FTC cracks international Web porn ring

US and Australian authorities raid porn ring that 'hijacked' Web sites and 'kidnapped' innocent surfers.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday it has won a federal injunction against an international porn ring that cloned 25 million Web pages and "hijacked" unsuspecting visitors to its smut sites.

The defendants -- Carlos Pereira, Guiseppe Nirta and his company, called W.T.F.R.C. Pty. Ltd. -- were all named in a preliminary injunction by the Eastern District Court of Virginia. Periera is believed to reside in Portugal, while Nirta and WTFRC are based in Australia.

"These operators hijacked Web sites, 'kidnapped' consumers and held them captive," said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "When consumers used search engines to find subjects as innocent as 'Kids on the Net', 'News about Kosovo' or 'wedding services', they risked being exposed to a torrent of tawdry images."

In its complaint, the FTC alleged that the group "page-jacked" 25 million legitimate Web pages by copying them in their entirety and either resubmitting them with search engines such as AltaVista and Yahoo!, or waiting for automatic crawlers to do the work for them. The purloined pages included those of the Harvard Law Review, the Japanese Friendship Garden and NewWorld.com, which owns the popular Adrenaline Vault game site.

The net effect of the mass page copying was that Web surfers using search engines would choose sites with legitimate names and descriptions, but be instantly redirected to porn enclaves.

Once there, the FTC alleges, the defendants used another trick, called "mouse trapping", to render the back-page and browser-close buttons useless via special Java code. Visitors were then forced to shut down their computers to close the session.

Australian law enforcement raided WTFRC facilities Wednesday and seized numerous servers as evidence. Allan Asher, deputy chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said by videophone from Canberra that law enforcement authorities there had raided eight locations, gathering information for possible criminal prosecution or civil action. FTC officials said the Portuguese Instituto do Consumidor had cooperated in investigations of Pereira.

Web address administrator Network Solutions appears to have complied with the federal injunction and shut down several domains used by the defendants, including www.atariz.com and www.pirate.lynx.com.

Bernstein presented lawyer John Fischer of Irving, Texas, who said his client, Newworld.com, owner of the game site Adrenaline Vault, at Avault.com, was hijacked.

In court papers, Fischer said the company was considering the possible sale of a portion of Adrenaline Vault to investors for more than $20m (£12m) when the hijacking occurred.

"We lost thousands of dollars a day (in value)," Fischer told the news conference, until he got search engines to restore access. Fischer said he sought help without success from the FBI, state and local authorities. Eventually the Federal Trade Commission became involved, exercising its authority to act against deception and unfairness to consumers.

At its press conference, the FTC also unveiled a new Internet Lab where the agency will track and gather evidence on illegal activities in cyberspace. The "page-jacking" case is the 100th Internet-related complaint brought by the commission to date.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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