ensured that this action just opened more and more porn sites. This is called “mousetrapping”. The FTC has filed suits against a company in Portugal run by an individual called Carlos Pereira and another run from Australia by Guiseppe Nirta. Portuguese and Australian authorities cooperated in the investigation. Both companies’ websites have now been closed down, after a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, granted a preliminary injunction on 21 September suspending domain names registered to the companies. Victims of the pagejacking are grateful for the FTC’s intervention. But some are less pleased with the response of other bodies. For three months, the AltaVista search engine listed a fraudulent copy of the Adrenaline Vault computer gaming site, run by NewWorld.com of Dallas, Texas. The company’s president, Angel Munoz, says the fraudulent listing caused growth in the number of hits on the legitimate website to stall. Local police and the FBI wouldn’t take action, and even AltaVista was slow to respond, Munoz says. “It took them a month to take it off. And we had to submit the links. They wouldn’t even search for them.” AltaVista spokesman David Emanuel says the company receives many complaints about a variety of problems,