Canadian convicts have taken advantage of prison PCs to produce escape plans, make fake IDs and conduct scams.
These are among the revelations from an internal report by Canada's Correctional Service (CSC), obtained by the National Post, which warns of the risk of cons spreading viruses or hacking into the prison service's network.
A temporary moratorium on new computers has been imposed by the service. However inmates who already have PCs are been allowed to keep them (at least temporarily), despite a recommendation in the "threat and risk assessment" report for a complete ban of computers in cells. It strongly recommends that use of computers should be restricted to prison-issue PCs within a secure areas.
"This is a clear and present danger to CSC's infrastructure and ability to deliver its mandate," the leaked report warns.
"The inmate computers currently in our institutions could be used to introduce virus and malicious code into our network, allow inmates to access, destroy or modify information on our corporate network."
The confidential internal document warns of no less than 644 security incidents involving inmates' computers over the last five years. And there's more mischief afoot with inmates carrying out fraud from inside the wire, producing escape plans, forging correction service IDs and distributing porn.
Inmates are also getting involved in hardware modification, using components stolen from Correctional Service computers.
The report estimates there are 1,100 inmate-owned computers in Canada. It also expresses concern that games consoles capable of accessing the Internet or cable TV boxes might also be used for nefarious purposes, which would be quiet a hack in every sense of the word.
Attempts by the authorities to clamp down on inmate PC abuse are frustrated by the inmates' use of encryption packages, the report further notes.
Prison regulations forbid the use of modems or computers but authorities failed to realise that modern PCs have built in modems and technology to allow Net connections through mobile phones.
Guy Campeau, a spokesman for the Correctional Service, told the National Post that cons were allowed to buy PCs in order to participate in training programs, to help them acquire skills "that could help them re-integrate into society" or to work on their legal cases.
Campeau told the paper that a moratorium on new computers has been set up while the prison service decides on a long term policy. The measure was taken in response to security concerns and is not intended to punish inmates for their fellows cons' transgressions.
While shocking in their scale, the revelations from Canada about prisoner PC abuse are not unprecedented.
Inmates in West Virginia, USA used PCs to refine escape plans and counterfeit IDs, according to testimony by Mount Olive Correctional Centre Prison Warden George Trent in 1996.
The testimony came during hearings over a civil-rights lawsuit brought by prisoners after the authorities seized their computers amid concerns they were been used illegally. ®