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Bad stuff. (Downside).

Unfortunately, the Internet is not without sins. More precisely, it's not the Internet that's the problem it's the dysfunctional folk out there who get their jollies by making mischief on it.

These are the people who write programs called viruses, worms, trojans, and other assorted nasties. They are designed to lodge on a victim's computer hard drive and then to destroy the data stored on it. Most of these destructive programs piggyback onto e-mails. Once in someone's e-mail software, the virus copies the contents of the address book and then sends itself to all the names it finds there. In this way, hundreds of thousands of computers can be infected in a very short space of time. Some viruses lie dormant for months while spreading deeper into the Internet. Their destruction of hard-drive data is then triggered by each computer's internal clock.

The people who design these infections are exploiting the characteristic of the Internet that makes it relatively bomb proof. It's impossible to sever all the connections by dropping explosives on them, but the system can be corrupted from within. Precisely because of all its multitude of interconnections, bad news in the form of viruses can travel fast.

A worm called "Nimda" got loose in September 2001 and created aggravation for many, including crashing the government of New Brunswick's Website. Before that, it was "Code Red" that caused all the trouble in July 2001. It gummed up some local networks by flooding the system's capacity with messages. The "Love Bug" of May 2000 deleted image and music files and copied passwords to a computer in the Philippines. These were preceded by the Melissa, Chernobyl, and Bubbleboy viruses among others.

Another concern for many people is the possibility of stumbling onto offensive Websites. The problem sites fall into two main categories; those that carry sexually explicit material and those that promote hatred against certain races, religions, or other minorities.

But, there are other Websites to be concerned about. Some promote drug use, others give details on how to make bombs, and there are some sites that are run by rip-off merchants who promise products or services that are never delivered. And, a growing number of Websites contain violently graphic images that most people who visit them by accident would find disturbing.

And, a technique called mousetrapping" has been causing trouble. The people who pull this scam register slightly misspelled domain names of popular Websites. In October 2001, John Zuccarini of Pennsylvania, for example, was accused of registering 41 spelling variations of the name of pop star Britney Spears. Surfers looking for her Website who entered the wrong spelling would be zipped to one of Mr. Zuccarini's sites. Mousetrap software then locks the surfer into that site and bombards them with page after page of advertising, for everything from online gambling to hard-core pornography.

It is almost impossible to escape from a mousetrapping site once caught; clicking the "Back" button just releases another blizzard of ads.

A recent estimate says that about two percent of Websites contain X-rated material. That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you consider there were approximately 25 million Websites up and running at the start of October 2001; that means there were more than half a million pornographic sites. And, they can be stumbled onto quite innocently. Some companies scoop up Web domain names that their original owners have not re-registered and redirect traffic to porn sites. Even a search engine query for "Bambi," "brandy," or "Teens" can deliver some sexually explicit hits.

Then, there are the hate groups.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, there are now some 5,000 hate-promoting Websites. Some of them disguise their true purpose with an innocent-sounding name (World Church of the Creator, e.g.), or try to portray themselves as serious research institutes. But, a surfer doesn't have to get far into the site before the twisted ideology starts to come through.

The problem of offensive material mainly exists with home Internet connections. Most schools and libraries use filters to block objectionable material from their screens. This is done quite simply by installing software that detects certain words, phrases, or images that are most likely to appear on porn or hate sites. When these words are detected, the site is locked out.

However, according to a recent survey by Jupiter Research in the U.S., only six percent of homes use standalone filtering software. And, some of the software works as a very blunt instrument.

For example, in 1999 Dr. Jamie McKenzie, publisher of an online journal about educational technology, found his site blocked by a major filtering product. Users were warned that Dr. McKenzie's site was in the "sexually explicit" category because it contained a file named adult.html.

There is a Website ratings system, but it's voluntary. It's run by the Internet Contents Ratings Association (ICRA), but it relies on the cooperation of Website owners.

The ICRA system recently expanded its labelling to include drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and weapons, plus the context in which words appear. This should not be the only blocking system used, because the owners of many sexually explicit sites don't rate themselves. And, setting a browser to block all unrated sites would screen off huge quantities of legitimate and useful Websites.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser can filter sites using these labels, including the expanded ICRA labelling. (It's listed as "content advisor" under Internet Options in the Explorer menu.)

Recently, Consumer Reports examined a number of filters with less than satisfactory results. Systems were tested against a total of 80 questionable Web sites. "AOL's Young Teen control," the magazine reported in March 2001, "the best by far, allowed only one site through in its entirety, along with portions of about 20 other sites. All the other filters allowed at least 20% of the sites through in their entirety. Net Nanny displayed parts of more than a dozen sites, often with forbidden words [deleted] but graphic images intact."

Some filters actually blocked the good stuff, largely because they key in on words without considering their context. Consumer Reports tested the software against 53 reputable Websites and wrote that: "While most blocked only a few sites, Cybersitter 2000 and Internet Guard Dog blocked nearly one in five. AOL's Young Teen control blocked 63% of the sites."

There are Websites that give instructions on how to by-pass filters. The people who construct these sites are among those who are fascinated by the challenge of pulling off "cyber break-ins," and creating electronic mayhem. In the world of the Internet they are called hackers.

A lot of hackers are based in Taiwan where a legendary figure going by the name of "Coolfire" trained a whole bunch of followers in his craft. Hackers give themselves cybernames so as to avoid detection; within the Chinese hacking community Yuange, Frankie, Netcc, Glacier, and others all picked up their skills from Coolfire.

In 1998, people of Chinese ancestry in Indonesia were the targets of physical attacks. When the government in Beijing failed to respond, the hackers went into action. They attacked and shut down many Indonesian Websites. Four of the hackers joined forces to create a group called The Green Brigade. In April 2001, they attacked American Websites, which prompted a counterattack from U.S. hackers the next day. The American hackers operate under the title of Poizonbox, and the two sides were still going at it in the fall of 2001.

Meanwhile, in Russia, Arvi the Hacker is teaching his followers at The Civil Hackers' School in Moscow. They say they are the good guys who conduct a cyberwar against viruses, hack attacks, and computer crime. Maybe, maybe not. One thing that is known for sure is that Russia is the source of many spectacular hacking escapades. Russian hackers are believed to have:

[] Stolen Microsoft's highly secret source codes for the latest version of Windows;

[] Ransacked the Pentagon's computer system;

[] Hacked into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Websites;

[] Posted thousands of credit-card numbers on the Web; and,

[] Removed millions of dollars from Western banks.

Experts say the collapse of Russia's economy, a general atmosphere of lawlessness, and a national focus on mathematics education has created a fertile environment for hackers to prosper.

The first time the world heard about Russian hackers was in 1994. That's when a young mathematician named Vladimir Levin hacked into the computers at Citibank in the United States. He took $12 million U.S. out of the bank and put it into the accounts of friends around the world.

Websites

Civil Hackers' School http://www.hscool.org/

Hoaxbusters - http://hoaxbusters.ciac. org/HoaxBustersHome.html

Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness http://www.epc-pcc.gc.ca/

Security News Portal - http://www. securitynewsportal.com/index.php

Some Internet Swindles Exposed - http:// www.gullible.org/

Urban Legend Reference Pages - http:// www.snopes2.com/

RELATED ARTICLE: World trade center hoaxes.

WHENEVER a major event takes place, stories begin circulating on the Internet -- some are true, most are not. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City have generated many false stories in cyberspace. One is that the mystic Nostradamus predicted the event in 1654. The originator of the story quotes Nostradamus as having written: "In the City of God there will be a great thunder, two brothers torn apart by chaos, while the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb. The third big war will begin when the big city is burning on the 11th day of the ninth month that ... two metal birds would crash into two tall statues in the new city and the world will end soon after."

If you search the prophecies of Nostradamus, you won't find any of the text from this hoax nor anything close to it. There is a widely circulated yarn about a man who miraculously "surfed" down from the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center as it collapsed and walked away from the rubble. There is no credible evidence that anyone survived a fall from that height.

Others chose to try to make money from the tragedy by putting bogus fundraising e-mails out by the tens of thousands. And, several faked photographs were making the rounds after the September 11 disaster.

RELATED ARTICLE: Birth of a virus.

THE ROOTS of the modern computer virus go back to 1949, when computer pioneer John von Neumann presented a paper on the Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata. Mr. Von Neumann raised the possibility that a computer program might be able to reproduce itself. Bell Labs employees gave life to von Neumann's theory in the 1950s in a game they called "Core Wars." In this game, two programmers would unleash software "organisms" and watch as they vied for control of the computer. The perception of viruses took a dramatic turn in late 1988, when a college student named Robert T. Morris unleashed the infamous "Internet Worm." (some trivia: Morris's father had a hand in the original Core Wars games.)
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Title Annotation:offences against the Internet
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Words:1830
Previous Article:Connections to connections. (Effects).
Next Article:CyberSchool. (Education).
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