back to article British voyeur escapes US extradition over 770 cases of webcam malware

A grandfather who admitted secretly infecting people's laptops with webcam-activating malware so he could spy on them will not be extradited to the US – thanks in part to the UK's so-called "forum bar". Christopher Taylor, 57, who "confessed to disguising malware as recognisable and legitimate computer programs", installed …

  1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    I have to say – this does actually sound like sense prevailing in a US extradition hearing, for once. As an aside, if they say a simple bit of malware on a student laptop is enough to compromise a university's domain and need a $5,000 cleanup, then the IT department is basically admitting criminal negligence...

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      No kidding... $5K for a virus sweep is pretty extortionate.

      That sort of thing makes people non-sympathetic to an extradition to this sort of incompetency.

    2. needmorehare
      Angel

      Back in 2012, they probably were doing their best

      You have to remember Windows 7 was practically brand new and no college would have been stupid enough at the time to touch Vista with a barge pole. Folks ultimately either ran XP or 7, even if they had Software Assurance with one OS being too new and the other being too old (but still receiving patches until 2014).

      Windows XP systems had a security design so broken that key system services ran in the same graphical session as the end user. That made it trivial for malware to elevate to SYSTEM through what are known as Shatter Attacks. Also, XP shipped without ways to ensure remote access was guaranteed to be Kerberos protected, meaning pass-the-hash was far easier to pull off. In addition to all this, on XP, if you were doing legit sysadmin stuff, there was no protection to stop a keylogger slurping your admin account details when you do Run As from within a user session (unlike with Vista and onwards).

  2. Imhotep Silver badge

    Stay At Home

    Probably the best outcome, considering the crime. But I am fed up with people conflating autism with criminality - especially with such a questionable diagnosis as this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stay At Home

      The diagnoses is starting to sounds like a get-out-of-jail-free card in these cases.

      1. Blazde Bronze badge

        Re: Stay At Home

        Aye, but this is something separate from usual autism causes criminality claims (for which actual statistical evidence is lacking).

        Instead it's a general claim that people at risk of suicide should be treated differently by the criminal justice system. Something similar has happened in the UK disability benefits system where there's reluctance to refuse benefits to people at risk of suicide, following a very large of number of instances of suicide following refusal.

        It's a tricky dilemma because treating people differently by allowing suicide threat to be a get out of jail free card is unjust, but so is inflicting typical punishments on individuals when you know they'll have unusual consequences out of all proportion to the intended punishment.

        So an autism diagnosis gets used as evidence for increased suicide risk and that's not totally unreasonable, but there are many, many other risk factors for suicide. Some much bigger ones than autism. The gold standard for suicide risk is past suicide attempts but if that's the only metric used in these instances there's a danger it incentivises suicide attempts in pre-trial detention for example.

        I have a feeling this issue will run and run over the coming decades, and risks politicising mental health in general and provoking a backlash against all the gains in awareness and compassion in recent years. Ugh.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Stay At Home

          Absolutely. My main hope is that improving science allows mental illness diagnosis to start to move from an psychiatrist forming a necessarily qualitative opinion onto a more objective assessment of etiology and sequelae. This would help to depoliticise this type of thing.

          With things like wider availability and sophistication of interpretation of fMRI and improving understanding of the (very complex) genetic underpinnings it's not impossible this might start to happen over the next decade or two.

          As someone with a severe mental illness who denied it for years, was misdiagnosed with the wrong one for many more, hence and then took another years to get onto the right drugs - which took over a decade - IMO the main problem is less people feigning a diagnosis to escape prison etc. than not getting the one they need. There are many people imprisoned who should be under treatment instead, which would benefit both society and individual.

    2. Insert sadsack pun here

      Re: Stay At Home

      On what basis are you - some anonymous geezer on the internet that's read an article on El Reg - better placed to judge whether the defendant is autistic than the geezer who literally wrote the book on autism and who's actually examined the guy?

      https://g.co/kgs/2x945J

      1. Imhotep Silver badge

        Re: Stay At Home

        From the article: Two other medical experts, however, rejected the diagnosis – one of whom was also retained by Taylor's legal team. District Judge Fanning sided with the two, noting that Baron-Cohen had declared that Taylor suffered from autism on the basis of "a single questionnaire and single interview with the patient".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Stay At Home

          While I agree that the autism diagnosis does seem to be being abused it's not a get out of jail free card as they can still be prosecuted in the UK.

          Honestly, it's time to end this uneven extradition treaty.

          1. veti Silver badge

            Re: Stay At Home

            This story shows the extradition treaty is not nearly as uneven as it's often made out to be. It is, in fact, quite common for UK courts to refuse extradition requests.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Stay At Home

              It is also extremely common for US courts to refuse extradition for people that committed crimes while at the time not present in the country that is requesting it.

              That is 0 people in the last 10 years have been. There is only a chance if the person was in the country committing the crime. So if this case was reversed, it would be a no to extradition. As the crime happened in the US, as he was present there at the time of the crime.

              That is uneven.

            2. TDog

              Re: Stay At Home

              Whereas the USA saved their courts the bother by not ratifying the extradition treaty.

        2. Cederic Silver badge

          Re: Stay At Home

          Did the judge offer a view on why that approach was insufficient, and indeed how it compared to the other two experts?

          My own diagnosis for autism was based on a questionnaire and just two interviews, maybe the judge should tell the NHS they're doing it wrong too.

        3. Imhotep Silver badge

          Re: Stay At Home

          BTW: This weekends Wall Street Journal has an article on autism by Dr. Baron-Cohen.

    3. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Stay At Home

      In fairness there was no conflation of autism with criminality. Whether he's autistic or not does not factor into whether he committed a crime or not.

      There was a diagnosis of autism, and autism increases suicide risk - the average life expectancy of autistic people is astonishingly low and a major cause of premature death is suicide.

      That's relevant when determining extradition to the US, particularly in the face of suicide threat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Stay At Home

        It's got nothing to do with linking (or conflating) autism to causing criminal behaviour but everything to do with the increasing number of criminals using autism or other mental health "issues" as an excuse for their offending when they don't suffer from anything other than being criminals with no regard for other people's rights.

  3. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Need some journalism, I think...

    "(a student's laptop infected with the malware compromised the domain, costing admins $5,000 to clean it up)"

    That's as inflated a number for a computer crime as I've heard since the 80s. Seriously, a factory reset & reinstall takes 15 minutes of hands-on work, tops.

    Now, if they did a forensic investigation, (which they should), certainly, that would take some work. But that's not the cost of cleaning it up.

    1. Imhotep Silver badge

      Re: Need some journalism, I think...

      From the "compromised the domain" phrase, I took it that cleanup involved more than the student's laptop.

      If it was just a personal laptop, I doubt that a criminal investigation would be initiated.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Need some journalism, I think...

      Clearly you have never had to do a factory reset and reinstall not just the operating system but every application and restore the system functionality. The first thing you have to do is backup everything in case the factory reset kills something.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Need some journalism, I think...

        Of a students laptop?

        Or are you saying this 'student' was a domain admin?

        Or that their domain was unsecured and allowed students to gain admin access therfore needed to be done with our without this incident?

  4. MJI Silver badge

    Only pervy malware not killing

    He hasn't killed any motorcyclists by driivng on wrong side of road.

    We need to tell them all extraditions are off until they extradite a killer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only pervy malware not killing

      That is only because he wasn't driving on the right side of the road...

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Only pervy malware not killing

      That is really not how international law works. This is not the decision of the U.S. alone; it is also the decision of British courts. While the U.S. could have complied, and I would prefer that they did, the U.K.'s high court concluded that extradition treaties do not place that requirement, just as they don't place a requirement on the U.K. to comply in this case. Each request from extradition is constrained by various limits, including each country's permission to decide they just don't want to comply. In the case you reference, there is the additional issue of diplomatic immunity, for which the relevant law provides. You will likely be happy to know that the law has been adjusted to remove some of those protections should this ever happen again, and I think that adjustment was a good idea, but it would not be legal under the law of the U.K. to apply this new law to the old situation. It is unfortunate, but it shouldn't be the everlasting excuse that prevents unrelated cases from proceeding.

      1. Blazde Bronze badge

        Re: Only pervy malware not killing

        Let's be clear. As reported it was not an adjustment, but a correction of a 'legal mistake'. The absolute best Dominic Raab could spin it as was an 'anomaly'. Someone screwed up and Mrs Sacoolas got incredibly lucky.

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Only pervy malware not killing

      + 1 to that.

    4. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Only pervy malware not killing

      ...and then there's the little matter of Julian Assange......

    5. veti Silver badge

      Re: Only pervy malware not killing

      Diplomatic immunity is not and never has been, realistically, negotiable.

      The UK can, of course, repudiate its extradition treaty with the US, become a safe haven for American criminals. If you think that sounds like a good idea, go ahead and campaign for it. Short of that, though, we should all hope that courts will continue to apply the law with some show of honesty and impartiality.

  5. _LC_ Silver badge
    Windows

    Too bad

    Too bad that in Assange's case it's the other way round. The ones who prosecute him are the perverts with the cameras.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    USA

    Crazy town

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Those Remote Access Trojans can be very convenient

    His crimes were committed between 2012 and 2015, with the US extradition request first having been made in February 2016 after Taylor's IP address was traced back to Britain. For reasons not explained in the judgment, he was not arrested until September 2019.

    That smells of a dead skunk in the middle of the road stinking to high heaven. In those "lost" years was his crime "helping with police enquiries"? Such then speaks of grooming and entrapment, which as y'all know, or should all know by now, is de rigeur of law enforcement and state security services pretty much everywhere and anywhere nowadays.

    1. Ghostman

      Re: Those Remote Access Trojans can be very convenient

      Yep, Arlo Guthrie could write some good ones.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT2WEcf8GQs

      1. Imhotep Silver badge

        Re: Those Remote Access Trojans can be very convenient

        Yes, he could. But I believe Loudon Wainright III wrote this one.

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