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Malware not man blamed in child abuse download case

Replacement PC was 'ticking time bomb'

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A Department of Industrial Accidents investigator has been cleared of child porn possession charges after a forensic investigation revealed that malware was to blame for depraved smut on his company laptop.

Michael Fiola, 53, of Rhode Island, went through a massive ordeal after images of child abuse were discovered on a replacement machine he received in November 2006, following a laptop theft. He lost his job in March 2007 after an internal investigation, prompted by a Verizon wireless bill four times higher than his colleague, unearthed the suspicious content. Fiola had worked for the agency investigating workers' compensation fraud for seven years prior to his dismissal.

The case was forwarded onto the authorities who filed a criminal complaint in August 2007.

But subsequent forensic investigation discovered that malware was responsible for silently downloading images of pre-pubescent kids onto the machine. Computer experts hired by both the defence and prosecution agreed with this analysis.

Computer forensic analyst Tami Loehrs said that malware surreptitiously served up pre-teen pornographic images onto the machine without the awareness of its user. Loehrs described the case as "one of the most horrific" she'd ever dealt with.

In her report to the court, Loehrs said "the laptop was compromised by numerous viruses and trojans, and may have been hacked by outside sources."

All the offending images were loaded into locations reserved for cached web pages. Crucially there was no sign that any user had viewed or attempted to access this content.

“There is no evidence to support the claim that Michael Fiola was responsible for any of the pornographic activity,” Loehrs wrote.

Two computer forensic experts hired by the prosecution came back with the same conclusion.

"The overall forensics of the laptop suggest that it had been compromised by a virus," said Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley.

The case against Fiola has been dropped, but he still wants his day in court following months of hell when friends turned against him, leaving his faithful wife Robin as his only supporter. Fiola, described by his wife as "computer-illiterate", intends to sue his former employers over their actions in the case, the Boston Herald reports.

DIA spokeswoman Linnea Walsh said that the agency stood by its handling of the case.

Fiola’s lawyer Timothy Bradl criticised this stance: "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 said. ®

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