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This just in from the hilarity department: Police departments nationwide have, for years, been spending taxpayer money to distribute what is essentially malware to unsuspecting parents who want to monitor their kids' online activity: a little program called ComputerCOP.
The extensive report comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Deeplinks Blog, which investigated ComputerCOP, a piece of "software" that has been around for 15 years. For the last few years, it has included a keylogger that transmits everything your child (or anyone using that computer) types, unencrypted, to a remote server, making it easy for any snooper on a wireless network to snatch up your sensitive data.
ComputerCOP began with good marketing, using New York celebrity detective Bo Dietl's name in the 1990s, and has continued with good, if questionable, marketing by using what appears to be made-up and expired endorsements from major national organizations (the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) to sell the software to police departments, who then pass it on to the public for free.
According to the EFF's research, police departments use asset forfeiture funds to purchase the computer disks (which come with customized labels for each department) in bulk. Here's my favorite part:
Indeed, ComputerCOP markets itself as the "perfect election and fundraising tool." As part of the package, when a law enforcement agency buys a certain amount of copies, ComputerCOP will send out a camera crew to record an introduction video with the head of the department. The discs are also customized to prominently feature the head of the agency, who can count on a solid round of local press coverage about the giveaway.
In their marketing materials, the company claims to have sold discs to hundreds of law enforcement agencies, and the EFF lists order after order, all in bulk, all handing over tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer or seized funds -- all for security software that is disturbingly unsecure.
If you speak geek, the full Deeplinks article is worth the read. From the dated "search" program that runs off the CD-ROM -- and can dig for certain file types, keywords, and browser history (if your child uses Safari or Internet Explorer), among other things -- to the keylogger, which records every keystroke and mouseclick, then tells you to send it to their servers without any encryption, the "security" program is a dated joke.
The biggest security flaw is the lack of encryption. ComputerCOP stores everything in plain text in a file on your hard drive, which is bad enough (because that file will have every username, password, credit card number, etc., that you've ever typed), but it transmits those plain-text files over the Internet to a server -- even the most unsophisticated hackers can intercept such a transmission if it is done on a public Wi-Fi network.
One last thing, before we wrap up: If you, for some unfathomable reason, installed this crapware, the EFF has a guide to removing it. Do so ASAP.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.