Computer Crime Research Center


Redirected to jail?

Date: December 24, 2004
Source: Zwire.Com
By: K. Shelby Skrhak

Malicious software, or malware, can steal credit card information, record sensitive password information and redirect you to Web sites you never intended to visit.

But can it send you to jail?

That's what one man claims, after compromising images of children were found on his work computer by an employer, who then reported him to law enforcement authorities.

"I was forced to confess for possession of child porn," said Fima Fimovich, who came to the United States from the former Soviet Union as a political refugee. "I got browser hijacked while browsing the Web. I was redirected to illegal sites against my will."

He contacted The Colony Courier Leader after the paper reported that a local man, 39, was arrested after Dallas police and FBI agents discovered dozens of pornographic images of children on his home computer.

John Joseph Boncek of The Colony was arrested at his home Nov. 13 and charged with possession of child pornography. Bail was set at $10,000 and he was released the same day.

Jim Willingham, a felony investigator for the Denton County District Attorney's Office, spends hours in front of computers daily as a computer forensic examiner.

He said he's aware of the effects that malware and browser hijackers have taken on computers, but he's seen little evidence to link it with a criminal indictment.

The first step he'll take in investigating a suspect's computer is searching for Trojan horses, or viruses that would redirect one's browser to such sites.

If a computer did have a presence of viruses or malware, Willingham said it would be hard to prove that the suspect "knowingly possessed it."

"Especially if those images were in the temporary files and that's the only place we found those types of files," he said.

He can also detect a suspect's intentions by seeing if one stayed on the child porn site, or accidentally navigated to the site and then backed out immediately.

If no malware exists on a suspect's computer, Willingham takes the next step - a thorough sector-by-sector search of one's images and documents.

More thorough than any technicians' search, Willingham can view what a suspect has been searching on search engines and documents that have been erased more than six months ago.

"I'm searching down to the 0's and 1's" he said, referring to the computer's code or "DNA."

There are three elements that Willingham has to meet in order to secure an indictment: first, the pornography has to be a child. In many instances, it's not difficult to decipher whether a victim is a child because he or she is usually younger than 12 years old, Willingham said.

Second, the child pornography has to be viewed intentionally, meaning that one must have navigated to the Web site, spent time on the site and then "clicked" further in for more images.

Lastly, Willingham must link the child pornography to the suspect. He can do so with password log-ins and chronicling times and dates of log-in.

"For example, if Mom is a school teacher who works 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., kids are at school all day, and Dad comes home for lunch from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., if there's porn on the computer at 2 p.m., I can link it," Willingham said.

He explains that when a suspect is in possession of child pornography, they're usually in possession of several images.

"It's usually not just the one image on his computer that we find," Willingham said. "It's dozens of images."

And the images are not those "close calls" of 17- or 18-year-old cheerleader types.

"The ones we prosecute, it's never a close call," Willingham said. "They're always much younger than 12 years, and sometimes even 6 years old."

Because of the young age of the victims, child pornography is real limited niche on the Internet, Willingham said. Many of the victims are known children from the National Clearinghouse of Missing and Exploited Children.

"That's why if you've got somebody afraid to take a computer into a technician or a store for work, then they know something," he said. "But of course, anyone who thinks we're waiting in the shadows to grab their computer and prosecute them for porn is wrong."

As for Fimovich, his story has been widely reported on ZDnet, Washington Times and Wired News. Because he claims he was forced to plead guilty, he says it is difficult to acquire a new trial without an appropriate attorney.

He said he will continue to fight the system, although many do not understand his plight.
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