Julie Amero, a 40-year-old substitute teacher from Connecticut is facing up to 40 years in prison for exposing her seventh grade class to a cascade of pornographic imagery. Amero maintains that she is a victim of a malicious software infestation that caused her computer to spawn porn uncontrollably.
Adware, spyware and other infectious software are known hazards to security and privacy — and when lax cybersecurity meets anti-porn hysteria, a mailware infection can even land you in jail. Malicious coders are getting more sophisticated all the time, but law enforcement and the criminal justice system aren’t keeping up. A criminal conviction can hang on the difference between a deliberate mouse click and an involuntary redirect on an infested computer. Too often, even so-called experts can’t tell the difference.
On the morning of Oct. 19, 2004, Julie Amero’s life changed forever when pornographic ads flooded her web browser during a class. According to the prosecuting attorney, David Smith, Amero’s computer began displaying images of naked men and women, couples performing sexual acts, and “bodily fluids.”
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At trial, six of Amero’s former students testified that they saw pornographic images on her monitor, either from their seats, or when they came up to her desk. One student told the court that Amero pushed his face away from the screen when she saw him looking at the racy ads.
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Detective Mark Lounsbury, a computer crimes officer at the Norwich Police Department testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He maintained that Amero was intentionally surfing for pornography while her seventh grade class busied itself with language arts.
Lounsbury told the court that Amero musts have “physically clicked” on pornographic links during class time in order to unleash the pornographic pictures. However, he admitted under cross-examination that the prosecution never even checked the computer for malware.
Why didn’t the police check for malicious software? According to prosecutor David Smith, the police didn’t check for malware because the defense didn’t raise the possibility of a malware attack during the pretrial phase, as required by law. Defense attorney Cocheo could not be reached for comment as of press time.