Trout sent to jail for 366 days after installing spyware

Creative daydreaming
Tony Trout, a former council official in Greenville County, South Carolina, has been sentenced to one year and one day in jail after being found guilty of using spyware to read emails on a colleague’s computer.

According to prosecutors, Trout was arrested last October, after infecting PCs with the RemoteSpy program, which allowed him to break into two Yahoo email accounts used by Greenvile County Administrator Joe Kernell.

Trout, who is also the owner of Pro-Teck Security Services, a company which provides trained security personnel, placed information stolen from the compromised email accounts on his website, and shared the information with other councillors and legal officials.

Trout had claimed his defence that he was investigating Kernell as a service to taxpayers, believing that his colleague could be involved in illegal activity. For what it’s worth, the judge who sentenced Trout didn’t seem to be that impressed by Kernell’s behaviour either, judging by media reports.

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So, what’s the lesson here?

Well, firstly – don’t take the law into your own hands. If you believe that someone is behaving illegally it’s not your job to gather evidence yourself by breaking the law. If you really feel a crime is being committed, inform the authorities and ask them to look into it.

And secondly, just because a “surveillance” program is legal to purchase, doesn’t make it necessarily legal to use in all cases.

RemoteSpy, the program used by Tony Trout to spy upon his fellow council worker, is no stranger to regular readers of this blog of course. Late last year, we described how the FTC had tried to prevent the controversial program from being sold.

* Image source: HikingArtist.com’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons)


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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