Tag Archives: Law/Crime

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.

Connecticut drops felony charges against Julie Amero, four years after her arrest – Rick Green | CT Confidential

Information I’d Prefer Not To Get Via SMS

Some thing you don’t want to hear via SMS. Students in India can receive their exam results by text message (along with a free bottle of beer or something): not sure I want the most important news in my young life to pop up on my cellphone when I’m dancing the night away. And now the UK is planing to inform immigrants their visas have expired via SMS: “Hey Johnny Foreigner. Your time’s up. Get out” type thing, presumably:

Mr Reid said the plans for a text messaging pilot scheme to remind immigrants about their visas were a “tiny” part of a new enforcement strategy designed to “block the benefits” of Britain to those in the country illegally.

Loose Bits, Sept 14 2006

A new Loose Wire blog feature, collecting some links that aren’t necessarily new, but worth pointing out in case you missed them:

  • Good summary of what ubuntu, the new Linux windows-like interface, is and isn’t, from David Weinberger: “Until Ubuntu handles its inevitable errors and failures as well as Windows and the Mac do, users won’t get far enough to fall in love with it.” My experience exactly.
  • New (beta) version of Skype out, 2.6, which lets you click to call ordinary phone numbers on any website, find and join Skypecasts and share clickable links in your ‘mood message’. Being Beta, 2.5 won’t automatically find this update, you need to do it manually. (That said, 2.6 has crashed on me once so beware.)
  • Talking of crashes, there have been glitches with the new version of iTunes, according to pieces appeaing by digg: skipping, distorted songs, lost music, and rejected iPods.
  • Microsoft releases a beta version of its Web design software, Expression, a successor to the infamous FrontPage. More from Scoble here.

Loose Bits, Sept 13 2006

A new Loose Wire blog feature, collecting some links that aren’t necessarily new, but worth pointing out in case you missed them:

  • Discussion at WSJ.com between jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of Britannica, on the future of encyclopedias, which quickly deteriorates into name calling.
  • Business 2.0 piece by Om Malik on widgets: “Widgets are absolutely where the action is today.” Mentions Widgetbox and Mashery, which doesn’t seem to have opened its doors yet.
  • Funny advice for reporters by the guys at Skype Journal on the 1st anniversay of eBay buying Skype. I’m still amazed at the number of Americans I talk to (well email, actually) who say they’ve never heard of Skype, even when they’re in the tech business. Must be frustrating work for the SJ guys fielding reporters’ calls when they’ve never even used Skype.
  • Yes, I know I said the Lonelygirl15 mystery is already boring, but here’s the final piece of the “puzzle”: Her identity has apparently been established as one Jessica Rose, or Jessica-Lee Rose. (Who she? – ed)

Loose Bits, Sept 12 2006

A new Loose Wire blog feature, collecting some links that aren’t necessarily new, but worth pointing out in case you missed them:

  • Google’s News Archive Search – lets you search back through news articles several years, decades, even nearly a century back. Stories are listed by interest (whatever that means) but with three very handy extra features: a categorisation by period on the left, below it by publication, and the option to view the stories in a timeline (actually a vertical listing by year.) Useful stuff.
  • The Lonelygirl15 mystery gets solved, gets boring quickly. An insight on how little we can distinguish, or care about distinguishing, between fact and fiction. More here and here.
  • Talking of which, I couldn’t access Wikipedia or the BBC websites while I was in China. Made me realise how much I rely on both.
  • My friend and fellow columnist Charles Wright is feeling the pain of declining ad income on his Bleeding Edge blog. It’s a tough business, and it’s easy to forget that if you like a blog you should try to support it. Unfortunately RSS readers make it easy to skip the ads.
  • A new version of Democracy, the oddly named TV viewing software and downloader, is available. New features include playlists, folders, Flash capabilities, non-English suppot for Windows, Mac and Linux and overall tarting up of the interface.
  • My other friend Cameron Reilly of The Podcast Network has gone Moleskine.
  • Interesting talk abroad about the GyroQ, a tool that allows for quick entering of data into a Mindjet mind map. I was tickled to see the address of the company is The Old Dairy, Eggpie Lane, Weald, Kent.

Where Is Technology When You Need It Part XIV

This has absolutely nothing to do with technology, except that surely there’s some technology to prevent this kind of outburst of law enforcement official mastication by members of the post-death personal care industry? From Reuters: Hearse driver arrested for biting policeman: 

BERLIN (Reuters) – A drunken hearse driver has been arrested in the western German town of Krefeld after biting a police officer taking him in for an alcohol test, police said on Monday.

Police had called for a hearse at a funeral home to transport a body to the cemetery.

“The hearse driver nearly fell over when he got out of the car. Then he had to hold onto everything he could find as he stumbled to the house,” said police spokesman Dietmar Greger.

Police decided to take the man to the station to test his blood alcohol level, but when they tried to get him out of their car he started a fight and bit an officer several times in the hand.

The man was confined to a cell until he sobered up and has been charged with civil disorder and drunk driving.


Cash With a Human Face

Here’s a useful innovation for foiling scammers stealing money from ATMs with their heads covered to avoid identification: a system which “can distinguish between someone whose face is covered or uncovered, and only grant access to those who bare their faces.”

No face, no dosh

No face, no dosh

According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (no story URL available; first paragraph here), the system was developed by a research team headed by Lin Chin-teng, dean of the College of Computer Science, National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, “and can deny ATM access to users who have their faces covered”:

The system’s developers said they hoped the device would assist law enforcers in stopping a common crime involving ATMs: thieves disguise their face with motorcycle helmets or masks, even while their images are being captured by ATM surveillance cameras.

Unconscious Bandit Suspect Scratches Self

This news is not new, it’s not technology related, and it’s not particularly nice, but I like the way it’s written (thanks, Johnny). From The Post Online (Cameroon): Mob Justice In Bali:Three Suspects Lynched:

Mob Justice In Bali:Three Suspects Lynched

By Peterkins Manyong

The third of the four suspect bandits dragged out of the police cell in Bali and beaten by a mob, has died. Eric Che Zama, of Mankon extraction, died on Saturday, April 23, four days after he received his own share of the beatings. Sources at the hospital told The Post that Zama, an ex-convict at the Bamenda Central Prison, was suspected to be the biological father of the baby recently brought forth by Caroline Lambif, the woman sentenced to death by firing squad in connection with the murder of Alkali Garoua, former GMI Bamenda Commissioner.

A nurse at the male casualty ward told The Post that Crispus Tetuh, the last of the four bandits still alive, is very conscious but pretends to be in a comma. [sic]

During the day, he pretends to be unconscious, but late at night he eats his meals with an appetite quite unbecoming of a sick man, the nurse said.

Our source was convinced that Tetuh is feigning consciousness hoping that hospital staff and the police would comply with his mother’s request that he be evacuated to Batibo, his area of origin for better medical attention.

But the police are reported to have rejected the request to have him evacuated. Patients sharing the same ward with Tetuh said he demonstrates visible signs of consciousness by scratching himself where he feels itches but refuses to respond when spoken to.

Sounds a bit like a few people I know in the office.

Needless to say this is not Bali, Indonesia, but Bali in the West African state of Cameroon.

The Lego Scam

A man after my own heart: AP reports that a man has been arrested accused of stealing a truck full of Lego:

A 40-year-old man is behind bars, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of a toy geared toward the 6-and-up crowd: Legos. To haul away the evidence, agents working for the U.S. Postal Inspector said they had to back a 20-foot truck to William Swanberg’s house in Reno, Nev., carting away mountains of the multicolored bricks.

Swanberg was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Hillsboro, a Portland suburb, which charged him with stealing Legos from Target stores in Oregon. Target estimates Swanberg stole and resold on the Internet up to $200,000 of the brick sets pilfered from their stores in Oregon as well as Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California.

When no one was looking, Swanberg switched the bar codes on Lego boxes, replacing an expensive one with a cheaper label, said Detective Troy Dolyniuk, a member of the Washington County fraud and identity theft enforcement team.

Target officials contacted police after noticing the same pattern at their stores in the five western states. A Target security guard stopped Swanberg at a Portland-area store on Nov. 17, after he bought 10 boxes of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon set. In his parked car, detectives found 56 of the Star Wars set, valued at $99 each, as well as 27 other Lego sets. In a laptop found inside Swanberg’s car, investigators also found the addresses of numerous Target stores in the Portland area, their locations carefully plotted on a mapping software.

Records of the Lego collector’s Web site, Bricklink.Com, show that Swanberg has sold nearly $600,000 worth of Legos since 2002, said Dolyniuk.

Interestingly, folk seemed to have been quite happy to deal with Swanberg on Bricklink.com. He’s been registered on the site since 2002, earning praise from more than 6,000 users, and getting complaints from only 11. He was still shipping up until the last minute: Eight folk posted praise about dealing with him on the day or after he’d been indicted. Only one person seemed to harbour doubts: That person wrote on November 19, four days before Swanberg was indicted: “Wish I knew where these came from…”

Actually, this kind of scam is well documented, and may be a copycat theft. Eagle-eyed readers may recall a piece I wrote a few months back about Douglas Havard, a phisher who was jailed in June for conspiracy to defraud and launder money. According to an earlier piece in the Dallas Observer Havard used to steal expensive Lego sets by switching price tags on Lego boxes. The only difference was that Havard was printing his own price stickers.

What is it with Lego that turns people into criminals?

The End Of ‘Weaselboy’

Weaselboy is behind bars: ‘Weaselboy’ jailed for internet scam 

A computer obsessive nicknamed Weaselboy was jailed for six years yesterday for an elaborate internet scam that earned him more than £1.5 million. Still only 23 years old, Peter Francis-Macrae boasted that he could bring the country’s economy to its knees by crashing computer systems.

He also threatened to kill police and trading standards officers when they began investigating the online rackets he had run for five years and which, at times, brought in £200,000 a week.

I don’t have time to paint this guy’s history but a keyword search on his name should suffice. It seems to revolve around

registering the names before they were officially released. Francis-Macrae, of Crosshall Road, St Neots, is alleged to have made more than £1.5 million from the fraud involving the domain names.

More details here.