An Australian company is at the centre of investigations by the FBI, US Federal Trade Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), following reports of what has been dubbed "pagejacking" and "mousetrapping".
Gold Coast-based content provider WTFRC, is under investigation for allegedly stealing Internet content from well-known Web sites such as the Harvard Law Review, and changing information in the page's meta tags to fool search engines into listing other Web addresses - in this case for "adult erotica" sites, says the ACCC.
Unsuspecting Internet search engine users landed at the sites and were exposed to X-rated adult material. The victim's browsers were then "mousetrapped" into staying on a small number of similar Web pages. Logging off the Web is the only certain way to escape.
According to Allan Asher, chairman of the ACCC, thousands of "very popular" Web sites had been unknowingly spoofed and used for pagejacking.
The FBI was first alerted to the case by Internet users in Texas. The US FTC, which this week announced a crackdown on Web page hijacking, joined the investigation and tracked the source of the conduct to WTFRC.
Asher said the Australian Federal Police have carried out seven search warrants on premises related to the case, and will continue to gather evidence.
The US FTC has gained temporary restraining orders against the company, ordering the "de-registration" of the domain names involved, said the ACCC in a statement issued this week.
The first case of its kind for the ACCC, Asher said potential penalties could be up to $200,000 per offence for a company and $40,000 for an individual, under the Trade Practices Act 1974.