Net Stupidity

November 10, 2006 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

In the paper this morning, there was an article headlined “Hacker is jailed for ‘Net rape’ campaign”. The article described how a 36-year old man named Adrian Ringland had blackmailed teenage girls into performing various sex acts either on screen or with him physically by installing viruses on their computers and then telling them that he would delete all of their files if they did not comply with his requests. Most of this was done by masquerading on MSN as a younger man and then sending girls a file which they would open and the virus would be unleashed.

Now, in no way do I condone Adrian Ringland’s behaviour. In fact, in every sense, I think that what he was doing was deplorable. But, at the same time I am amazed at the sheer stupidity and lack of savvy that people have when they get onto the Internet these days. Firstly, what the hell is anyone doing on the net without a decent antivirus application installed. And generally a good firewall would make a little sense as well. This, at least, would be the most basic step to protecting your data (and children) from net-nasties.

But this all aside. If you’re gonna let your children chat on the net, there are some most basic rules that you can set to avoid this kind of crap. To begin with, help them set up their MSN (or whatever IM application they use) to include their friends in their contact list. Then disable the option for anybody else to message them. If they want to add somebody else that they know, they can do so quite easily from their own side (or with your own supervision). A frequent response to this approach that I get from people, is that often parents don’t know much about these applications and can’t be expected to know how to set them up so that they’re safe for their kids to use. Well, that’s fair enough. I don’t know anything about guns, but I sure as hell wouldn’t hand a gun to my kid without spending a whole lot of time learning about the things. If you’re not going to find out the basics about the tools that you use, sooner or later you’re going to run into trouble.

But let’s assume that in this particular case you just haven’t got around to these basic security steps. And you were foolish enough to run an application sent to you by a complete stranger out there on the net. Which has now installed a virus to your system. And that person is threating to use that virus to delete files on your hard disk. What is the most sensible course of action? How is this person able to access your system? How did this person have any way of knowing that your computer even existed? You’re connected to the Internet. All you need to do is disconnect. Then the person has no way of accessing your computer. The person has no way of connecting to your computer. This is basic common sense. And if children (and parents) are not grasping it, they really shouldn’t be on the Internet at all. Its like handing your kids your car keys without teaching them the basic controls of your car. Its just plain stupid.

In the case mentioned in the newspaper article I read, the girl actually knew a virus had been installed. By disconnecting from the Internet, she would have prevented the ‘hacker’ from taking control of her computer. She could then approach her parents and suggest that she believes there is a virus on the computer and that they need to install antivirus software or take steps to erradicate the problem.

So, while I’ve gone on a bit of a rant, way off my rare book trade topic, I’d like to bring this all back to some very basic points. No matter who you are, whether child or parent or rare book dealer, keep these basic things in mind:

  • The Internet can be a dangerous place
  • If you are going to use it, understand the tools that you use and the different settings that these tools have to make them safer to use.
  • Install antivirus and firewall software (Windows XP has a firewall built in nowadays).
  • Don’t install software sent to you across the internet by strangers unless you are absolutely certain that the software is safe and does something that you need it to do.
  • If something goes wrong while connected to the Net, the first thing to do is get off the road! Disconnect. You will be safer, and so will everybody else.

And here ends the sermon. 😉

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