Thursday, October 2, 2014

Electronic Frontier Foundation rips ComputerCOP risk; Omaha Police have handed out at least 5,000 copies of the 'Internet Safety' spyware

EFF: In investigating ComputerCOP, we also discovered misleading marketing material, including a letter
of endorsement purportedly from the U.S. Department of Treasury, which has now issued a fraud alert
over the document. ComputerCOP further claims an apparently nonexistent endorsement by the American
Civil Liberties Union and an expired endorsement from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Since January, 2009, the Omaha Police Department has promoted and given away at least 5,000 copies of a spyware program which sells for $40 and which purports to keep children safe from Internet predators, porn and gang outreach by allowing parents to monitor kids' Internet usage (including all those wildly popular MySpace pages!)
     OPD got the money from Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) and the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice.
     Sounds wonderful, right? (It certainly did to KPTM's Fox 42 reporter.)
     Well, it turns out that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the largest digital privacy/rights advocacy group in America, is considerably less than charmed by this product.
     As official as it looks, ComputerCOP is actually just spyware, generally bought in bulk from a New York company that appears to do nothing but market this software to local government agencies.
     The way ComputerCOP works is neither safe nor secure. It isn’t particularly effective either, except for generating positive PR for the law enforcement agencies distributing it. As security software goes, we observed a product with a keystroke-capturing function, also called a “keylogger,” that could place a family’s personal information at extreme risk by transmitting what a user types over the Internet to third-party servers without encryption. That means many versions of ComputerCOP leave children (and their parents, guests, friends, and anyone using the affected computer) exposed to the same predators, identity thieves, and bullies that police claim the software protects against.
     Furthermore, by providing a free keylogging program—especially one that operates without even the most basic security safeguards—law enforcement agencies are passing around what amounts to a spying tool that could easily be abused by people who want to snoop on spouses, roommates, or co-workers.
     Yesterday the San Diego District Attorney's office issued an alert demonstrating how to address security concerns about the product. ComputerCOP is used elsewhere in Nebraska.

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