November 9, 2009

Computer Viruses Downloading Child Porn

With computer viruses and malware, the most common concern is the risk of stolen identity, but it appears that certain viruses being distributed by hackers can actually damage your reputation by making it appear as if you have been browsing through child pornography.

According to an investigation launched by the Associated Press, there have been cases in which people have been found guilty of being pedophiles based on images placed on their computer by a virus.

To make matters more difficult, the argument that malware caused the photos to appear on one's computer doesn't tend to stand up in court.

"It's an example of the old 'dog ate my homework' excuse," Phil Malone, director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, told the AP.

"The problem is, sometimes the dog does eat your homework."

The AP referred to interviews with people who had been found guilty of child pornography on their personal computers, as well as police and court documents.

The AP noted one case involving Michael Fiola, a former investigator with the Massachusetts agency that oversees workers' compensation.

In 2007, Fiola's Internet bill on his work computer showed 4 1/2 times as much data as his colleagues. This prompted an IT worker to examine his laptop where he found child pornography pictures stored in a folder from viewing history.

Fiola was charged with possession of child pornography, but he and his wife chose to fight the case. They spent $250,000 in legal fees, according to the AP.

Upon second investigation of his work computer, technicians showed that Fiola's PC was infected with malware that caused it to visit up to 40 child porn sites per minute.

After 11 months of fighting in court, the charges were dropped against Fiola.

"It ruined my life, my wife's life and my family's life," Fiola told the AP, adding that the legal battle resulted in severe health problems caused by stress of the case.

"Computers are not to be trusted," Jeremiah Grossman, founder of WhiteHat Security Inc., told the AP.


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