Saturday, January 27, 2007

Free Julie Amero!

A substitute teacher in Norwich, CT is facing a sentence of *40 years in jail* because pornography appeared on a computer screen used by her and some of her students.

She says “the spyware did it”. You know what? She’s probably right.

From all the available evidence, including an excellent piece of reporting by Sunbelt Software chief and Authentium partner Alex Eckelberry, the recent conviction of Julie Amero is an appalling travesty of justice. If she gets sentenced, I’m going to sit outside and picket the jail until she’s released.

I’m tired of reading stories about misguided prosecutions like this - what’s next - reintroduction of burning at the stake? My opinion: this is misguided, politically-motivated, witch-hunting at its worst.

Fact 1: Spyware is more prevalent on school computers than any other computer systems. Why? Because they are used by large numbers of younger users, many of whom like clicking on things that adults wouldn’t find appealing - including spyware-riddled pop-ups.

Fact 2: Malware works best when it copies or co-opts user behavior. Most of the easter-egg malware is *designed* to cause the kind of behavior described. What better way to induce a user to come to a gambling or porn site than to pop up a graphic invitation based on a command to do something else? Spyware guys have used this technique for years.

Fact 3: There isn’t a prosecutor alive that can show with absolute certainty that this action was caused by a person, rather than a piece of javascript.

Did the court hear testimony to this effect? “We analyzed the activity log and noted that there were spyware/adware programs installed on the hard drive,” computer expert W. Herbert Horner told the court. He then went on to say that he wasn’t allowed to provide full testimony.

David Smith, the prosecutor, says that he has proof that Amero visited the site. He says that she had to “physically click” through to the page. Obviously this guy doesn’t exactly have a computer science degree.

Mr. Smith: I hereby challenge you to tell between a past click action caused by installed spyware, and a click action caused by a human being, using the exact same methods you used to convict Ms. Amero. If you are able to do this consistently, I will personally donate $1000 to a charity of your choosing. If you are not able to do this, you will drop all charges? Deal?

Note: In olden days, there was a quaint legal concept that used to apply called “reasonable doubt”. If two computer experts - Alex Eckelberry and Herbert Horner - were able to ascertain that spyware a) is capable of doing this, and b) was installed on Ms. Amero’s computer, wouldn’t it be *reasonable* to assume that the pornagraphic images that popped up on the school computer *might* have appeared by accident?

Prior to this incident, I’m sure Ms. Amero had a nice, normal life. I really hope she gets it back.

1 comment:

fun said...

There used to be a charming legal right that determined you were innocent until proven guilty, now that seems to have flown out the window along with the rest of America's decaying values!