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January 24, 2007

Updates on the Amero popup porn case

My op/ed about Julie Amero is up at the Huffington Post. Amero is the CT teacher facing up to 40 years in prison because her malware-riddled PC generated a deluge of pornographic popups during class. Independent analyses of her computer show that her browser was involuntarily redirected to pornographic websites by malicious software.

Amero was eventually charged with four felonies in connection with the malware incident. She turned down a probation plea, knowing that she could face up to 40 years in prison if she were convicted.

Please see my earlier AlterNet article for more details on Julie Amero and her legal battle.

More Media Traction
The Amero story is starting to get traction outside the Norwich Bulletin and the blogosphere.

PC Magazine ran a special report called "Free the Norwich 1!" and calls Amero's case a miscarriage of justice. PC even calls overzealous prosecutors who go after users of malware-infested computers a Top Threat.

The Exculpatory Evidence Explained
Alex Eckelberry, President of Sunbelt Software, reviewed the data from Amero's hard drive with defense expert Herb Horner. In this blog post, Eckelberry gets down to the nitty gritty technical details that prove Amero is innocent. At Network Performance Daily, Horner outlines the painstaking digital post-mortem he performed on Amero's machine.

Local IT Guys Making Excuses
The Day sent a reporter to cover last night's Board of Ed meeting, where the Norwich school district's IT director tried to explain why he had allowed the school's content filtering software to lapse between August and October, 2004.

Information Services Director Bob Hartz went into full CYA mode on the Julie Amero case. Harris told attendees that it was "just a fluke" that Amero's computer displayed porn that day in 2004.

From August to October 2004, the district's filtering system didn't regularly add newly discovered pornographic sites to its restricted Web sites database.

Hartz said Norwich's filtering software generally worked in 2004, but new offensive sites weren't blocked partly because Symantec, creator of the school's WebNOT computer filter, failed to send him a licensing certificate to activate the software's updates feature.

"I don't think we've ever compromised on being able to fund our firewall ... and (other) filtering software," Norwich Superintendent Pam Aubin said. "We're very lucky to fund a full-time information systems director." [NB]

Symantec didn't send Hartz a licensing certificate? Perhaps, as Hartz suggested, because he didn't pay the bill.

Board of Ed member Frank Krasicki, a computer scientist and former teacher, told Ed-Tech Insider that Hartz's lapse was unacceptable:

It is inexcusable that no action was taken to upgrade the protective software at that time (they had the summer to do it). And it explains why nobody thought much of Amero's experience at the time, essentially telling her "not to worry about it." [ETI]

Krasicki also posted an interesting essay at Region 19 BOE Gazette: Why Julie Amero Matters--Computers and Society.

Startling Disclosure About the Police's Forensic Software
Interesting news from the Norwich Bulletin on ComputerCop Pro, the blackbox software the police used to examine Amero's computer:

David Jacobs, a former police officer and sales representative for the ComputerCop, which is based in Bohemia, N.Y., said Amero's case establishes a legal precedent for subsequent court cases.

"To my knowledge, this is the first conviction using ComputerCop software as an acceptable tool for police officers to conduct a computer forensic examination that is acceptable to the court," Jacobs said. [NB] (Emphasis added.)

Network Performance Daily interviewed Steve DelGiorno, CEO of ComputerCop:

Mr. DelGiorno stated in a phone conversation with us that while ComputerCOP can find all sorts of files and images, including deleted images or images in unallocated disk space, by keyword or by filetype, ComputerCOP does not determine the cause of those files being on the computer (whether caused by malware, intrusion, or direct and willful use), and that it is not the function of ComputerCOP to make that determination." [NPD]

NPD will run a commentary by prosecution expert witness Mark Lounsbury tomorrow. Lounsbury was the officer who testified that Amero must have "physically clicked" on pornographic links in order to generate the popup barrage.


It's good that the malware roots of the porn exposure have been exposed, but what I can't understand is, even if the porn were Amero's fault, how is the exposure of students to porn worth 40 years in prison? If she were deliberately teaching pornography as part of her lesson plan, I'd maybe give her 10, but 40 years for an undeliberate exposure? By those standards, parents should get five just for giving their children access to network television. 10 for cable.

Thanks for publicizing this case & providing such a clear & thorough summary. This is important for parents, teachers, & kids!

The school itself, and anyone involved in procuring the computer and configuring their network and internet access are obviously at fault here. They chose the Windows OS, with all its well-known vulnerabilities. They are responsible for network security, content filtering and child protection as the operator of a school network with Internet access. They chose any protective software, or chose to use none, and were responsible for its maintenance. Ms. Amero seems to be the least culpable party in this story. IMHO, the Symantec filtering software is major shitware, as well.

I think you meant prosecution witness Mark Lounsbury.

I'd say that we've run pretty far down the "tough on crime"/"think of the children" slippery slope. My father's much involved in the Richard Paey case in Florida; prosecutors just have too damn much power, and it needs to be reined in. Just as the money in banks attracts people want to steal it, that much power to punish attracts people who enjoy punishing above all else (in particular, above justice).

"To my knowledge, this is the first conviction using ComputerCop software as an acceptable tool for police officers to conduct a computer forensic examination that is acceptable to the court," David Jacobs, a former police officer and sales representative for ComputerCop, said.

I hope that the ComputerCop company has software engineers who are better at their jobs than their salesman. "Our software was instrumental in sending an innocent woman to prison for 40 years!" doesn't strike me as a campagn calculated to attract many purchasers. But maybe I just don't understand what cops are looking for when they go software shopping.


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