Tech & Work

Cautionary tale: How a misconfigured laptop ruined a worker's life

The case of a Massachusetts state worker who was fired for having pornography on his laptop but later discovered to be innocent because the security software wasn't working and the computer was filled with malware should be a sobering anecdote for IT departments.

The case of a Massachusetts state worker who was fired for having pornography on his laptop but later discovered to be innocent because the security software wasn't working and the computer was filled with malware should be a sobering anecdote for IT departments.

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After child pornography was discovered on his laptop, Michael Fiola, a state worker in Massachusetts got fired and had to deal with a smeared reputation and financial fallout. But it has been discovered that his laptop was riddled with malware because the system's security software wasn't working. Fiola was likely innocent, and criminal charges against him have now been dismissed.

Michael Fiola and his wife Robin. Photo credit: Boston Herald.

This is one of those worst nightmare cases. The Massachusetts state government and its IT department failed Fiola. They were trying to do the right thing but ending up getting it wrong in the worst way. The result had devastating personal consequences for Fiola, and the likelihood of significant financial fallout for the state in follow-up legislation.

I've heard from a lot of IT professionals over the past 5-10 years that tracking and identifying porn on worker computers has become a quietly significant part of the IT department's responsibilities, and many IT pros have been struggling with all of the legal and ethical ramifications involved.

The Fiola case will only add to the gut-wrenching complexity of this issue. If you or your IT department are involved in helping to get someone fired or have criminal charges brought against them for something they have on their computer, you better make sure you thoroughly investigate the issue (and possibly hire a forensic specialist to help) before you act on something you discover.

I'd highly recommend all IT leaders read through the Fiola case. Here are some links to get started:

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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