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Security pros question teacher's conviction
Published: 2007-01-16

Security experts have voiced concerns this week over a Norwich, Conn. substitute teacher's conviction on charges that she endangered her pupils when the students saw pornographic pop-ups that appeared on her schoolroom computer.

While prosecutors maintained that the teacher visited pornographic Web sites while at work and wondered why she didn't just turn off the computer, a forensics expert testified that an innocent hairstyling Web site that the teacher had visited installed spyware on her computer and led to the pop-up pornographic ads, according to an article in the Norwich Bulletin. Moreover, police investigators apparently did little forensics investigation on the computer and the school did not maintain the security software on the systems that could have prevented the spyware from installing, according to reports on the case.

The possibility that spyware on a PC could lead to jail time had several security experts calling for more investigation. Moreover, judges, prosecutors and the defendant's attorney need a better understanding of the technology involved, other experts stated.

"A bad spyware infestation can splatter a machine full of porn pop-ups and it’s a bit unnerving to think that a teacher could get hard prison time for something that was likely to have been completely innocent," Alexander Eckelberry, president of antispyware maker Sunbelt Software, stated on the company's blog. The firm pledged to aid the defense, if requested.

The "spyware did it" defense is nothing new. In 2003, a U.K. resident was cleared of child pornography charges after the court found that his PC had numerous Trojan horse programs installed on it. Browser hijacking programs have also been blamed for making it seem as if the user had surfed to pornographic Web sites. In at least once case, a person used open wireless network to surf for child pornography in hopes of escaping detection.

With authorities focusing on cracking down on online offenders of child pornography, more such cases will likely come before the courts.

The Norwich, Conn. teacher is scheduled to be sentenced in early March.

Posted by: Robert Lemos
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