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Comments on the MySpace controversy

In this issue:

2) MySpace
3) Yours truly becomes a statistic
4) Computer virus watch.

First this month, I need to apologize to my subscribers for being Missing In Action for so long. A few months ago I noticed I was receiving thousands of undeliverable email, mostly those sent to AOL account holders. It wasn’t until I had begun cleaning my list of “bad addresses” that I made the connection I had not been getting those returns until I had made the move to C I Host for web hosting. It’s not entirely their fault, though. C I Host’s overly cautious approach to domain registration combined with AOL’s overzealous spam filtering was causing AOL to reject email originating from the SurfSafely.com server. This is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions simply because we are being BURIED in spam and the ISP’s simply don’t know any other way to deal with the problem (Keep reading and I will show you how you can help solve the problem, for yourselves and for your ISP’s).

These last few months for me have been spent scraping together bits and pieces of as much of my list as I can find. If I have inadvertently lost anyone I can only hope that they will notice the flow has stopped and resubscribe. Please help me to rebuild this list by forwarding this newsletter to your friends and family, encouraging them to subscribe as well.

There’s a lot more to discuss so let’s get right to it!

MySpace

There has been a great deal of media attention focused on MySpace.com and related community sites lately. I’d like to share with you a few of my thoughts on the topic.

As with most hot topics that the media latches onto for their ratings, there are two sides to every story, each with their piece of the truth, and somewhere in the middle, the whole truth.

It is true that these sites have probably not done as good of a job as they could in safeguarding the community members who they are supposed to be serving. In a perfect world they wouldn’t have to but this is not a perfect world. Naiveté, both on the part of the creators and the users, has paved the way for predators to exploit these online communities like meat markets. Even I, a male in his mid-forties, have a MySpace membership that I was able to acquire simply by having a valid email address to confirm the subscription with. I could have just as easily subscribed with a difficult to trace, one-use disposable email address and vanished into thin air. I can use my membership to log on with and peruse the profiles of my children, their friends and any others I care to browse. I too was horrified by the vast amounts of personally identifiable information children are posting in full public view. They have no idea of the vulnerable position they put themselves into by doing so. My sympathies go out to families that have been tragically impacted by their children being victimized through online community memberships.

It is also true that the media has made MySpace their ‘Whipping boy’ simply by virtue of it’s popularity. There are dozens if not hundreds more less popular community sites that lend themselves to all the same dangers. Unless you’ve studied the intricacies of building an online community and attempted to insulate it from those with less-than-honorable intentions, you have no idea how immense and expensive of a task it is to regulate. This is the sole reason I have never attempted to build a community site for children at SurfSafely.com. As recent history has revealed, there’s just too much that can go very, very wrong. For this my sympathies also go out to MySpace.

Despite all of this, online community sites will continue to spring up and some will flourish as MySpace did. Why? Because of the human desire for interaction, connecting with others of similar interests, or just killing time with friends. That’s what kids do. That’s what adults do too.

Now, does any of this ring a familiar bell? Who among you remembers the days of AOL Chatrooms and Buddy Profiles? Was it so long ago that we’ve forgotten the lessons learned during that time? Whose responsibility is it to protect our children in this environment? The online community? Parents? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? It is the responsibility of BOTH parties.

As expensive and time consuming a task as it is, online communities must do a better job of screening and protecting it’s members, from others and from themselves. Member posted information must be screened for and filtered of personal information by human editors. There is no substitute. The dangers of becoming a member and the practices that will keep them safe must be made much more prevalent, even at the expense of scaring some away. I believe community sites shy away from this because their desire is to build up, not tear down the community.

And, while my view on this may be unpopular with some, once again, parents must assume their portion of the responsibility and take an ACTIVE ROLE in their children’s lives! I know it’s a tough job but someone has to do it. Take off for a bike ride as an entire family. Go for a walk together. Play a board popular game. Play tennis at your local public court. Be interested in their activities. Get to know their friends, online and offline. You don’t have to be an expert to recognize the danger signals. If you stay close enough to your children the signals will stand out on their own.

It is a universal truth that if parents don’t take the responsibility of being more than just a gene donor, clothier, restaurant and provider of shelter, someone else will. It’s time to take a step back from our busy lives and take stock in what’s really important – Family.

Have you hugged your child today?

Back to top.

 


Yours truly becomes a statistic

Yes, it’s true. Today I joined the ranks of debit card fraud victims. CRN, not too long ago, reported on a database security breach that immediately became the single largest theft of debit card information the world has ever seen. In the article it was stated that Office Max may have been to blame for careless handling of their debit card transaction terminals, improper storage of user’s PIN’s and inadequate security for this unauthorized stored information. Naturally Office Max categorically denied all of the allegations. And, quite frankly, it did seem to me at the time like the media may have been looking for a scapegoat to validate their story.

Today I received a phone call from the “fraud prevention” department of my bank. “Damage control” might be a better name for it. Seems my debit card was used at a bank in South African to make large withdrawals from that account. Only problem is my debit card was in my wallet and I was certainly nowhere near South Africa!

Now, I very rarely use my debit cards to make purchases and almost never from an ATM. When I do purchase with them I usually use them as credit cards, meaning I use a signature rather than a PIN keypad to validate the purchase. And so began my search through bank statements to find where and when I may have used that card AS a debit card and entered my PIN to complete a purchase. Wouldn’t you just know it? Office Max is one of the only places I used that card to make a debit card purchase back in December of 2005. How likely do you suppose this to be just a coincidence?

Obviously I am not responsible for the loss and will be reimbursed by my bank. But I still must now go through the hassle of driving to a branch location and making a formal request to do so. It’s a pain and is a part of the soaring cost of doing business in this way. Not only will I never do business with Office Max again as long as I live but the thousands of my online safety newsletter subscribers, my Attorney General and maybe even the news media will learn of my induction into this ever growing club. A formal press release is also not out of the question.

So what’s a consumer to do? Same as always. Live life. Take your chances. Lick your own wounds once in a while. The alternative is to withdraw from society and become a hermit. Thanks but no thanks. I’ll just live my life and watch as the story unfolds.



Computer virus watch.

Recently there were hacker exploits via Anti-Virus software designed to “keep us safer” and copyright software installed simply by playing an audio CD produced by Sony on a computer CDROM player. Now we have news of HP Printer software being exploited. Clearly, no one is ever 100% secure 100% of the time. Fortunately the odds are still slim that you will ever be affected. HP’s problem affects the Toolbox software included with only two printers, the Color LaserJet 2500 and Color LaserJet 4600. HP as already issued an advisory and a patch for affected users.

It’s also worth noting that, while antivirus software is still very much a necessity, spyware is clearly the new frontier for online criminals. Rather than just disabling and crippling computers with a virus, spyware has proven much more lucrative, delivering the highest rate of return in the shortest imaginable time. Please be as dilagent at keeping your spyware software as up to date as your Avti-virus software.

AV (mostly free manual updates)
====================
Mcafee updates
F-Secure updates
PC-cillin updates
Norton updates (no longer free but back on the list anyway)

SPYWARE
====================
XCleanerFree
SpywareBlaster ***NEW***, recently upgraded from v3.4 to v3.51 (Download here, update from within the program itself)
SpywareGuard (Download here, update from within the program itself)
Spybot Search & Destroy (Download here, update from within the program itself)

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