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.
"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 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.
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.
Hackers 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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