US sheriff gets probation after installing keylogger on wife's work PC

PC connected to Magistrate Court network

A US sheriff has been put on probation for two years and fined $1,000 (£600) after being caught spying on his wife during an acrimonious divorce by installing a keylogging device on her work computer.

In September 2013, former Clay County West Virginia sheriff Miles J. Slack pleaded guilty to installing the device in April of the same year where it was able to monitor all email and web traffic to and from the PC of his then wife, Lisa Slack, for a period of two weeks.

Unfortunately for Slack, his wife worked for Clay County Magistrate Court office whose IT department quickly noticed the device.

Facing up to five years in jail, on 19 December Slack was handed the probationary sentence and fine. The relative leniency of the sentence probably reflects the fact that Slack was motivated by a desire to monitor his wife's communications rather than to steal any official data from a PC that was, it transpired, connected to the Supreme Court network.

It also helped that after a 16-year police career Slack was supported with a 700-signature public petition and given the backing of his former wife.

The prosecuting attorney had originally argued that while Slack hadn't intended to spy on official and confidential communications, the keylogger would have allowed him to do that as a side-effect.

"The court recognises you come here with a lifetime record that is good and wholesome," said US District Court Judge John Copenhaver.

"You have lost your position as sheriff, lost your career in law enforcement . . . . that alone is enough."

The keylogging device used by Slack has not been specified but he could have chosen from a surprisingly wide range of programmes and physical products that have flooded the market in the last decade. The most common physical device is an innocent-looking dongle that sits between the keyboard and PC.

These devices and programmes are not illegal as such - indeed many are sold on Amazon - unless they are used to carry out illegal activities.

Despite this, there is little doubt that a key market is that of jealous spouses or family members that have fallen out with one another over financial affairs. This has fed the growing number in which the US authorities have been getting tough on their use.

Recent examples include the spy programme sold to US PC rental stores designed to keep tabs on their location in the event that monthly payments were not made. This was ruled an abuse by the FTC.

More recently, the FBI offered a reward for information on an El Salvadorian national accused of selling the 'Lover Spy' spyware program to 1,000 jealous husbands and wives going back as far as 2005.

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