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Former HHS Cybersecurity Director Convicted on Child Porn Charges

Following a four-day trial, a federal jury in Nebraska convicted the former acting director of cybersecurity at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for his involvement in a child pornography enterprise, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.

Following a four-day trial, a federal jury in Nebraska convicted the former acting director of cybersecurity at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for his involvement in a child pornography enterprise, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.

Timothy DeFoggi, aged 56, is the sixth individual to be convicted as a result of an FBI investigation dubbed “Operation Torpedo,” which has targeted three child pornography websites. The former director has been convicted on three charges: accessing a computer with intent to view child pornography, engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, and conspiracy to advertise and distribute child pornography.

DeFoggi, who will be sentenced on November 7, 2014, is said to have signed up for a membership on an illegal website on March 2, 2012, and was an active member until authorities took down the site in December of the same year. In addition to accessing and soliciting illegal content from other members of the website, investigators said the man also exchanged private messages with other users, expressing interest in raping and murdering children.

The website on which DeFoggi registered an account was one of the three Tor-based pedophile sites owned and operated by 31-year-old Aaron McGrath, of Bellevue, Nebraska, who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Documents obtained by Wired show that the FBI tracked down McGrath after his IP address was provided to the agency by the Dutch national police’s high tech crime unit, which in August 2011 started cracking down on pedo websites.

Operation Torpedo has been controversial because the FBI didn’t immediately arrest McGrath. Instead, they monitored him for a year, time during which they planted malware on the illegal websites in an effort to identify members. The drive-by download method, which the FBI calls a “network investigative technique,” has helped the agency track down the IP addresses, MACs and hostnames of at least 25 individuals, with 14 of them facing trial.

The malware, designed only to identify the computers that had visited the illegal websites, was planted based on search warrants signed by a federal judge, who also allowed the agency to delay notifying the targeted individuals for a period of 30 days. Since some of the suspects learned only well after the 30-day period about the use of malware to identify them, defense lawyers asked the court to throw out the evidence, a motion rejected by the judge.

 Christopher Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pointed out that while the use of malware might seem justified in the case of Operation Torpedo, because it’s unlikely for innocent people to be prosecuted, the technique could prove problematic in other cases, such as campaigns targeting terrorists, whose online resources might be accessed for research purposes by individuals who have nothing to do with terrorism.

 

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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