Connecticut teacher convicted on school porn charge a victim of spyware, says BigFix CTO

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The scheduled sentencing Friday for a Connecticut substitute teacher convicted of exposing her middle-school students to pop-up internet pornography has been postponed so the 40-year-old's new defense team can learn about the case.

Julie Amero, 40, is now scheduled to be sentenced March 29 in Norwich Superior Court. She faces up to 40 years in prison after a jury convicted her earlier this month of allowing seventh-grade students at Kelly Middle School to view graphic sexual images.

Information security experts, however, believe Amero is herself the victim of adware and spyware.

Amero has contended the images kept popping up and couldn’t be clicked off – the result of adware and spyware installed on the class computer, which was running expired anti-malware solutions and the Windows 98 operating system.

But the prosecution contended Amero clicked on the graphic websites and did not prevent the students from seeing the images by simply turning off the computer.

"So many kids noticed this going on," juror Mark Steinmetz told the Associated Press about the 2004 incident. "It was truly uncalled for. I would not want my child in her classroom. All she had to do was throw a coat over it or unplug it. We figured even if there were pop-ups, would you sit there?"

"People need to use common sense," Norwich Police Lt. Timothy Menard told the Norwich Bulletin. "She failed to protect those kids – a clear violation of state statute."

Amero said she was instructed not to turn off the computer after a teacher permitted her to send an email prior to class. Supporters said Amero – not technically savvy herself – panicked when she saw the images and ran to the principal’s office for help, advising the students not to look at the screen. She also may not have realized she could turn off the monitor without shutting off the computer.

W. Herbert Horner, a computer security consultant who testified on behalf of Amero, said the porn pop-ups started when students visited a spyware-infected website on hair styles. But a judge did not permit him to present his full findings because they were not given to the prosecution for review.

The prosecution has said it did not perform a forensics analysis of the computer.

A grassroots effort has begun within the information security community to raise money for Amero’s defense and to publicize the incident, Amrit Williams, CTO at BigFix, which specializes in host-monitoring and compliance solutions, told SCMagazine.com.

He said Amero was the victim of a juicy news event.

"It came down to hyping the porn-and-children angle," Williams said.

Horner said he believes that Amero is innocent.

"This was one of the most frustrating experiences of my career, knowing full well that the person is innocent and not being allowed to provide logical proof," Horner wrote on the "Network Performance Daily" blog after the trial. "If there is an appeal, and the defense is allowed to show the entire results of the forensics examination in front of experienced computer people, including a computer-literate judge and prosecutor, Julie Amero will walk out the court room as a free person."

Click here to email reporter Dan Kaplan.

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