Spyware, malware, and online threats are growing at threateningly rapid rates. But a look back at the legal action taken this past year shows that it is not all unchecked criminal progress, as scores of operations were brought down in million dollar settlements.

The beginning of December marked the conclusion of Washington, USA's first case prosecuted under the state's 2005 Computer Spyware Act. The $1 million settlement with rogue anti-spyware vendor Secure Computer LLC., prohibits the company from using deceptive marketing techniques to promote its software.

Secure Computer was accused of marketing its product with misleading spam and pop-up ads that offered free spyware scans that would falsely detect infections on user's computers.

After filing the Secure Computer case, the Washington attorney general's office has settled anti-spyware suits against three other spyware programs: Spyware Slayer, QuikShield Security and SoftwareOnline.com's InternetShield and Registry Cleaner software.

While Washington is only the third U.S. state to file a spyware suit, trailing suits by New York and Texas in 2005, fourteen other states have passed anti-spyware legislation.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been doing its part to protect consumers from spyware by continuing to challenge unfair and deceptive cyber operations.

The agency has pursued and shut down nine spyware distributors since 2004, according to Tara Flynn, assistant director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection.

November 2006 proved to be an active month in stopping alleged spyware purveyors.

At the start of the month, the FTC released the news that Zango Inc. was slapped with a $3 million dollar judgment, and the condition that the company must have user consent before installing software onto computers.

Shortly after, in mid November, ERG Ventures, LLC, the alleged distributor of the Trojan Media Motor program, was shut down by a U.S. district court following charges by the FTC.

The end of the month brought an FTC announcement that two more alleged spyware operations had been axed.

One settlement was reached with Odysseus Marketing Inc., charged in October 2005 with illegally downloading spyware onto consumers' computers, and then allegedly selling the stolen data. The company agreed to surrender $1.75 million in ill-gotten gains, with all but $10,000 suspended due to inability to pay.

The second settlement involved John Robert Martinson, principal of Spy Deleter, who was charged with unfairly selling anti-spyware software, in cooperation with Sanford "Spam King" "Spamford" Wallace. Martinson has been banned from further spyware practices, and was ordered a fine of $1.86 million, with all but $40,000 suspended because he was unable to pay.

As for Wallace, whose nicknames were earned in the '90's after his company, Cyber Promotions, invaded millions of consumers' PC's with spam e-mails, the FTC ordered a default judgment against him in May, forcing him to give up $4.1 million.

This past September, the FTC announced a hefty $2 million settlement with two companies and three individuals (Enternet Media Inc., Conspy & Co. Inc., Lida Rohbani, Nima Hakimi, and Baback Hakimi) that had been distributing alleged spyware software under the names Search Miracle, Miracle Search, EM Toolbar, EliteBar, and Elite Toolbar.