As if you really needed yet another reason to make sure your computer is patched and you have a decent anti-virus solution installed, now comes word that an infected PC could lead to you being charged for having child pornography:
An Associated Press investigation found cases in which innocent people have been branded as pedophiles after their co-workers or loved ones stumbled upon child porn placed on a PC through a virus. It can cost victims hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove their innocence.
Their situations are complicated by the fact that actual pedophiles often blame viruses — a defense rightfully viewed with skepticism by law enforcement.
“It’s an example of the old `dog ate my homework’ excuse,” says Phil Malone, director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “The problem is, sometimes the dog does eat your homework.”
It shouldn’t come as any surprise considering that many trojans and viruses are designed to allow full access to your PC for any of a number of nefarious purposes be it the sending of spam email to launching DDoS attacks. It was only a matter of time before someone thought to use them as a handy repository for their child porn.
It is possible to successfully defend yourself in cases where you’re a victim of a computer virus, but it’s not cheap and it still destroys your reputation:
Fiola and his wife fought the case, spending $250,000 on legal fees. They liquidated their savings, took a second mortgage and sold their car.
An inspection for his defense revealed the laptop was severely infected. It was programmed to visit as many as 40 child porn sites per minute — an inhuman feat. While Fiola and his wife were out to dinner one night, someone logged on to the computer and porn flowed in for an hour and a half.
Prosecutors performed another test and confirmed the defense findings. The charge was dropped — 11 months after it was filed.
The Fiolas say they have health problems from the stress of the case. They say they’ve talked to dozens of lawyers but can’t get one to sue the state, because of a cap on the amount they can recover.
“It ruined my life, my wife’s life and my family’s life,” he says.
The folks at F-Secure Corp. estimate that at any given time 20 million of the 1 billion Internet-connected PCs are infected with viruses that could give the bad guys full control. That estimate sounds a little conservative to me, I suspect it’s much higher than that. So make sure your systems are patched and secure. An ounce of prevention could save you a lot of trouble later.