Spokane city library directors knew problems would follow the installation of Internet computers. They didn’t expect some users to outfox the system so quickly and easily download soft-porn pictures.
Within a week after launching the free service in August, library staffers found that people were copying adults-only pictures off the Internet onto computers and telling others how to do the same.
“We know people aren’t stupid,” says library Information Manager Garv Brakel. “And every security system always has some holes in it.”
He said the library’s Internet network, bought with federal and Spokane tax money, always will be targeted by people trying to beat security barriers.
“This is a never-ending game. We fix something that comes up, and then they find a way to break through another way,” he said.
Brakel said it didn’t take long to find a small software glitch that allowed people to download files off the Internet. The library prohibits downloading for now.
The problem forced Brakel to assign staff to the nightly job of “slime scraping” - checking each of the computers’ files and deleting material that didn’t belong there.
No one knows how many people took advantage. Two library users have acknowledged they also took an extra step, tampering with computer configuration files.
Both men - identified only as in their 30s or 40s - lost their library privileges.
Most users of the library’s 20 Internet computers are garden-variety “netsurfers,” linking their machine to government information sources or distant sites like the CBS Network sports directory.
Since pornography also is available on-line, the library requires all Internet users to take a training session and to sign an agreement they will not use the system “for inappropriate” purposes.
Beyond that, city librarians don’t monitor how people use the Internet service.
About 20 people per day use the Internet for hours at a time, said Main branch Library Manager Pat Partovi.
While the software glitch created the initial problem, an internal screw-up later made it even easier to download documents off the Internet, Brakel said.
A staff technician apparently disarmed file safeguards on one computer downtown, allowing subsequent users to download anything they wanted.
“We should have seen a red flag when librarians got repeated requests from people to use that one machine,” said Brakel.
It’s not clear how word of that unblocked computer spread, he added.
But one user - one of the men who later lost library access - began using that machine regularly.
“He even created one directory where he put all the pictures he was downloading,” Brakel said.
The picture files there were of the Playboy-Sports Illustrated swimsuit variety, Brakel said.
Because users sign an Internet scheduling sheet, staff had no trouble identifying that person, said Partovi.
The man wrote an 11-page letter explaining what he did and why.
“He expected his privileges to be revoked,” Partovi said. “To him it was a big game, and he had a good time.”