ComputerCOP is marketed as a parental monitoring tool to protect children from online predators. The program is used in 245 agencies across 35 states. U.S. Marshals have purchased the software through public funding, while police departments have endorsed and distributed it to parents.
When the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a group that monitors legal and ethical issues related to computer use, examined ComputerCOP, the group discovered that the software has spyware features; one of which is a keylogger.
Keyloggers are tools that enable the PC to record each stroke made on the keyboard. These are often used by hackers when they need to spy on victims and illegally gather sensitive data. This feature, therefore, exposes users to the same Internet predators, intruders, bullies and identity thieves that the tool promised to keep at bay.
The EFF's shocking discovery of the keystroke-capturing function negates ComputerCOP's claim that the tool promotes Internet safety. The software can be used to gather personal information and transmit the information unencrypted to third parties. The EFF concluded that ComputerCOP may actually make data less safe and even more prone to cyber attacks.
"It's certainly ironic that law enforcement agencies are going after spyware makers while also distributing software that could be used for the same purposes," says Dave Maas, an investigator from EFF. "Obviously there's a difference in how these were marketed by the maker. But certainly law enforcement needs to train their magnifying glasses on their own operations."
The EFF also learned that the promotional materials used by ComputerCOP include a letter of endorsement from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), U.S. Department of Treasury, and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
After learning about the spyware features of the program, the ACLU denied endorsement. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said that it never authorized ComputerCOP to use its name.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has now labeled the software as a fraudulent product.
Stephen DelGiorno, president and founder of ComputerCop Corp, said in an interview that the company acknowledges the fact that some product versions are designed with a keystroke monitoring feature. However, the keylogger is activated when the user types words connoting gangs, drugs or sex. DelGiorno reiterated that the software allows parents to monitor the online activities of their children.
"We're not trying to be a spy tool," said DelGiorno. "That was absolutely not our intention."