FTC Shuts Down 'Rogue' California Hosting Company

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Federal Trade Commission shut down a Northern California Internet hosting company Tuesday, accused of direct involvement with more than 15,000 sites responsible for child porn, malware and other illegal content.

This is the first time the FTC has shuttered an ISP under such charges.

According to the complaint, the company, doing business as Triple Fiber Network (3FN.net) or APS Telecom under the umbrella of Pricewert, is a "'rogue” or “black hat” Internet operation that "recruits, knowingly hosts and actively participates in the distribution of illegal, malicious and harmful electronic content.”

The filing claims that content includes "child pornography, spyware, viruses, trojan horses, phishing, botnet command and control servers, and pornography featuring violence, bestiality and incest, ” reports Wire.com.

The charges also include enabling identity theft and identity purchasing sites.

Following through on an FTC request, a San Jose federal judge ordered other Internet providers and data centers to stop servicing Pricewert, which is based in Oregon, though its operators are believed to be in Belize, while maintaining thousands of servers in the San Jose area.

Of the thousands of sites the company hosted, many are said to be based in Russia and were reportedly scrambling to go back online through other hosting companies after the shutdown occurred.

The FTC charges that Pricewert helped sites create and configure botnets and "hosts very little legitimate content." 

"Pricewert markets its services to domestic and overseas criminals by placing ads in the darkest corners of the Internet, including forums set up to facilitate communication between criminals," the FTC complaint said.

The suit also alleges that Pricewert "actively shields its criminal clientele by either ignoring take-down requests issued by the online security community or shifting its criminal clients to other internet protocol addresses controlled by Pricewert so that they may evade detection."

FTC chairman Jonathon Leibowitz told The Washington Post, "Anything bad on the Internet, they were involved in it,"

Leibowitz said the action marks the first time the agency has been empowered to shut down an ISP.

"In one fell swoop we've gone after a big facilitator of some of the utterly worst conduct," he said.

Going back to October 2008, botnets and other malware have been traced by security films to networks hosted by 3FN, The Post said.

Other group that assisted the FTC investigations include Symantec, NASA cyber-specialists, Spamhaus, the Shadowserver Foundation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

McAfee lead research scientist Christopher Barton told The Post 3FN domain name servers already have appeared in other areas online.

"The rats are running," Barton said, while the FTC’s Leibowitz said his agency will track down and shut down all ISPs involved with criminal activities on the Web.