Technology Tip of the Month
September, 1997: Keeping Safe on the Internet
by Deborah Healey
This month's tip looks at some concerns about using the Internet and ways
to protect yourself and children on the electronic frontier--which has
more parallels with the Wild West than many of us would like, at
What's Out There
The Internet provides a wonderful world of information and connections to
people in distant places. The freedom to explore and relative lack of
governmental control on the Internet, however, opens the door to a few
negative elements, including:
- Junk mail
- Invasion of privacy
- Pornography, including very graphic child pornography
- Ripoff artists
Junk Mail and Privacy
Junk mail and invasion of privacy come about largely for two reasons, one
you know about and one you may not. Some sites are free but require you
to register in order to gain access to their information or download
their software. If you want what the sites provide, you give the
information they request. The other reason you may fall prey to junk mail
and other invasions of your privacy is "cookies"--information your
computer passes to the servers it connects to about who you are, where
you are going, and how long you stayed. In either case, you do have ways
to protect yourself, at least somewhat.
Hiding Personal Information
Within the Options or Preferences menu on your browser is a place where
you can put personal information, such as your real name and email
address. While you need to have something in the email field in order to
send mail, you don't tell the truth. Putting "firstname.lastname@example.org" works
as well as your real address. This is where the "cookies" get their
information, and if you have bogus information in your browser, the
person seeking information about you will be sidetracked. Of course, your
friends won't know where the mail came from, but I'm assuming you change
it to your real address just before you send mail to people you know,
then switch it back.
There are also options on recent versions of Netscape and Internet
Explorer to inform you before a cookie is sent--you can choose how your
movements will be tracked. In many cases, the tracking is benign and the
server operators just use it to see what people are looking at or
downloading. In a few cases, however, the information goes into a
database that can then be sold, putting you in line for electronic junk
Some sites that require you to register will verify your email address by
sending you mail before you actually are put onto their system. It
protects both them and you, making sure you--and not someone using your
email address--are the one asking for the registration. You can be as
opaque as you like with the other information they ask for, however.
This brings up the important related point about the email you receive --
if you can lie about who you are, so can anyone else using a web browser
for email. It's yet another reason why you cannot act as if email is
private communication: if you look only at the name and not the email
address, the person to whom you are replying may not be the person you
think it is.
If you have a child with a strong will to seek out pornography on the
Internet, there's little you can do save to be there and be watching
while your child explores the Internet. If what you're interested in is
protecting against stumbling onto an adult site, however, there are
several good products on the market for you to choose from, and some
Internet providers offer them for free to their subscribers. Here are a
few of the more common Internet filtering programs:
Once these are installed, you generally need to get periodic updates to
keep current, since smut moves around a lot. All of them have drawbacks
and can restrict access to sites that you may find in no way
objectionable; for example, John Higgins' page on "Homonyms and
Homophones" is said to be blocked by some of these. It's a question of
choosing what you consider the lesser evil.
Con artists are everywhere, and the Internet is no exception. If you
aren't sure that a site is legitimate, don't give any personal
information. If you give your credit card number to someone you don't
know, whether it's electronically or over the phone, you're asking for
trouble. Ask for a regular mail address, check with the Better Business
Bureau, ask your friends to see if anyone you know has used a specific
site, and generally be careful. Caveat emptor applies here in a big way!
Some of the teachers in this summer's Ed596, Technology for
Teachers, offered this summary of the very useful (and extensive)
information available at the CyberAngels website,
www.cyberangels.org. This site is the Internet version of the Guardian
Angels, an organization in the US that provides unarmed street patrols in
many cities and serves as a disincentive to crime. You are encouraged to
visit the site and garner even more useful information there.
(Links updated by Deborah Healey)
by Ward Bakley, Amy Cordiner, and Michael Hurst
Cyberstalking is the practice of stalking on the internet. This form of
stalking can come in the form of unsolicited communication that persists
against the receiver's wishes, hostile communications, the spread of
rumors and impersonation.
Cyberstalking generally occurs in three places in the internet: chat
rooms, message boards, and e-mail boxes.
Ten ways to deter cyberstalkers
- Consider your e-mail address. Don't use gender reference or invite
- Change passwords regularly.
- Edit your web profile. Look at the following to find out how:
- Review your e-mail signature and headers.
- Chat on good sites. These are moderated, which helps keep
down the negative and child-unfriendly elements:
- Consider your user name. Avoid suggestive nicknames and avoid using
your real name.
- Connect to The Anonymizer
http://www.anonymizer.com/, which shields your information from all
servers and cookie-munchers.
- Use encryption. One of the best-known methods is PGP (Pretty Good
Privacy). Find out more at
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, JUST DISCONNECT.
This information was summarized from http://www.cyberangels.org, a good site
to know and use.
Most of what's out there on the Internet is good, and most Internet
users are decent folk. You can say the same thing about New York City,
though, so it's best to know what the risks are and act accordingly.
If you have questions, comments, or for more information,
contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
updated 26 June, 2009