Civil Liberties

Cops Distribute 'Internet Safety Software' That's Actually Unsafe Spyware


pikawil100 Foter

An estimated 245 law enforcement agencies in 35 states have for years been distributing software called ComputerCOP as a way for parents to ensure their children have a safe web-browsing experience. The problem is, ComputerCOP is just glorified spyware that lacks basic safety features.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today published its findings about this "internet safety software," and it's not pretty:

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.

The EFF notes that there's a gaping window of opportunity for abuse of the keylogger function. One could just as easily use it to steal information from a coworker or roommate. ComputerCOP would actually be a cyberstalker's wet dream, as it didn't elicit an alert from any major malware scanning tools.

And, the fact that it stores sensitive information unencrypted means that "when a child with ComputerCOP installed on their laptop connects to public Wi-Fi, any sexual predator, identity thief, or bully with freely available packet-sniffing software can grab those key logs right out of the air."

When it isn't outright endangering people, ComputerCOP is just inept. Regarding its search function, which is supposed to find drug, sex, and crime-related files and images:

On some computer systems, it produces a giant haystack of false positives, including flagging items as innocuous as raw computer code. On other systems, it will only produce a handful of results while typing keywords such as "drugs" into Finder or File Explorer will turn up a far larger number of hits.  While the marketing materials claim that this software will allow you to view what web pages your child visits, that's only true if the child is using Internet Explorer or Safari. The image search will potentially turn up tens of thousands of hits because it can't distinguish between images children have downloaded and the huge collection of icons and images that are typically part of the software on your computer.

Read the rest of the EFF's in-depth report here.