Saturday, July 09, 2005

Dealing with Internet Curses

There are lots of threats to individuals today, some of which were not dreamed of 50 years ago. Yes, we still have our traditional crimes of violence, like armed robbery, as well as threats from those who take a more clandestine approach to relieving us of our goods like the burglars and embezzlers.

Add to that the terrorists. They don’t need to strike often. As their title suggests, their job is to strike terror. They want us to live in fear. They control us that way. And an occasional terrorist strike is usually all it takes.

But we are often assaulted on another front today. The assaults are certainly less menacing than terrorist activity, or even armed robbery. But they still can result in everything from simple annoyances to wiped out bank accounts.

Internet crimes are becoming much more prevalent as more and more people become wired. And I use the term “crime” loosely here, because some of the perpetrators are not technically breaking any laws. Their lawyers see to that.

Let’s start with the simply menacing activity. Recent studies have shown that more than half of all Internet users who have computers at home or work are bothered by what is generally termed spyware or adware.

Adware is a concept that allows software developers to give away their programs to computer users because they contain built-in ads. If you are willing to put up with a banner ad or two, you get to use the software for free.

The trouble is, some of the more unscrupulous programmers also build in code that causes the ads to pop up at any time, no matter what program you’re running. It is not only quite annoying; it can cut into your productivity by slowing down your computer.

Spyware is similar to adware except that it also traces your computer activity and then sends that information to the company who developed it. Every keystroke you take or every Web page you visit is recorded and sent to some company who uses that information to tailor even more ads to your personal habits.

In 1999 a TV movie was produced called Netforce. It starred Kris Kristoferson and Scott Bakula as agents in a division of the FBI, the Netforce division. It was charged with preventing Internet crime. The movie was set in 2005 when everything literally depended on the Internet.

The plot twist was that the person who was in charge of developing Netforce, its leader, was ultimately responsible for trying to bring the whole Internet down because it had become too sleazy.

The Internet certainly has its sleazy side, but it has become like the television. You might be able to live without it, but you are loathe to give it up. To some people, it’s become as important a part of their lives as their automobiles. They utterly depend on it.

I am one of those people. I use it for not only communicating, keeping informed, and playing; I also use it to earn part of my income. If the Internet suddenly went away, it would create a severe hardship for me and others like me.

It is also a tremendous labor-saving device and convenience tool. I use it to pay all my bills, balance my bank account, buy Christmas presents, and download most of my music. It is as much a part of my life today as the pencil used to be.

But between all the computer viruses, e-mail spam, adware, spyware, and now phishing scams, one has to stay on their toes to prevent chaos or disaster.

Phishing is the e-mail device whereby unscrupulous spammers try to gain access to your bank accounts by sending e-mail messages claiming that your account is in danger of being closed unless you confirm your personal information, such as account numbers and passwords.

The e-mail messages look so authentic that it’s easy to fall into the trap. It has already claimed many unsuspecting victims who have had their accounts wiped out.

The Internet is here to stay. It is a vital and necessary part of the world economy. But, like the brick and mortar world, the cyberworld is full of criminals and deceitful individuals who are always coming up with new and innovative ways to part you from your money.

Let the surfer beware.

No comments: