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August 27, 2004
Here's the lineup for this last full week of August:
- Family Tech: PC back-ups increasingly important
- Web News Briefs: Self-published child porn; 'Don't talk to strangers' doesn't work; IM-ers get 'spim'; Music's future; P2P deterrents, incentives; Online safety - filters or laws?; Oz students' alleged hate site; Anti-P2P momentum; Beware strange site; Cell-phone scatter-brains....
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Family Tech: Back up that PC (regularly)!
- New worms, viruses, and malicious Web pages emerging all the time
- Kids (and parents) innocently downloading them while surfing, IM-ing, or opening attachments, and
- Hackers constantly finding new flaws in Windows, game software, etc.
...backing up our family PCs has never been more important. Yet, because we're all so busy, it never seems important until the PC gets infected or the hard drive crashes. When those things happen, though, we can never believe how much we wish we'd saved all those tax records, family photos, tunes, letters, and email addresses.
Say you've just returned from a wonderful family trip, put all the photos on your PC, erased your digital camera's card, and suddenly the hard drive implodes. Does that example from Ted Werth, dad and CEO of family-tech-support company PlumChoice, drive home how much we need to back up? Or the IRS audit man decided to take up residence at your dining room table, and all your tax records were in Quicken on the PC that just got infected with a killer worm.
Fortunately, backing up is easy, once we've actually decided to do it, and can be completely mindless after the first set-up (which simply requires picking the folders on the hard drive that need the back-ups). I use an online back-up service, which automates the process (every night between about 1 and 6 am).
"The most common approach today is to back up the critical data files to a [writable] CD," Ted told me. "I recommend backing up every other week if you have a reasonable amount of data changes or additions," e.g., new photos or revised resumes. Backing up to a CD can be automated by software like BackUpMyPC or Norton Ghost). "Each back-up should be carefully labeled and kept in a safe location," Ted continues.
"If you have important data and cannot bring yourself to be disciplined about the CD back-ups, the next best approach is the online back-up solution." An example is Backup.com (see Google for more such services). It's easy: Once you establish an account (price proportionate to the space your files require), you tell the service what files to back up and then schedule the back-ups.
Referring to new options that have become available, Ted said, "I think that products like coreRESTORE [data security hardware] and those from Mirra [personal servers] are overkill for almost any home," but might make sense for small or home businesses. With these, the back-up is continuous - the data is mirrored on another hard drive or server in case your main hard drive fails. The upside: rapid recovery. The downside: viruses and other file corruptions are mirrored too. Plus, these options are more expensive.
For a second opinion, here are Washington Post techie Brian Krebs's four options, though he doesn't mention the online one, one of the more mindless ones that is really worth considering.
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Web News Briefs
- Self-published child porn
The term is chilling, but it's happening and parents need to know about it: teens sending their peers sexually explicit images of themselves and later finding them widely distributed on the Net. An example cited in the New York Times this week: an 8th-grade girl in the Bronx sending "a digital video of herself masturbating to a male classmate on whom she had a crush." The video "quickly appeared on a file-sharing network that teenagers use to trade music. Hundreds of New York private school students saw the video, in which the girl's face is clearly visible." But we all know this, right?: It doesn't stop with hundreds of local students. On file-sharing networks the video becomes "available to a worldwide audience of millions." It's downloaded onto those file-sharers' computer hard drives, to be shared whenever requested by other P2P network users around the world. It cannot be removed from the Net. Teens may already be aware of scary incidents like this. We hope. But it's unlikely they're telling their parents. So you heard it here and in the New York Times, if you read far enough down in Amy Harmon's thorough article on the growing cyber-bullying problem. Greater public awareness is needed, and experts are working on information for parents dealing with problems like this. I'll keep you posted on what's emerging. Meanwhile, if anyone you know has been confronted with situations like the ones in Amy's article, email me anytime (via firstname.lastname@example.org). What they've learned may be helpful to other parents and teenagers.
- 'Don't talk to strangers' doesn't work
What parents hear about the unthinkable - online child molestation - is not really accurate. A new study paints a very different picture from "predators who impersonate peers to befriend children and lure them into encounters that end in abduction, rape and murder," according to a study done for the American Psychological Association. The study, by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, found that "most offenders did not deceive victims about the fact that they were adults interested in sexual relationships"; "the victims, primarily teens 13-15, met and had sex with the adults on more than one occasion"; "half of the victims were described as being in love with or feeling close bonds with the offenders"; "few offenders abducted or used force to sexually abuse their victims." In other words, these young people who are curious, fearless, and naive think their abusers are friends and - because of the Internet's anonymity - they often get too far in an online relationship to back down before the abuse occurs. Or they are "sexually liberated" and have decided they don't care. For more on this research and working with online kids, see my interview with Janis Wolak, one of the study's researchers and a Net-literate mom herself, covered in last June's "Rethinking 'stranger danger'," Part 1 and Part 2.
- IM-ers get 'spim'
More than 580 billion instant messages were sent last year. An estimated 400 million of them were "spim" (the IM version of spam, or unsolicited junk mail). This year the spim figures is expected to be 1.2 billion, according to research cited by the BBC. Instant-messaging is very easy for its senders and believed to be more effective and more lucrative than spam because there's a higher expectation (or gullibility) among receivers that the message can be trusted. Which is why "there are fears that some people may be taken in by the spim messages because they think they are being directed to certain Websites by people they know." This might be of concern to parents concerned about kids' exposure to porn. The good news is that there's an extra step with IM. Whereas an email can contain graphic images, with IM, a receiver has to click to the sexually explicit Web page. A BBC source recommends three tips, and we would add a fourth: Don't accept messages from strangers; don't download attachments from strangers; and keep all your PC security software up-to-date (anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, and Microsoft updates). Parents might also want to go through IM Preferences with their kids, weed strangers out of Buddy Lists and block anyone not on it. For details, see "IM Risks & Tips" from a dad and PC security company CEO in the 1/16 issue.
- What music's coming to?
Apple's iTunes is just about to have a new 800-pound gorilla of a competitor, and it may be sign of things to come for music fans in every household. "Microsoft plans to quietly launch the MSN online music store with the new version of its Windows Media 10 player," the San Jose Mercury News reports. Some 130 million PC owners will be introduced to the store, MS says, when they're prompted to update their media player software. "That's not counting the 300 million people who drop by the MSN site. The software giant also touts the music store's compatibility with nearly 60 digital music players. Not included in the list is Apple's popular iPod." The Windows Media system will use MS's new "Janus" digital rights management (DRM) technology, and it's Janus that gives us a window on what consuming music could be like in the future. In a commentary, The Register suggests Janus is all about control. "Janus was the Roman god of doors, and had two faces.... Janus here faces two ways, smiling warmly and solicitously at the content owners and vendors, and somewhat less convincingly at the consumer." On the one hand, Janus is designed to make the music subscription services like Napster work better with people's MP3 players (to the music industry, that probably spells less use of the free file-sharing services).
On the other hand, it also potentially reduces music fans' freedom. "Imagine," The Register continues, "a world where the flexibility of being able to buy a CD then play it where you like had been finally stamped out, where it was becoming 'illegitimate' to let your friends hear stuff you think they might be interested in, and where 'home taping' was getting progressively harder. And imagine a world where there was no online equivalent of the 'buy, rip, play where you like' model that's currently available to you. And sure, in that world people won't be able to grab whatever they want without paying for it from file-sharing networks.... It enables a New World Order where the content companies can impose a significantly more restrictive regime on consumers without negotiation." There are alternatives, The Register points out in a footnote worth noting.
- P2P deterrents, incentives
University students are probably among the 744 file-sharers targeted in this latest round from the RIAA, and universities are working on ways to keep them out of the fray. In addition to the 744, the RIAA (record company trade assoc.) is also suing 152 who have declined to settle out of court, The Register reports, making the total 896 and the grand total around 4,000. Meanwhile, more than 20 US colleges and universities are now providing legal music-downloading services and some two dozen more have deals with Napster and other providers in the works, reports Wired News, citing a just-released report from a coalition of universities and entertainment companies. And not only record companies are happy. Free downloading has become an attraction students look for in choosing schools, USAToday reports. "Penn State struck the first deal with Napster in January. The trial program was so successful that many other schools took notice. Now, when students return to school ... they'll find free, legal digital music as the latest amenity, alongside cable TV and campus concerts." Hmm, then there's the academic part!
- Online safety: Filters or laws?
Now that the Internet's "the gateway to both the richest and the raunchiest of human expression," is legislation or filtering a better way to protect children? This Scripps Howard article does a good job of framing the debate that has tied US courts up in knots for years. The bottom line for parents is that - though filtering is undeniably flawed - it's better than nothing *if* you need a little help in keeping kids from seeking out the worst of the Web (if they obey a family rule to use only filtered search engines, they're not very likely to stumble on it - see "Searching with 'Mamma'" for safe-search examples). And for filtering software options and views, see "NetNanny failed" and the April 9 issue.
- Oz students' alleged hate site
It's every school's nightmare these days: a hate site published by students about their teachers. A state education department in Australia will be investigating issues surrounding a site that "called for teachers to be executed, burnt or sent to 'Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. 'It also called some teachers 'child molesters'," Australian IT reports. The site, alleged to have been created by high school students, was online for about three days in July before it was shut down. The New South Wales Education Department will review the suburban Sydney school's operations, its management, academic results, student welfare, inappropriate use of the Internet, and discipline.
- Anti-P2P momentum
The entertainment industry's anti-file-sharing effort is gaining support in government. In addition to RIAA lawsuits and colleges' incentives (see "P2P deterrents, incentives" above), there is increasing activity on Capitol Hill and in the Justice Department (DOJ). First, there's the INDUCE Act, introduced this summer by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont. Its passage was thought inprobable just a short time ago, but now the legislation has nine co-sponsors from both parties, Wired News reports, among them "two of Congress' most influential members: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) of Tennessee and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota." Then there's the DOJ's summer crackdown on massive distribution of videos, music, and software via peer-to-peer networks, covered in the Washington Post) and many other media outlets. File-sharing was only part of the DOJ's "largest dragnet yet" against "cyber criminals," including "spammers, so-called 'phishers' and other Internet con artists," the Post reports in another article.
- Beware strange site
It could look like a game to a child. So parents need to be aware of this new "drag-and-drop" security flaw in Windows XP that even the giant new security patch, SP2, doesn't take care of. What kids should be alert to is any effort (such as an email) to get them to go to a strange-looking Web page with two lines and an image. The page might tell the visitor to drag the picture across the two lines and drop it, CNET reports. What's actually happening then, security experts told CNET, is a malicious program being dragged into a folder on your PC. Next time you restart the computer, the program runs and takes over the computer. Secunia, the PC security company that discovered the flaw, said the program could be simplified to require a single click, not even the drag-and-drop exercise. All your kids need to know is not to go to a Web site that someone they don't know has told them to visit, and certainly not to play around on it. It's best not to open spam at all, much less click to the Web from it. And tell them to be careful about going to Web sites from instant messages too. Also, just keep your Windows security up-to-date at this page. Microsoft surely will issue a patch for this "vulnerability." Secunia has given this flaw a "highly critical" rating.
- Help for family laptop shoppers
Shopping for a family or student laptop? There's help in the Washington Post's "2004 Laptop Guide." Interestingly, Apple's iBook G4 won in the price department and got the silver medal for weight (beaten by Gateway's 200X by just 0.6 of a pound). Do I sound like I've been watching the Olympics a lot? Seriously, I always thought of Apples as pricey, compared to PCs, so this was pleasant news (my family is agnostic - we have both an iBook and a couple of PCs and like them all). The iBook's a little light on memory, but long on battery life. Five laptops were compared by the Post's Rob Pegararo, and Rob is good about factoring in family (not just workplace) interests, so this guide's worth a look if you're in the market.
- Cell-phone scatter-brains
"We were celebrating summer freedom from school," writes a parent and psychology professor commenting in the Christian Science Monitor. "The kids rode waves for hours, skim-boarded on the beach, played football, and hiked the rock cliffs to watch the sunset. Another mom and I organized a cookout just after dark. What could be better? Well, apparently something could be. Our trip was constantly punctuated by outgoing cellphone calls. At all times, at least one of the 10 boys was on his cellphone.... The boys were calling friends elsewhere just to see 'what's happening'." It's happening in schools too. The New York Times calls it "gadget distraction" in an article about how teachers are dealing with kids' gadget multitasking in school, where creative teachers are fighting tech with tech (or distraction with distraction). For example, teacher-designed computer games, threats of reboots (students lose their work if they drift off into IM-ing), online work groups, stealth (classroom monitors walking around, looking at students' screens), network management (taking over kids' computers whenever needed), and creative seating configuration. But back on the beach, a thoughtful mom's observation about digital multitasking gives pause to fellow parents: "The appearance of obsessive busyness seems ironically linked to ultimate emptiness."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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