Virginia Law Enforcement Giving Out Potentially Invasive Software

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keep computer from spywareA report claims that local police stations have unwittingly been giving out invasive software to concerned parents.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on digital civil liberties, claims ComputerCOP, a child Internet safety software program distributed by police departments all over the country, may potentially pose a threat to the privacy of its users. Several police departments and agencies in Virginia are known to distribute ComputerCOP to citizens.

In its October report, the EFF claimed that ComputerCOP is a poorly designed spyware. Spyware are computer programs that gather information about a person without their consent or knowledge.

ComputerCOP is a computer program intended to help parents protect their children from the dangers of the World Wide Web. ComputerCOP works by using a limited keylogger to track the history of users. Keyloggers are programs that record the keys being typed on a computer. Abuser’s often use keylogger software to keep control over their significant other, they can use keyloggers to record passwords for bank accounts and other information.

ComputerCOP’s keylogger feature also allows parents to search for keywords like ‘drugs’ or ‘meet me.’ The keylogger function doesn’t work until specific keywords are typed on the computer. Stephen DelGioro, CEO of ComputerCOP, states that this function makes it very unlikely for the software to detect passwords or other personal information.

“ComputerCOP is safe when used as intended, and provides parents who may or may not be particularly computer literate with the ability to check on their children’s computer and internet activities,” stated Stephen DelGioro, CEO of ComputerCOP, in an email. “Parents have the right and responsibility to make sure their children are safe while online.”

DelGioro also notes that there’s no database for ComputerCOP that stores the information collected by the keylogger or sends them off to a third party. However the EFF report claims the data still passes through a commercial server, and this makes users vulnerable to hackers. Another concern in the report is that ComputerCOP captures text as it is typed before being encryption, this potentially makes it much easier to snatch information from users.

According to the EFF, the following Virginia agencies are said to have distributed the ComputerCOP software to its citizens: Caroline County Sheriff’s Office, Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, Lunenburg County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, Staunton Police Department, Suffolk Police Department, Northumberland County Sheriff’s Office and Staunton City Schools.

The Loudoun County Police Department has been distributing ComputerCOP software program to parents since 2011.

“This isn’t for the police department, it’s for parents,” said Kraig Troxell, a spokesman for Loudon County Police Department.

The Loudoun County Police Department isn’t even aware of which homes are using the software, according to Troxell. The EFF alleges that ComputerCOP could be misused by people trying to monitor an employee or significant other.

ComputerCOP states on its site that it is illegal to monitor adults without their knowledge.

“The way ComputerCOP works is neither safe nor secure,” stated David Maass, Media Relations Coordinator and Investigative Researcher at the EFF, in the report. “It isn’t particularly effective either, except for generating positive PR for the law enforcement agencies distributing it.”

Many of these police departments and agencies have bought the software and distributed it to residents for free or at a reduced price. For example, the EFF says Caroline County, Fairfax County and Fluvanna County police have handed out the software for free. Caroline County police bought 500 copies of the software, however, the Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney’s Office purchased and distributed as many as 5,000 copies.

The software has also been distributed to Virginia public schools. The EFF says the Lunenburg County Sheriff’s Office sold 1,000 copies to local schools for $4.95 each, which “was enough for every home with a child enrolled in public schools in the county.”

The report has led to action in Wisconsin, Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden, in a press release on Oct. 17, instructed parents on how to remove the key alert off ComputerCOP. The press release cited the EFF report as it’s reason for advising parents about the keylogger.

“The Sheriff’s Office has reviewed the claims about the key logger function and has determined that even though that possibility of a security breach is low, the potential does exist.” said the Wisconsin Police Department in its press release.

The Loudon police department gives out copies of ComputerCOP software at ‘What Parents Need To Know’ events for Internet safety held at local high schools. Currently, there have been no complaints by Loudon citizens about the software.

“We tell parents about the limitations of ComputerCOP at these meetings,” Troxell said. “We teach them about using the software properly before giving them.”

Daniel Parker

About Daniel Parker

Daniel Parker is currently a student at the Virginia Commonwealth University. He has an associates in social science and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a staff editor for Poictesme, a student run literary magazine. Daniel also regularly contributes to The Commonwealth Times, VCU’s school paper.