TMCnet - March 19, 2007
The controversial court decision against Julie Amero - the substitute school teacher recently found guilty of impairing the morals of a child and risk of injury to a minor after she allowed seventh grade students at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Conn., to view "pop ups" of pornographic websites on a computer in her classroom - has generated lots of debate about the role teachers play in protecting students against unwanted Internet content and the role schools play in filtering content before it reaches the classroom.
Although it appears from testimonials on the web that most people think Amero is innocent (she is scheduled to be sentenced in State Superior Court on March 29, and faces up to 40 years in prison), there are some who have sided with the jury, which on Jan. 5, 2007, decided that although Amero might not have had the knowledge to prevent the endless cycle of pop ups from appearing on the computer, she did know how to turn off the monitor - or she could have simply thrown a coat over it so that the children could not see the screen (if only Amero had thought of that on that fateful day in 2004).
In the end, the jury decided that although the problem with the pop-ups was technology-related, the fact that the kids were able to view the screen was not. In the words of one juror who was interviewed in a PC World report, immediately after the decision, "The bottom line was that it didn’t make a difference how the porn sites showed up on the computer." So, in the jury’s view, the fact that Amero didn’t know how to stop the massive onslaught of pornographic images, or the fact that she had been told not to shut off the computer (because it was password protected), didn’t negate the fact that she could have, in some way, blocked the computer screen from the students.
Where the debate ends, however (and I’m sure most people will agree), is that if the computer had had decent anti-spyware software installed on it, the whole incident could have been avoided - because the inappropriate content would have been blocked and therefore would have never appeared in the first place. According to published reports, the computer had no anti-spyware software installed - only old (and therefore out-dated) anti-virus software. For this reason, many people view the school system itself as being at least partly culpable.
However, one technology company has come forward with a potential fix. To help protect teachers, students and school administrators from malicious spywares - and to prevent this sort of thing from happening again - Max Secure, a leading maker of anti-spyware software, is offering its new Max Spyware Detector Enterprise Edition - which was released today - to all U.S. school districts for free for six months.
Designed for the SMB and enterprise market - but also ideal for school districts and other organizations – Max Spyware Enterprise Edition comes equipped with Max Secure’s Smart Scan, a proprietary scanning solution that reduces scan times to just a few minutes.
As explained by Sanjay Pradhan, CEO of Max Secure Software, during a recent interview, if Kelly Middle School had had decent anti-spyware software installed on its PCs, the children would have never seen the objectionable content in the first place - and Amero never would have landed in court.
"Whether she is at fault or not, if spywares had never come into the school, this would have never happened," Pradhan said. "That’s where a company like ours comes in. Max Secure’s Max Spyware Detector protects the PCs in any organization by cleaning them out completely of spywares. So when you run a scan, you have the opportunity to clean out anything that is there, in the system - and, we also offer continuous monitoring of PCs to make sure new spywares don’t get launched. Also, we are continuously building a database of sites where we know spywares reside – so we make sure that if someone goes to a site like that, we have the ability to ensure that no spywares are downloaded."
Pradhan said his company is actively notifying school districts across the U.S. that the software is now available to them as a free download. He said Max Spyware Detector Enterprise Edition is ideal for school districts because it is easy to install and maintain. In fact, this new version of the software allows an IT administrator to centrally manage the system - including installs, un-installs and updates - through a centralized interface.
"What we’re offering is a very easy to install product," Pradhan said, adding that the new version has seen several improvements over the stand alone version which was released in November 2006. "You know, a lot of these districts have 200 to 500 PCs, and, apart from being limited on funds to buy these products, they’re also limited on resources to deploy them."
Pradhan said Max Spyware Detector Enterprise Edition helps IT administrators save time because it is capable of scanning a PC hard drive "in 5 to 10 minutes," following an initial scan which takes about 30 minutes. What makes Max Secure’s scanning technology work so quickly is the fact that the software does a longer, more thorough initial scan of the hard drive, which leads to better discovery of what spyware already exists on the disc, as well as revealing a detailed history of what the computer has been used for in the past (which in turn helps prevent installation of new, malicious spywares). This initial scan is what allows subsequent scans to take place at super fast speeds.
Pradhan said using a single interface, a school’s IT director can install Max Spyware Detector Enterprise Edition on 200 to 500 machines "in minutes."
"And once it is installed, he has the capability to get a report back, after each PC has been scanned, to see what the level of infection was and what was really happening on each PC," he said. "Also, there are automatic updates which are sent to the IT administrator (to identify and neutralize new threats as they emerge) which then get rapidly distributed to every machine. We are offering about three updates per day on our spyware detector product - which means at least twice a day these get downloaded onto the IT administrator’s machine - very small downloads, about 15 to 16 kb - which then get distributed to all the PCs in the school."
Max Spyware draws on a network of advanced users who identify new threats and continuously update the Max Spyware database with new definitions (the database now contains more than 252,000 spyware threats) - thus thwarting new threats as quickly as they emerge (and before they jump from PC to PC to get all over the globe). Also of importance to schools, which often face network performance constraints, is the fact that the software utilizes very little processing power to perform its duties. Enterprise Edition utilizes negligible network bandwidth since scanning is done locally on client machines.
Pradhan said Max Spyware Detector "is not only very quick and easy to deploy, it also easy to maintain, easy to scan – and that really can make the life of a school IT administrator very simple, because he is generally loaded with a lot of work."
In addition to offering client side installation, un-installation, updating and scheduling at a mouse click from the admin console, as well as the "highest scanning speed" possible among currently-available anti-spyware programs, Max Spyware Detector Enterprise Edition also offers detailed threat analysis; a "blocking feature" for specific URL’s containing spywares (which can be set by the IT administrator); frequent database updates to ensure users are armed with latest threat definitions; enhanced active protection to protect the network from spyware threats; free 24x7 customer support; automatic spyware definition updates; and free upgrades.
Although he did not go so far as to say whether Amero is innocent or guilty, Pradhan did say he was disappointed to learn that some of the evidence presented in the case was not entirely accurate - and furthermore that some critical information about spyware in general had not been presented to the jurors. He said regardless of the rationale behind the jury’s decision, there is no question in his mind that technology did play a role in what happened.
"I think from what I read in the media – because I’m not privy to all the information that was offered to the jurors and all that went on behind the scenes – it appears that not all of the information has been provided to the people," Pradhan said. "In terms of exactly what a spyware can do – and what the ramifications are once a spyware lands – including how long it can be avoided and prevented from acting up – that could have been explained in much more detail. And there’s no doubt that technology has played a role here. The people who are writing these spywares are very smart people – there is so much money involved in these things – and they have invested a lot of resources in the deployment of spywares. I think that needs to be explained to everyone."
Pradhan said in many cases, "people aren’t clear about what spywares can do."
"For example, they can take control of your PC and you won’t even know it," he said. "In fact, your PC can be ‘auctioned off’ [and used for a ‘bot net’] for two days, and you don’t even know it’s happened. Someone uses your PC for two days - and then your PC can go on to be auctioned off to someone else for another two days. I think these are the kinds of facts that needed to be put in front of people – before a jury came to decide on a case such as this."
Pradhan said he thinks the nature of spyware is something which should have been explained in detail – if not demonstrated – for the jurors before they came to their decision.
"They [the school] should have had the protection they needed top block these things in the first place," he concluded. "If that had been the case, then this thing probably never would have happened. So I think that technology definitely did play a role."
For more information about Max Secure, or to download the new Max Spyware Detector Enterprise Edition, visit www.maxpcsecure.com
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