I read on the paper the other day the story of a man who took his computer into a computer shop for repair only to find himself arrested for having child porn on his computer. The man may well be guilty, but when I read something like that I do not automatically assume that they really are guilty and deserving of their fate. This is why…

Around 2005, or so, a woman friend came by the house wanting some help. She was desperate to find a recording of song which she wanted sing at an event a few days later and I had agreed to help find the song on a music download site.

I found some files online which had the names of the song she wanted but name of these files ended in “.exe” which
meant they were executable files (ie programs) rather than “.mp3” files which were music files. Some genuine music
files can be in the “.exe” format (if they are what is known as a self-extracting archive files) but these are dangerous to open as they could be a computer virus instead.

After a few frustrating hours hunting around she was getting desperate. I figured I probably had good enough virus
protection on my computer to risk it, so in a moment of weakness I clicked one of the “.exe” files which had the same name of the song she was after. I then sat in horror as I saw what happened next.

My web browser opened up by itself and went straight to a hard porn a website, then immediately went to another, then another… I quickly pulled out the Internet connection cable and shut down the computer. I left the Internet
connection cable out and restarted the computer to survey the damage.

The computer re-started fine and seemed stable, so the virus was not openly active at that point. I checked my web browser and in the few seconds the virus had been running it had installed many bookmarks and bookmark folders on my web browser. This made it look like I had been accessing and downloading lots of hard porn. If I had not shut the system down so fast there is no telling what else it would have done. A week or so later I also found various porn related files and folders, which the virus had installed and hidden away.

The virus only seemed to operate once and was gone. This seemed like a good thing at first. However, think about it
another way.  What if some of the porn sites had been child porn and I not noticed that and had taken my computer to a shop for repair? I was lucky in that I had dealt with the attack myself and that the porn sites were all adult sites.

If the virus had downloaded child porn, and it had installed bookmarks to those websites, and I had got somebody to deal with the computer problem I could have been in big trouble – even though innocent.

I heard a story a little while later about a family where there was a huge argument between a father and son: each
accussing the other of downloading porn onto the household desktop computer. It made me wonder if  the son – or a friend visiting – had downloaded a music track (not an unusal thing for a teenage boy to do) and not noticed it was an “.exe” file before he opened it. What if the virus hid what it was doing, or the boy did not realise what was causing the strange behaviour of the computer?

The bookmarks on the computer and files downloaded would make it look like somebody was really into heavy porn in a big way. The father and son were at each others throats (I heard that the father eventually smashed the computer with a sledge hammer), but both could have been innocent as it could have been a porn virus which created the bookmarks, the bookmark folders and downloaded the files.  A family relationship between father and son (and the concerned wife) was badly damaged and it could have been caused simply by accidently accessing the same computer virus which I had stumbled on to.

Going back to the issue of child porn. It is tempting to think that someone interested in something as awful as that
would be capable of anything, but being sick does not mean that cannot be sneaky. Would a sneaky person (which they would have to be to get away with thier perversion) be dumb enough to take their computer (loaded with illegal images they had knowingly downloaded) into a computer shop for repair? That seems a bit odd to me.

That is more like the action of an innocent victim.  Yet this is the way such child porn addicts are usually
“discovered”. Some of these people may genuinely be guilty; but some people who are convicted in this way could be completely innocent. All it takes is for their computer to have picked up a porn virus (either by their own
innocent actions, or even the innocent actions of their kids – or kids friends) and then to take that computer in for repair.

Do the police checking these computers for child porn also look for malicious programs which could have been the real culprit? Do they defence team arrange such checks? I have never heard of somebody getting off the hook from a child porn investigation due to a malicious program being discovered, but such programs probably exist. This means that innocent men could be being accused owing to a malicious computer virus which has downloaded child porn onto their computer.

There are many ways in which a computer virus can get access to a computer system. Porn viruses exist,  and take
various guises (nowadays the mostly seem to demand money as a “fine”) and can get access to a computer system even through compeletely innocent activity of the user.

If child porn version of the virus I experienced exist, why would someone create something so horrendous? Why would anyone want to make something which could potentially ruin the reputation and ruin the life of a person they had never even met?  This is really just one step on from the whole virus-writer mentatilty. Why just ruin
someobody’s computer when you can ruin their whole life?

It could also be a smokescreen by child porn perverts. They are not averse to exploting innocent children so they would not be averse to exploiting innocent adult men too – especially if this helped divert police attention. If police are busy prosecuting the innocent (and meeting their quota that way) they have less time to persue the guilty – especially if the innocent make the job easy by turning up a computer shop with a computer full of “evidence” of their “crime”.

Of course, I have no way of knowing whether any innocent men have been convicted in this way. However, I suspect that at least in some cases the investigators revulsion at the nature of this type of behaviour may mean that they might not be fully investigating the potential proofs of innocence – or may not even be aware that a virus can make a computer behave as if it were controlled by a person and used to undertake some types of illegal behaviour. It could well be that innocent men are having their lives and reputations ruined by a computer virus.

All decent people want to see an end to child porn and uncovering potential smokescreens that the real culprits might be hiding behind can only help with that. Hence me writing this article after having seen that story of a recent conviction in the paper.