FTC cracks down on Web 'pagejacking'

Search AltaVista for computer game Web sites and you will find a link to a top 10 gaming site called Adrenaline Vault. Six months ago, though, consumers might have gotten a link that claimed to be Adrenaline Vault but actually redirected them to a sexually explicit site.

Search AltaVista for computer game Web sites and you will find a link to a top 10 gaming site called Adrenaline Vault. Six months ago, though, consumers might have gotten a link that claimed to be Adrenaline Vault but actually redirected them to a sexually explicit site.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week began to crack down on the scam, which can harm a business site’s reputation and revenue as upset consumers find pornography instead of the intended site.

The FTC said last week that it obtained a preliminary injunction against a Portuguese hacker and an Australian company to stop the practice known as “pagejacking.”

The scammers cloned popular Web sites in a scheme that affected at least 25 million pages, the agency charged in its civil suit.

Those copies included a legitimate site’s metatag -- an identifier that helps search engines categorise pages -- as well as a command automatically redirecting surfers from the copied sites to the porn sites, the FTC said.

Angel Munoz, president of Dallas-based NewWorld.com Inc., the parent company of Adrenaline Vault, sought the FTC’s help several months ago after alerting AltaVista Co. and the FBI in May that consumers were reaching lurid sexual images instead of his games site.

Munoz said at least 3 million unique users access Adrenaline Vault each month, and about one-third of them are 19 or younger.

“The worst part about it is that somebody not familiar with our site will [come to] Ad Vault and see a porn site. I have young children and don’t want my young children to search for games [and find pornography],” said Munoz, who added that he doesn’t know how long his Web site was allegedly hijacked.

The Bottom Line

In addition to affecting his company’s image, the incident also put a crimp in revenue, Munoz said.

About 15 percent of his customers reach the site via a search engine, and Adrenaline Vault can lose thousands of dollars each day that people can’t access the site, he said. “We can’t quantify how many people were victims of this and never made it to our site.”

Abner Germanow, a security analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts-based International Data Corp., said the only way corporate webmasters can deal with such scams is to closely monitor access to their sites and alert authorities and search engine companies of any suspicious findings.

“To protect your intellectual property, it’s always wise to watch how [your company] shows up in search engines,” Germanow said.

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