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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 times.

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 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 "nobody@nowhere.edu" 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 mail.

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.

Pornography

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.

Ripoff Artists

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!

Stalking

CyberAngelsSome 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.

Cyberstalkers
by Ward Bakley, Amy Cordiner, and Michael Hurst

(Links updated by Deborah Healey)

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

  1. Consider your e-mail address. Don't use gender reference or invite trouble.
  2. Change passwords regularly.
  3. Edit your web profile. Look at the following to find out how:
  4. Review your e-mail signature and headers.
  5. Chat on good sites. These are moderated, which helps keep down the negative and child-unfriendly elements:
  6. Consider your user name. Avoid suggestive nicknames and avoid using your real name.
  7. Connect to The Anonymizer at http://www.anonymizer.com/, which shields your information from all servers and cookie-munchers.
  8. Use encryption. One of the best-known methods is PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). Find out more at http://www.andrebacard.com/pgp.html

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.

Safe Surfing!



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If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu

http://www.deborahhealey.com/techtips/sept1997.html
Last updated 26 June, 2009