A Los Angeles District Court ordered three Web marketing companies to cease and desist an operation using the lure of free ringtones and browser updates to download spyware and adware to users' computers.

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the court also ordered a halt to the deceptive downloads of a marketing affiliate that helped spread malicious software by offering free background music for blogs.

The court has frozen the organizations' assets pending a further hearing.

The FTC alleges the practices are unfair and deceptive and violate the FTC Act. The agency will seek a permanent ban on the practices and redress for consumers. It will also seek to permanently bar the practices and seek restitution for victims.

According to the FTC, the music code downloaded by the blogs was bundled with a program that flashed warnings to consumers who visited the blog sites about the security of their computer systems. Consumers who opted to upgrade downloaded the spyware onto their computers.

The FTC complaint alleges that the Web sites of the defendants and their affiliates cause "installation boxes" to open on consumers' computer screens.

In one variation of the scheme, the installation boxes offer a variety of freeware, including music files, cell phone ringtones, photographs, wallpaper and song lyrics.

In another, the boxes warn that the users' Internet browsers are defective and offer to upgrade the browsers with security patches. Instead, the FTC claims, the upgrades were infected with spyware.

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