Unlike Julie Amero, Michael Fiola won’t face criminal charges for possession of child pornography. But that doesn’t make his case any less egregious, or his life any different today. It doesn’t give him his job back, restore his reputation, or the harm that’s been done as a result of yet another ignorant leap to the wrong conclusion.
Michael Fiola worked for the Department of Industrial Accidents in Massachusetts. On November 20, 2006, Fiola was issued a laptop for use in connection with his field work as an accident investigator. In March, 2007 the laptop was seized and Fiola was subsequently fired from his job for possession of child pornography. The case was also referred to the DA for prosecution.
This time, however, the laptop was examined by a qualified forensic examiner, Tami Loehrs. Her examination and analysis of the laptop concluded the following:
- The laptop was infected with at least 5 serious viruses and Trojans that caused the computer to be compromised for at least 4 1/2 months — longer than Fiola had possession of the laptop.
- The Symantec antivirus software installed was outdated and not functioning properly from day one.
- The Systems management software wasn’t installed properly, so no network monitoring or updates were being pushed to the laptop.
- Mr. Fiola not only wasn’t responsible for the pornography, he probably didn’t even know about it.
Of course, the DIA didn’t take kindly to the allegation that this was all their fault, and in a fashion similar to Julie Amero’s prosecution, said that with their 3-hour examination of the hard drive and the assumption that one has to DO something in order to initiate such activity it was clearly Fiola’s fault and so he should be fired, he should not get his job back, and he should suffer the stigma of being a kiddie porn downloader for the rest of his life.
This is outrageous. Beyond outrageous. You can read Loehrs’ report yourself. The investigator for the DIA climbs up on his high horse and makes the usual specious statements about how “the network is monitored carefully” and that “the user has to do something to have pornography downloaded, it just doesn’t download itself”, indicating that he has absolutely zero knowledge of how Trojans and viruses work. In fact, one of the times the laptop had activity was a time where Fiola was out for the evening without the laptop. Loehrs hammers home the responsibility of the network administrator here:
It is their opinion that Michael Fiola must be responsible for the activity because it was only happening when he possessed the Laptop out in the field. How else could viruses, Trojans and hackers attack a Laptop? The Laptop must be turned on for the viruses and Trojans to execute or for a hacker to gain access to it. Therefore, the Laptop could only be compromised when Michael Fiola had the Laptop turned on and he typically had the Laptop turned on when he was in the field. He did not need the Laptop at the office because he had a desktop computer at the office, therefore the Laptop was not compromised during those times. In addition, viruses and Trojans typically need some event to occur in order to trigger their execution. For example, when the Internet browser is opened, it may trigger the downloader to download a back door which in turn allows the hacker to gain access. Therefore, when Michael Fiola opens his Internet browser to access a work-related website, checks his email or logs into the DIA mainframe, the trigger is pulled, the virus or Trojan begins its attack and the activity subsequently appears to be caused by Michael Fiola.
Her indictment of their disingenuity is no less scathing:
According to the Boston Herald article, the Fiolas intend to sue the DIA for the destruction of his reputation, career and life. His attorney has a good grasp of the big picture:
“Imagine this scenario: Your employer gives you a ticking time bomb full of child porn, and then you get fired, and then you get prosecuted as some kind of freak,” he railed.
This is happening to many, many people. The combined arrogance of in-house IT folks who don’t want to admit they screwed up someone’s computer and someone’s life and the ignorance of many who investigate on the employers’ behalf leaves real people behind, bankrupt and ostracized.
I hope Mr. Fiola succeeds in his efforts to hold the TRUE culprits available. And I hope Julie Amero is given a new trial, or better yet, has the charges dropped against her. Both are victims of something they could not control, and both found themselves at the mercy of IT administrators’ arrogance (or ignorance), and hot zeal to hand out punishment for it, whether or not the responsible party was punished.
If you know of anyone who has found themselves in a similar situation and are in need of assistance, send them to The Julie Group blog for assistance.
h/t Alex Eckelberry – Sunbelt Blog
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