FBI Investigating Web SpycamAs a federal investigation begins, a security researcher has uncovered evidence related to the case and provided a way to identify the surveillance software.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI said on Monday that both agencies are pursuing an inquiry about allegations that Pennsylvania's Lower Merion School District activated Web cams on notebook computers issued to students at Harriton High School.
The federal agencies noted they typically do not confirm involvement in an investigation unless doing so is warranted by the high profile nature of a case or the need to reassure the community.
The allegations were made earlier this month when a Pennsylvania family filed a lawsuit claiming that the school district invaded their privacy and stole private information by covertly monitoring their minor child using a school-issued laptop.
"We intend to work as a team with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, the Montgomery County Detectives, and the Lower Merion Police Department to determine if any crimes were committed," said United States Attorney Michael L. Levy in a statement. "The issues raised by these allegations are wide-ranging and involve the meeting of the new world of cyberspace with that of physical space. Our focus will only be on whether anyone committed any crimes."
Levy said that the investigation is just beginning and that no further comment will be provided until the investigation is complete.
On the Internet, an unofficial investigation has already unearthed surprising information.
Mike Walker, a principal consultant for the Intrepidus Group, a security firm, who blogs under the name Stryde Hax, has identified the school district IT administrator whom he believes oversaw the surveillance of students, the software used to spy, online posts and videos that document the surveillance program and students' reactions to being watched.
In a blog post on Monday, Walker provides instructions on how to identify the "LANRev Trojan" that he claims was used to spy on students at Harriton High.
Walker, incidentally, was the security researcher who claimed to have found evidence that Chinese gymnast He Kexin, the gold medal winner on the uneven bars in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was only 14 years old -- too young to compete in the Olympics.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on Walker's findings.
Walker, however, has urged the family suing the school district and investigators to take immediate steps to preserve digital evidence. "The greatest threat to this investigation now is the possibility that the highly trained technical staff at LMSD could issue a LANRev script to wipe digital forensic evidence off all the laptops," he said in a blog post. "This is why it is imperative for affected parents to have the hard drive removed from their children's laptops and digitally imaged before the laptop is connected to a network."
According to a report published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, a court order issued on Monday forbids the school district from altering the software on the laptops and requires that all digital evidence be preserved. It also reportedly forbids the school district from speaking publicly about the case without prior notification to the plaintiff's counsel.
The school district previously acknowledged that the Web cams had been activated 42 times. A spokesperson for the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Given the extent of the digital footprints that he has been able to uncover in this case and in the course of his Olympic investigation, Walker suggests that people need to recognize that we now live in a world of "compulsory transparency."