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Internet Safety

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He doesn't wear a stocking mask over his face, and he doesn't break a window to get into your house. He doesn't hold a gun to your head, nor does he ransack your personal possessions. Just the same he's a thief. Although this thief is one you'll not only never see,but you may not even realize right away that he's robbed you. The thief is a computer hacker and he "enters" your home via your computer, accessing personal information -- such as credit card numbers which he could then use without your knowledge at least until you get that next credit card statement. RichardBernes, supervisor of the FBI's Hi-Tech

squad in San Jose, California, calls the Internet "the unlocked window in cyberspace through which thieves crawl" (Erickson 1). There seems to be an unlimited potential for theft of credit card numbers, bank statements and other financial and personal information transmitted over the Internet.

It's hard to imagine that anyone in today's technologically oriented world could function without computers. Personal computers are linked to business computers and financial networks, and all are linked together via the Internet or other networks. More than a hundred million electronic messages travel through cyberspace every day, and every piece of information stored in a computer is vulnerable to attack (Icove-Seger-VonStorch 1). Yesterday's bank robbers have become today's computer hackers. They can walk away from a computer crime with millions of virtual dollars (in the form of information they can use or sell for an enormous profit). Walking away is precisely what they do. The National Computer Crimes Squad estimates that 85-97 % of the time, theft of information from computers is not even detected (Icove-Seger-VonStorch 1). Home computer users are vulnerable, not only for credit card information and login IDs, but also their files, disks, and other computer equipment and data, which are subject to attack. Even if this information is not confidential, having to reconstruct what has been destroyed by a hacker can take days (Icove-Seger-VonStorch 1). William Cheswick, a network-security specialist at AT&T Bell Labs, says the home computers that use the Internet are singularly vulnerable to attack. "The Internet is like a vault with a screen door on the back," says Cheswick. "I don't need jackhammers and atom bombs to get in when I can walk in through the door" (Quittner 44). The use of the Internet has become one of the most popular ways to communicate. It's easy, fun, and you don't have to leave your home to do it. For example, the advantage of not having to take the time to drive to the bank is so great that they never consider the fact that the information they store or transmit might not be safe. Many computer security professionals continue to speak out on how the lack of Internet security will result in a significant increase in computer fraud, and easier access to information previously considered private and confidential (Regan 26).

Gregory Regan, writing for Credit World, says that only certain types of tasks and features can be performed securely. Electronic banking is not one of them. "I would not recommend performing commercial business transactions," he advises "or sending confidential information across networks attached to the Internet" (26). In the business world, computer security can be just as easily compromised. More than a third of major U.S. corporations reported doing business over the Internet up from 26 percent a year ago but a quarter of them say they've suffered attempted break-ins and losses, either in stolen data or cash (Denning 08A). Dr. Gregory E. Shannon, president of InfoStructure Services and Technologies Inc., says the need to improve computer security is essential. There are newly released computer tools intended to help keep the security of your PC information, but which can just as easily be accessed by computer hackers, as this information will be released as freeware (available, and free, to anyone) on the Internet (Cambridge 1). These freely distributed tools could make it far easier for hackers to break into systems. Presently, if a hacker is trying to break into a system, he has to keep probing a network for weaknesses. Before long, hackers will be able to point one of these freeware tools at a network and let it automatically probe for security holes, without any interaction from themselves (Cambridge 1). Hackers, it seems, have no trouble staying ahead of the computer security experts. Online service providers, such as America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy, are effective in providing additional protection for computer information. First of all, you need to use a "secret password" a customer ID that is typed in when you log on to the network. Then you can only send information, and retrieve your own e-mail, through your own user access. Sometimes the service itself is even locked out of certain information. CompuServe, for example, with its 800 plus private bulletin boards, can't even read what's on them without gaining prior permission from the company paying for the service (Flanagan 34). Perhaps in an attempt to show how secure they are, these information services will give out very little information about security itself. They all take measures to protect private information, and give frequent warnings to new users about the danger in giving out a password, but there is also danger in

making the service easy to use for the general public anything that is made easy enough for the novice computer user would not present much of a challenge for a computer hacker. Still, there is a certain amount of protection in using a service provider doing so is roughly equivalent to locking what might be an open door (Flanagan 34).

The latest weak spot that has been discovered is a flaw in the World Wide Web. The Web is the fastest-growing zone within the Internet, the area where most home computer user's travel, as it's attractive and easy to use.



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