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Police chiefs, sheriffs, and district attorneys have handed out hundreds of thousands of copies of the disc to families for free at schools, libraries, and community events, usually as a part of an “Internet Safety” outreach initiative. The packaging typically features the agency’s official seal and the chief’s portrait, with a signed message warning of the “dark and dangerous off-ramps” of the Internet.
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.
EFF conducted a security review of ComputerCOP while also following the paper trail of public records to see how widely the software has spread. Based on ComputerCOP’s own marketing information, we identified approximately 245 agencies in more than 35 states, plus the U.S. Marshals, that have used public funds (often the proceeds from property seized during criminal investigations) to purchase and distribute ComputerCOP. One sheriff’s department even bought a copy for every family in its county
On both Windows and Mac computers, parents can also set ComputerCOP up to email them whenever chosen keywords are typed. When that happens, the software transmits the key logs, unencrypted, to a third-party server, which then sends the email.
The lack of encryption is even more troubling. Security experts universally agree that a user should never store passwords and banking details or other sensitive details unprotected on one’s hard drive, but that’s exactly what ComputerCOP does by placing everything someone types in a folder. The email alert system further weakens protections by logging into a third-party commercial server. 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
For one, ComputerCOP claims that it is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) .... When asked about the origin of the ACLU endorsement, DelGiorno told EFF that someone from the ACLU recommended the software in a Newsday article as the “most non-intrusive of the products as it did not filter web pages nor block user access to them.”
“I can say unequivocally that it was not an endorsement of the product," ACLU of Michigan Deputy Director Rana Elmir told EFF. "Our position as an organization is not to endorse technology like this.”