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2/23/2007
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Trojan Catches A Criminal

A former California judge was sentenced last week for possession of child pornography, six years after a vigilante hacker infiltrated his computer with a Trojan horse written to catch pedophiles. But the case is a long way from declaring open season for hackers to go after child porn criminals.


Former judge Judge Ronald C. Kline pleaded guilty

Former judge Kline pleaded guilty
Former Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald C. Kline, 65, was sentenced to 27 months after pleading guilty to possessing child porn.

Hacker Brad Willman embedded a Trojan in child porn images and planted them on sites frequented by pedophiles. Downloading the images gave Willman access to their PCs. He passed information he discovered to a group that tracks pedophiles, and Kline's made its way to California authorities. "We wouldn't have known about this without him," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Staples. The problem: Since it wasn't a legal search, the case, at first, was tossed. Then prosecutors convinced an appeals court that Willman had been working on his own accord. After the trial was back on, Kline confessed.

Vigilantes can foul up a case by muddying whether the accused or the hacker placed the child porn, and they face big legal risks. Would-be hacker vigilantes need to calculate the potential for prosecution before taking on their own cause.

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