Court Allows Spyware Program to Go Back on Sale

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Illustration: Joe Zeff
A Florida company that sells a spyware program must change advertising pitches that emphasize the product's clandestine nature, but the company can continue to sell the application, a U.S. federal court has ruled.

CyberSpy Software had been unable to sell its RemoteSpy application since Nov. 6, when a court granted a request for an injunction after a complaint by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC alleges CyberSpy marketed RemoteSpy by giving detailed instructions on how to install the program on computers and surreptitiously collect data. A trial is scheduled for June 15 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando.

The new injunction bars CyberSpy from suggesting the program can be secretly installed or that keyloggers can be passed on as innocuous programs.

CyberSpy Software gave its customers special instructions on how to e-mail the program to an intended victim, disguising it as a harmless photo file, to monitor keystrokes and instant message conversations, among other intrusive functions.

In an earlier court filing, CyberSpy contended it warned users that monitoring computers without a person's consent is illegal, terms that are also in the software's license agreement. RemoteSpy has legal uses, such as monitoring children's Internet browsing, the company argued.

Nonetheless, CyberSpy's heavy emphasis on spying and how to hide the program raised concerns from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C., based civil liberties advocacy group, which filed a complaint with the FTC in March.

U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell wrote in the latest injunction that "the ability of RemoteSpy to invade the privacy of an unsuspecting victim is, indeed, alarming. And it is to this use that defendants direct their promotional and instructional material."

CyberSpy Software is run by just one person, Tracer R. Spence. The company holds a 3 percent to 4 percent share of the remote keylogger software product market, according to another court filing in the case.

Since 2005, Spence has sold 11,138 licenses for RemoteSpy, which sells for US$89.95. Gross revenue for the program is around $200,000 annually, the filing said.

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