Nightmare on Spyware Street
A case in Connecticut has exposed the legal dangers of not protecting your computer against spyware, as well as our vulnerability at the hands of incompetent law-enforcement officers.
Teacher Julie Amero found herself in a nightmare after spyware on her school computer popped up pornographic images in front of students. Instead of realising this was spyware at work, the state accused her of putting them there and forcing her pupils to watch.
In June of 2007, Judge Hillary B. Strackbein tossed out Amero’s conviction on charges that she intentionally caused a stream of “pop-up” pornography on the computer in her classroom and allowed students to view it. Confronted with evidence compiled by forensic computer experts, Strackbein ordered a new trial, saying the conviction was based on “erroneous” and “false information.”
But since that dramatic reversal, local officials, police and state prosecutors were unwilling to admit that a mistake may have been made — even after computer experts from around the country demonstrated that Amero’s computer had been infected by “spyware.”
It seems the nightmare may be coming to an end, but not without a price. She’s had to admit to one misdemeanour charge and surrender her teaching licence. She’s also been hospitalized for stress and heart problems.
The lesson? This was a school computer, and it seems the school failed to install the necessary updates and protection to prevent the spyware from loading itself. That’s probably something Amero should be exploring with her lawyers.
But there’s a bigger issue. We need, as individuals, to take more reponsibility for the computers we use—to learn the basics of protecting them from attacks, and to be able to at least identify what the problem is when something like this happens. It may have taken a techie guy to clean the computer in this case (I admit spyware is really hard to get rid of) but knowing, roughly, what the problem is should be the bare minimum of our working knowledge of the computers we use.