This week, we found out that the Connecticut substitute teacher accused of exposing several middle school children to pornography and facing up to 40 years in prison was granted a new trial. Lawyers for Julie Amero contested that she was not seeking out pornography during class, but was, in fact, the victim of a malware infestation. Because forensic evidence received after her initial conviction supported this claim, a Connecticut judge decided to revisit the issue and throw out her original conviction.
An analysis of the computer by an independent IT expert also supported her claim, although due to a legal glitch, the analysis could not be presented in court. However, according to the consultant:
The user continued accessing the original hair site [being used for a project in class] and was directed to http://new-hair-styles.com. This site had pornographic links, pop-ups were then initiated by http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com. Once the aforementioned [malware script] started, it would be very difficult even for an experienced user to extricate themselves from this situation of porn pop-ups and loops.
This same analysis also noted that "there was no firewall and there was an outdated antivirus program on the PC. The PC was being tracked before October 19, 2004 [the date of the incident] by adware and spyware." Many of us have slogged through malware infestations, running various utilities, editing and deleting files, and often, just reinstalling the operating system, especially on home computers. This is a remarkably common occurrence for home users, but it's troubling that it might happen in an enterprise setting.
The district claimed to have content filtering in place at the school level, but, due to a billing issue, the content filter had not been updated for the three months preceding the classroom incident. Similarly, the lack of appropriate anti-malware software on the PC in question opens up a potential host of problems. Given the freely available (or substantially discounted) tools available for keeping computers relatively free from pop-up generating software, there is little excuse for the objectionable content to have appeared on the machine in the first place, regardless of what the substitute did or didn't do.
We found that the content filtering subscription had expired for a few of our elementary schools due to a clerical oversight. We immediately cut Internet access to the schools until the problem was fixed; while nobody was pleased with this fairly drastic solution, the last thing anyone wants in this age of litigation is for 3rd graders to be watching porn on their teachers' computers. As the Connecticut case shows, content filtering, as well as a comprehensive set of policies and software are not an option; they are a necessity at any level.