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Internet Fundamentals: The Shady Side

Internet Fundamentals: The Shady Side

As with everything in the world, there is a dual reality with the Internet. Dangers lurk on the Internet that everyone needs to be aware of. Some of them pose a threat to the technology, some of them pose a threat to individuals. However, knowing how to recognize potential problems and knowing how to deal with them before they become problems is key to being a responsible Internet user.

Viruses and malicious software:

"Malware," or malicious software, is any software that uploaded to a network or Internet that disrupts, alters, steals, damages or changes the data stored on the computer or network. We often use the generic term "virus," however, there are different kinds of malicious software that do different things.

In the early days of software programming, viruses usually occurred as accidents or mistakes in program code. A virus is able to spread from one computer to another over a network, and often causes inconvenience and even damage to a computer's operating system. A virus that is sent over the Internet, such as by way of email, can spread to thousands of computers in a very short time.

What is a worm? The difference between a generic virus and a worm virus is that a worm does not require anyone to press a key or send an email. An email virus, for instance, will die out if everyone deletes it and it is no longer allowed to spread. However, a worm does not depend upon any actions of a user, and can infect thousands of systems simultaneously since it uses the internet to do its free-wheeling damage.

Trojan? Remember the Trojan horse? A Trojan virus is wrapped up in what appears to be a legitimate program and when it is installed, its damaging contents liberated into your computer system or network!

Instead, you need to know that your computer must be protected from the constant onslaught of new viruses that can be "caught" over the Internet!

Paul Bocij tells us in his book, The Dark Side of the Internet, that people create viruses for several reasons. Some virus writers actually feel they are helping educate those in the world of technology, who are challenged to figure out how to prevent the virus. Others simply enjoy doing something that will cause many people harm or inconvenience. Still others are looking to elevate themselves as better virus writers than others. Another common reason for the creation of viruses has been to achieve some political goal, such as spreading a belief system or propaganda by reaching thousands of people with a certain message. Finally, some people want revenge for one reason or another, and find that sending a virus accomplishes some sort of win (Bocij, p. 33-70).


1. Purchase one of the most popular virus prevention software packages available. These software packages not only clean your system of viruses, but will also allow you to periodically download the repairs for new viruses as they appear on the Internet.

2. Go to the security settings in the Tools section of your Browser, and make sure your browser does not automatically download and install ActiveX components. Also, it is important when on the Internet to be sure you have a firewall in place, whether it is through your security software or Windows.

3. If you receive email that is not automatically deposited into your SPAM folder, but which comes from an unfamiliar sender, delete it! Some viruses cannot spread into your system unless you open the email that has delivered them.

Spyware, Adware:
Naturally, if something as effective as a virus becomes common knowledge, someone is going to figure out how to make money from the idea. Thus, we now have Adware and Spyware invading our computer systems via the Internet.

Spyware has the capability of monitoring your activities, as well as obtaining data and information from your computer system. Spyware is often difficult to detect and eliminate. It can collect information about your credit cards, bank account numbers and financial dealings, leaving you vulnerable to identity theft. However, its primary purpose is to target specific advertising to you, based on what it perceives to be your interests and habits.

Adware is similar to spyware, but the information it gathers is used to target potential customers by monitoring your Internet activities. It may detect which Internet pages you have visited and determine what products you might be attracted to so that the appropriate ads will pop up on your system.

Adware and spyware are often secretly attached to legitimate-seeming software that you might purchase or download.

The main purpose of creating adware and spyware is the potential for money and free marketing research. How much adware and spyware is out there?

Considering that this little experiment was carried out in 2005, try to imagine the growth of this activity in the last few years!

It is probable that every time you search the Internet you are inadvertently picking up some kind of adware or spyware. What should you do?

There are too many varieties of web bugs to describe them all, but you can prevent them from doing major harm to you or your system.

Most anti-virus software now comes with anti-spyware and anti-adware features. However, there are specific programs available for download from the Internet that can effectively keep your system clean and free from this garbage. However - beware - some of the products, especially free ones, may come with their own hidden adware and spyware. Make sure that you search for a reputable product that has been tested by outside sources and has been proven not to include these insidious freeloaders.

Cookies are chunks of data that a web server places on your computer's hard drive, for several reasons. The cookies store information about forms you fill out, sites that you have "registered" on, and goods you have purchased over the Internet. Cookies actually have the effect of smoothing transactions that you make on the web, and are not particularly harmful.
Delete Your Temps and Cookies:
When your search engine is open, there is a menu option called Tools. At the bottom of that menu is the choice of "Internet Options." Opening that tab will show you how to delete your temp files, as well as the "cookies" that have been placed on your system by a web server. You can also get to this menu through your Windows Control Panel, choosing the Internet option. You should do this occasionally if, for no other reason, to keep your system running smoothly.

If you have an email account, you will get Spam. Spam is a slang term for unsolicited emails, which are intended to either involve you in some kind of scheme or sell you something. Of course, it does not refer to all unsolicited emails, but generally, it is simply electronic junk mail advertising something.
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Internet Fundamentals.
Spam filter:
Almost all email programs have spam filters which help detect emails that have been sent to a mailing list or newsgroup. When you receive unwanted emails, send them to your spam file, and the filter will catch it the next time an email comes from that spammer. Right now, there is no real way to avoid receiving spam if you use the internet, so, although it is annoying, deleting it or letting your spam filter catch it may be your only remedy.
Hackers or Crackers:

are "individuals who gain unauthorized access to computer systems for the purpose of stealing and corrupting data. Hackers, themselves, maintain that the proper term for such individuals is cracker"(www.webopedia.com). Government and military agencies have spent thousands of dollars recovering and repairing their networks and security systems due to hacking. Large agencies are constantly on the lookout for breaches to their computer systems due to hacking by people whose computer skills are outstanding, and whose intentions are not good. Unless you are running a high-level organization through your computer, hacking is not necessarily a worry.

Should you be afraid to use the Internet? Absolutely not! But you should practice a great deal of care in protecting your computer's system and integrity by taking the precautions of installing protective software. The next article addresses personal safety issues.

The Dark Side- Predators, Scams , Hoaxes

We discussed the shady side of the Internet involving threats to computer systems and invasion of privacy through software programs and hackers. However, more serious threats to Internet users involve scams hoaxes and predators who prey on our vulnerabity, gullibility or youthfulness. This article deals with the truly dark side of our technological age. Although it is not necessary to avoid the Internet or be afraid of it, there are precautions to be taken, particularly with our children, to make it a safe "place" to play.

When your children are playing for hours on the Internet, it is important to know what they are doing, and with whom they are "chatting." Somewhat prevalent in chat rooms and social networks are predators who hope to get to know children through communicating with them on the Internet. Once they establish a friendship and gain the child's trust, if they are truly a predator, they may arrange to meet with the child for perverted or dangerous reasons. Children who have met with Internet friends have been kidnapped, molested, brainwashed and mistreated in other unspeakable ways. This is not to imply that there is a predator around every corner, but it is worth being very aware of what your children are up to on the web.

Adolescents can be particularly vulnerable to the dark side of the Internet. Often feeling isolated and misunderstood, there are often cult members and rescuers who want to help them overcome their unhappiness with themselves or their home lives. Young women who put out the message that they are in distress are often sought by recruiters in the sex trade.

Dating websites come with their share of hazards, as well. Never, ever agree to meet personally with someone you have just met on the Internet. In fact, unless and until you are completely positive that this person is for real, don't meet at all. If you do get to the point of wanting to meet someone, make sure you

-take along a friend, and tell someone where you are going,

-meet in the daytime for coffee only, and

-do this several times before ever going on a nighttime date.

We all want to think that we can trust our intuition regarding our judgment of others, but people who are ill or deviant can be extremely convincing. There are, of course, horror stories that do not need to be told here. Just be smart!

People sometimes use the Internet to harass or terrorize others. In addition, social networks have been breeding grounds for what resembles gang activities, ganging up on one vulnerable person and ridiculing the victim, even to the point of suicide. Cyberstalkers have also been known to claim that their victim is harassing them as a way to avoid prosecution. Never allow yourself to get too involved with people you do not know, especially if you feel vulnerable. And, certainly, always monitor your childrens' actions on the web.

Clubs and Bad Apples:

There are sites and online groups on the Internet that encourage and instruct people on ways to commit suicide. There are those who explain how to make a bomb, how to buy a fake license or degree, how to make poisons, cheat, or commit the perfect crime. The dark side of freedom is that there is danger for those who are not discerning. If your child is depressed or angry, take special note of his Internet activities, just to be safe.

Parental Control Software:
Most Internet Service Providers offer the option to parents of blocking undesirable material, including pornography, foul language and violence. However, it does not block everything, and does not preclude a watchful eye over children using the Internet. Never assume that these things could not happen to your child.


One of the Internet's most commonly known hoaxes is called "419 fraud," and involves offers of a large commission to the receiver in exchange for your help in getting money out of Nigeria or other African nations (Bocij p. 211 ). This scheme is so elaborate that the perpetrators provide telephone numbers in the Netherlands of their attorneys and photos of wealthy "victims" in Africa who are somehow being prevented from getting their money.

Email Hoax:
One of the most detested email hoaxes involves pleas for help for a dying child. These can be quite convincing, and the perpetrators are often able to collect thousands of dollars from sympathetic users before they suddenly disappear.

A milder, less destructive email hoax is the chain email, which promises large sums of money only if you do not break the chain, which requires you to forward the email on to many others. Know that this is only a convenient way of gathering information - delete it!

An annoying email hoax is the sappy message of kindness or good wishes that threaten to turn your luck if you do not forward them to a certain number of people within a certain span of time.

Other hoaxes involve identity theft, where confidential financial information is sold to those who steal credit and debit card account numbers and spend money that does not belong to them. We discussed earlier the kinds of spyware that can gather information from your computer, as well. Always be cautious when providing information over the Internet. It is a good idea to have one credit card that you use for Internet purchases; try to find one that protects you from fraud, and limit its use to the Internet.

The recently prosecuted Ponzi scheme is one that is carried out on the Internet every day. A Ponzi scheme is one that takes money from new investors and uses it to pay older investors at high rates of interest. Beware of sites encouraging you to invest.

This is a short description of some of the darker aspects of the Internet. Fortunately, they can all be avoided, and they don't stop millions of people from using the Internet every day for constructive purposes. So, jump in, and enjoy the freedom to connect with the world.


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