Ramblings & ephemera

His employer’s misconfigured laptop gets him charged with a crime

From Robert McMillan’s “A misconfigured laptop, a wrecked life” (NetworkWorld: 18 June 2008):

When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued Michael Fiola a Dell Latitude in November 2006, it set off a chain of events that would cost him his job, his friends and about a year of his life, as he fought criminal charges that he had downloaded child pornography onto the laptop. Last week, prosecutors dropped their year-old case after a state investigation of his computer determined there was insufficient evidence to prove he had downloaded the files.

An initial state investigation had come to the opposite conclusion, and authorities took a second look at Fiola’s case only after he hired a forensic investigator to look at his laptop. What she found was scary, given the gravity of the charges against him: The Microsoft SMS (Systems Management Server) software used to keep his laptop up to date was not functional. Neither was its antivirus protection. And the laptop was crawling with malicious programs that were most likely responsible for the files on his PC.

Fiola had been an investigator with the state’s Department of Industrial Accidents, examining businesses to see whether they had worker’s compensation plans. Over the past two days, however, he’s become a spokesman for people who have had their lives ruined by malicious software.

[Fiola narrates his story:] We had a laptop basically to do our reports instantaneously. If I went to a business and found that they were out of compliance, I would log on and type in a report so it could get back to the home office in Boston immediately. We also used it to research businesses. …

My boss called me into his office at 9 a.m. The director of the Department of Industrial Accidents, my immediate supervisor, and the personnel director were there. They handed me a letter and said, “You are being fired for a violation of the computer usage policy. You have pornography on your computer. You’re fired. Clean out your desk. Let’s go.” …

It was horrible. No paycheck. I lost all my benefits. I lost my insurance. My wife is very, very understanding. She took the bull by the horns and found an attorney. I was just paralyzed, I couldn’t do anything. I can’t describe the feeling to you. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. It’s just devastating.

If you get in a car accident and you kill somebody, people talk to you afterwards. All our friends abandoned us. The only family that stood by us was my dad, her parents, my stepdaughter and one other good friend of ours. And that was it. Nobody called. We spent many weekends at home just crying. I’m 53 years old and I don’t think I’ve cried as much in my whole life as I did in the past 18 months. …

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