Trout appears in court in council spyware case

Spyware. Image copyright (c) Sophos

Tony Trout, a Republican council official in Greenville County, South Carolina, has been arrested by FBI agents investigating spyware found on the council chairman’s PC, and made his first court appearance.

According to media reports, councilman Trout contends that he was acting within his rights when he installed the spyware on county administrator Joe Kernell’s computer because the Kernell was his employee. He denies accessing county-owned computers belonging to County Council Chairman Butch Kirven.

“I was able to access what is going on because he (Kernell) is an employee of mine,” Trout was reported as saying after his house was raided by the FBI in June and computer equipment was seized. “As a county councilman, I have the right to ascertain what he is doing during the day.”

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Trout, who is also the owner of Pro-Teck Security Services, a company which provides trained security personnel, could face a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a $250,000 fine, if found guilty of federal charges of unauthorised computer access.

A lot of attention is given in the media to external hackers breaking into corporate systems and stealing critical information with spyware. What this and other cases make clear is that there is also a significant risk of internal staff using technology to gain advantage over their co-workers.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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