Malware alert while seeking child abuse images at work earns US man 5 years in jail

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Malware

Hands on computer. Image courtesy of ShutterstockA five-year jail term has been handed to a US man found downloading and watching child abuse imagery at work.

Investigators at the Seattle branch of the Social Security Administration where he worked were apparently alerted to his activities when his company computer was hit by a malware attack.

Thomas J. Barrett, 50, of Lynnwood, WA, seems to have been seriously addicted to grotesque photos and videos of underage girls being assaulted, with over 3,700 items found on his system.

In between browsing for fresh material for his collection, he also researched possible penalties for such activities, and alternated between porn and work time to keep his habits from his colleagues, indicating at least some awareness of just how wrong his behaviour was.

On one of his trawls through the seedier side of the web, a malware alert brought administrators' attention to what was going on, and subsequent investigations included setting up a spy camera monitoring his workstation.

The investigators were then exposed to the unedifying sight of Barrett "fondling himself" at his desk. He was arrested in January, but remains free on bail until his sentence comes into force.

Barrett's defense team claimed his time in the US Army sparked his addiction, with a visit to Europe opening an "evil door" in his delicate mind.

This is the second time in as many weeks that we've reported on malware playing a significant part in bringing paedophiles to book.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, there's nothing noble about being a malware author or purveyor; it's still a nasty and criminal business, just perhaps not quite as nasty as these chaps.

Image of man surfing web courtesy of Shutterstock.

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8 Responses to Malware alert while seeking child abuse images at work earns US man 5 years in jail

  1. Dustin · 796 days ago

    How ironic you call malware a nasty business when that is exactly the type of programing that the FBI uses to access your computer and turn on your webcam and listen in on your mic. It also has complete and full access to your hard drive.

  2. Dustin · 796 days ago

    No doubt this is very disturbing. If you got him on tape, then prosecute. I know people who have watched porn and things like that and have accidentally came across some sort of questionable sites. Although they leave the sites obviously, I would hate to see this a problem were everyday law bidding citizens who utilize their rights and freedoms along with baser instincts to view pornography and things get out of hand. I do not in any way condone what this mad did. I think he needs prison if the news reports are accurate and correct, not to mention watching porn at work is unacceptable by anyones standards. On top of that, hopefully it was not child porn. However, I am curious on the flip side of things, what malware caught him? Was it FBI malware that actively spies through webcams, etc, or was it a malware program that was annoying that shut the system down, then he got caught? Either way his actions are unacceptable if true, however, I am trying to figure out if the actions of this malware program are also lawful? There is always two sides and media likes to pick and choose what to exploit.

    • John Hawes · 796 days ago

      Perhaps I didn't make this sufficiently clear - the malware itself did not directly report this man's activities or, as far as we know, spy on his activities; rather (it would seem from from the local reports), his company computer was hit by some unspecified malware attack, which may or may not have actually infected the machine but at some point was presumably detected by security software.

      This detection would have alerted sysadmins, who would have checked on the source of the infection. When they found it to be a child pron site, the obvious next step is to investigate the user who visited such a site from his place of work...

  3. Dustin · 796 days ago

    Really? You didn't even approve my comment when it was not inappropriate at all but challenging and making things debatable?

  4. Elbrasch · 796 days ago

    I am more curious about the connection his lawyers made between his time in the Military and being attracted to abused childs.
    For my best attempts, i can't make out the faintest logical connection between these to facts.
    "his time in the US Army sparked his addiction, with a visit to Europe opening an "evil door" in his delicate mind."

  5. Guest616 · 796 days ago

    So you can get fired from a govt job!

  6. Jack · 796 days ago

    If this man has a problem, which seems obvious, prison will not correct it. Nor at work, where it is a major fau paux. Maybe with the time incarcerated they could get him help. We, lump all of these offenders into the lowest point a human can reach, and maybe rightly so. However until we change where someone can ask and get help, without the probability of long prison times, we are in fact not giving these people a chance to be corrected. How many of you believe that prison will correct this? After years in Law Enforcement, prison just makes more criminals and does not correct anything.

    Peoples sexuality is a many faceted gem, with so many that most people don't understand. It is amazing what people find tantalizing. With this said I do not support child pornography as the child is the loser, but I know these people have a sick mind and they need help, not prison. To make it instantly prison, stops those from attempting to find help, and they just go on with no place to turn.

    How many secretes do we all hide about our sexuality? Can you answer without being ashamed. That's too bad, no matter what you answered.


  7. aqwerd · 795 days ago

    "indicating at least some awareness of just how wrong his behaviour was."

    All it indicates is he thought there might be a penalty for what he was doing.

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About the author

John Hawes is Chief of Operations at Virus Bulletin, running independent anti-malware testing there since 2006. With over a decade of experience testing security products, John was elected to the board of directors of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation (AMTSO) in 2011.