Report: Abington Police, Delco DA Handed Out Dangerous Spyware
Back in 2011, Action News ran a story about ComputerCop, which was described as “a new Internet monitoring software designed to protect young people from online predators.” Police departments and other authorities around the country were distributing ComputerCop to freaked out To Catch a Predator-bingeing parents, including, according to a new report, in Abington Township and Delaware County. But now we’re learning that ComputerCop may have done far more harm than good.
On Wednesday, San Francisco-based civil liberties non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation released an exhaustive report of its findings on ComputerCop, which have been picked up by Wired, among many other outlets.
Here is an EFF-produced video compilation of law enforcement agencies around the country touting the benefits of ComputerCop:
In short, the ComputerCop benefits were supposed to be pretty simple: Parents could monitor their children’s Internet activities, thus making the world a better place. It was, supposedly, perfectly good spyware for perfectly good 21st Century-style parenting.
The trouble is, according to the damning EFF report, ComputerCop and its keystroke-logging function can do much more than that.
EFF maintains that ComputerCop can just as easily be installed on an adult’s computer in a stealthy way that would elude detection. So instead of a parent getting a notification every time a kid types “porn” or “pipe bomb instructions” into the family computer, a hacker with the most basic of skills (really, it doesn’t even rise to the level of a hacker) could be getting your credit card, bank account, or other closely protected personal information.
Beyond that, argues EFF, the software isn’t particularly effective, so a naive parent might think their child is protected when they may be chatting away with all sorts of nefarious characters.
EFF has identified well over 200 law enforcement organizations around the country that used taxpayer money to purchase the software, and Abington Township and the Delaware County District Attorney’s office are included in that list. There’s no telling how many copies of ComputerCop were actually distributed in those areas (and representatives were not immediately available for comment), but we’re pretty sure that if you have ComputerCop on your computer, you’ll want to remove it. Here’s how to do that.