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The Seattle Shuffle

I'm blogging from beautiful Seattle, having just spent the day touring the facilities of adware maker 180Solutions Inc. and interviewing at least five of their top executives for a story I'm working on for the Washington Post Magazine.

Fall is in full swing here with the changing colors of the trees splashing vivid shades of red, gold and orange against hillsides blanketed with pine trees. To hear the folks at 180 explain things, they are undergoing a similar metamorphosis, trying to evolve from a company reviled for years of distributing its ad-serving software via legally questionable means to one that is cleaning up its act in the hopes of attracting more big-name advertisers.

Much of the discussion today revolved around methods 180 says it is using to crack down on  "rogue distributors" which profited by installing 180's software along with dozens of other intrusive and unauthorized programs that more often than not rendered host computers completely unusable.

Two months ago, I wrote about a series of lawsuits 180 brought against seven of its distributors who the company alleged used thousands of home computers that were hacked and seeded with viruses to serve as an install base for the company's adware, in exchange for lucrative commissions from 180.

But according to 180 attorney Ken McGraw, the company withdrew those lawsuits a week ago, after the defendants -- all of whom reside outside of the United States -- for some reason declined to make the trip here to face the charges.

According to McGraw, prior to that decision 180 was approached by the FBI. He said the agency is looking into these individuals and numerous other 180 affiliates -- both domestically and abroad -- whom the feds suspect committed far more serious crimes than installing spyware and adware with their botnets. McGraw said 180 had been on the verge of filing additional civil suits, but that the feds urged them to stand down so as not to spook the bad guys.

McGraw would not elaborate on what those crimes might have been, but botnets are generally used as conduits for a variety of illegal activities online, from sending spam to conducting extortionist denial-of-service attacks that threaten Web sites owners who don't pay up with such a flood of junk traffic that their sites are no longer able to accommodate legitimate visitors.

From all of the technical detail I heard today, it sounds as though 180 may at last be on the path toward distancing itself from its old ways and partners. If future results bear that out, it would be a welcome -- if long overdue -- development.

Still, that may be little solace to the thousands of computer users who have been forced to buy new PCs to replace those hopelessly crippled by bundles of adware and spyware  piggybacked on 180's distribution channels.

180 maintains that by year's end it will no longer profit from serving ads to consumers who did not authorize the installation of its software. This isn't the first time that 180 has made claims that turned out later to fall short of their stated intention, so rest assured that Security Fix will be closely monitoring the fruits of these initiatives.

By Brian Krebs  |  October 21, 2005; 7:00 AM ET
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Next: A Windows Worm Mockup?


180 has no business model beyond creating malware. Their entire company is based on the premise that it is OK to install software whose sole purpose is to force the computer owner to view ads. Nobody wants this. Advertisers already have much more effective ways of reaching eyeballs than installing intrusive and potentially dangerous software on computers. Most reputable spyware/adware detectors already flag 180 software as evil and anyone with a clue knows to delete it immediately.

This company will eventually die, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Posted by: 180 should die. | October 21, 2005 1:16 PM | Report abuse

these guys have used black hat techniques for years to pollute machines with garbage and generally abuse any network and server it could reach with its garbage.
you are giving them a real image makeover yourself by assigning any credibility to their pleas.
by essentially saying that if a user is dumb enough to get tricked by us, it's okay for us to do what we want with their machine, they are black hat. they should all get dumped in jail for wire fraud.

Posted by: didn't you notice the black hats | October 21, 2005 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I think most of the posts are naive. 180 has lived off the desire for free stuff. Screensavers, games, porn, and all the lowbrow internet sites need the advertisign revenue via adware to survive.

I checked out 180's Zango and it tells me it will give me advertisements in exchange for the games, astrology, etc. Nobody wants the ads that 180 generates, but they want the games, screensavers, porn and other lowbrow stuff. Why should anyone give away a game or screensaver for free?

It may be unAmerican to say so, but there is no such thing as free, especially on the internet. You get what you pay for.

Posted by: everybody wants it free | October 21, 2005 5:04 PM | Report abuse

'Once a crook, always a crook.' It's in the conscience, or lack thereof to phrase it more precicely, whether you can hurt someone and not feel bad about it, even make money off of it and laugh about it later. It's a personality defect that is difficult to fix.

Posted by: Billy F. | October 22, 2005 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Those green trees in Seattle are FIR trees, not pine. Pines grow mostly in the dry eastern part of the state.

Hope the rest of the article is more accurate.


Posted by: Treehugger | October 24, 2005 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Not really sure how the above post could be construed as positive propaganda for 180. The post is full of healthy skepticism for their claims.

As for you Treehugger, thanks for reading. I, however, am not a confier expert, so a thousand pardons. Sheesh.

Posted by: Brian Krebs | October 24, 2005 5:18 PM | Report abuse

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