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March 21, 2003

Dear Subscribers:

As many of you know, there's a lot of help on the Web for parents and educators who are helping children work through concerns about war - below we suggest a few high-quality resources for this difficult week and beyond.

Also this week we'd like to get your thinking on the question below from a subscriber about the online social life of teenagers. We'd like to benefit everybody on this list by publishing your answers, so do email us - via Here's our lineup for this third week of March:

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Talking with kids about war: Valuable Web resources

Most probably top of mind for parents in many parts of the world this week is how to respond to their children's concerns about war. Here are the best Web resources we've found on this subject for parents and educators:

Feel free to send us your favorite resources (including URLs).

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A subscriber writes: Teen's alternate (online) reality?

This week a subscriber in California emailed us a tough question that sends up warning bells in any parent's head. We suspect the situation 1) is not at all unusual and 2) has no simple answer. So we want to tap into the remarkable parenting experience found in our subscriber base - please email us your thoughts, experiences and advice, and we'll publish as many responses as we can. Here's the question:

"I got a call today from my cousin who is concerned about her 16-year-old son spending an enormous amount of time with online 'friends.'

"I'm not sure what his condition is but he is a kid with problems. No real social life at all. I suspect that his online social life is the only social life he has. In some ways, it's probably better than the alternative but my cousin in rightly concerned.

"This is really a tough one for me. This is not a kid who has ever lived in the real world. I suspect he has a very rich fantasy life and a strong attachment to people he is meeting online. Any ideas on this one?"

The questions that came to mind as we read this email were, "How can we get our children to tell us about their online 'friends'?" "What are the best ways to communicate concerns about an online-only social life to our kids?" "How can we protect our kids while allowing them the privacy they want so much?" But don't limit yourselves to these questions; if you've found solutions to other issues, send them along! Thanks for your feedback.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Porn exceeds music in online file-sharing

    This is an important followup to (and further confirmation of) last week's lead news brief about porn on file-sharing networks (see The San Jose Mercury News goes even further than US Reps. Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R) of Virginia and Henry A. Waxman (D) of California to say that porn images and videos "are the most sought-after content on online file-swapping networks, surpassing even the brisk unauthorized music and movie trade." The Mercury News is reporting on a study released this week that for the first time quantifies what the congressmen were saying as they announced congressional studies on porn and file-sharing. This latest study found that pornography "accounts for more than 40% of the traffic on the Gnutella network," for example (Gnutella is one of the most popular file-sharing services, along with Kazaa, Morpheus, LimeWire, and BearShare, which inter-connect with one another). As for the illegal category of pornography, child porn, the study found that it constitutes "a small yet disturbingly measurable percentage of all searches: about 6 percent," the Mercury News adds, pointing to potential liabilities for corporations allowing file-sharing on their networks. But the study also confirms the importance of parental awareness and families talking about how file-sharing is used at home.

    You might want to know a bit more about the study itself: It was conducted by Palisade Systems, an Ames, Iowa, company that sells network management software. "Palisade connected to the Gnutella network and captured 20 million queries exchanged among computer users from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23. It analyzed nearly 400,000 randomly selected search terms," the Merc reports. "The results reveal that the appetite for free porn exceeds the desire for free music. Some 42% of all searchers were looking for porn, compared with 38% looking for music."

  2. Net's new prominent wartime role

    "Never before have Internet news sites been so prepared for events so uncertain," reports the Washington Post. It's clear from watching NBC and CNN that their Web sites are now prominent in their coverage strategies. Both broadcasters and newspapers have added staff as well as added audio and video coverage to their Web sites, and some are sending Web specialists to the Middle East for online reporting. "CBS stationed a writer for the Internet at its new 'war desk' 10 feet behind Dan Rather. sent its international Web editor to file special online reports from the Gulf," according to the Post. And the Net figures prominently in the technology they're using: "Reporters across the Gulf - including hundreds 'embedded' with American troops - planned to file stories using laptops hooked up wirelessly to the Internet. Foreign correspondents for The Washington Post and the New York Times are using the Internet to answer questions submitted electronically by readers."

  3. Beware war-related email viruses

    The bad news about the Internet during wartime is how it's used to send e-viruses and launch cyberattacks. The Washington Post reports that the war has caused of flood of these, "as hackers of all stripes and colors (pro-Islamic, antiwar or just plain malicious coders) seize an opportunity to wreak online havoc. The Post cites a BBC report saying more than 1,000 Web sites had been hacked by Friday. On the virus side, Wired News mentions three new ones making the rounds. Watch out for emails saying they have "spy photos" of the fighting in Iraq or pro-America or anti-George Bush screensavers.

  4. Finding out who filters

    Wired News used the University of Toronto's new censorship-detection Web site to find out what Web sites are blocked in Myanmar (Burma), China, Saudi Arabia, and 40% of the US's libraries or schools. Anyone with a Web browser can use the "Internet Censorship Explorer", Wired News reports. "Users simply enter a target URL and a country into a search field on the Censorship Explorer's Web site. The software then scans the ports of available servers in that country, looking for open ones. By using the foreign computer as a proxy server, ICE then attempts to visit the target URL from behind that country's firewall. The result is either the visible Web site, or a 'page blocked' message is then returned to the user."

    The site is definitely controversial. "Project director Ronald Diebert knows that by using port-scanning technology, he's operating in a gray area" in computer and network security, where port scanning is viewed as evidence of malicious hacking - though is not illegal in the US and Canada. "His use of proxy servers is a bit more controversial," Wired News says Diebert acknowledges, because he doesn't have "explicit prior permission" to use the computers. But the goal, he says, is the empirical study Internet content filtering. "Diebert has written a six-point statement of principles that all his researchers must follow. They are absolutely forbidden to damage the proxy servers they find open."

  5. Spam-stopping tricks

    Hard to imagine anyone saying no to CNET's question, "Want to stop spammers from clogging your in-box with get-rich-quick schemes, invitations from hot girls and Nigerian money-laundering antics?" The article is about a solution-rich report released this week by the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), entitled appropriately, "Why am I getting all this spam?". "For the past six months, [CDT] baited spammers by posting a variety of email addresses in different Web locations to glean some insight into where bulk e-mailers get their targets," CNET reports. "After receiving more than 10,000 messages to 260 e-mail addresses it created, CDT came to this hopeful conclusion: Some simple consumer tactics might actually help ward off spam." The study (and the CNET article) offer five tips for reducing spam, but there's also the caveat: Today's spam foils are tomorrow's spammers tools. In other words, do try the tips but don't get your hopes up too high.

  6. Texas student charged

    We're following up on this story because of the message the prosecutors are trying to send (clearly to parents as well as to young hackers): "These cases will be taken seriously, these cases will be prosecuted, and this case will be prosecuted vigorously." That was Johnny Sutton, US attorney for western Texas, in a news conference this week (see Washington Post coverage picked up by Security Focus). He was referring to a "cyber-theft" by 20-year-old University of Texas student Christopher Andrew Phillips. "Phillips is thought to have created a [war-dialing] program that tried more than 3 million [social security] numbers [to gain access to campus records], which resulted in approximately 55,000 records being found," CNET reports. The Washington Post reports that the theft "sent shock waves through the campus of the nation's largest university, prompting students and staff to consider replacing credit cards and freezing bank accounts. There is no evidence that Phillips disseminated or used the information, officials said." This week he was charged and released without bail. A conviction could mean five years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Clearly, the law does not distinguish between malicious hackers and those who just like to test network security.

  7. Porn scam stopped

    A case in the media this week certainly illustrates that not all porn sites using credit cards to verify customers' age are protecting children. In this case - reportedly involving a member of the Gambino crime family - age verification was a front for scamming porn users out of $230 million. Bloomberg News reports that "mobster Richard Martino and two other men ... ran companies that bilked thousands of people in the United States, Europe, and Asia with offers of 'free tours' of porn Web sites. The companies conned prospective customers to turn over credit card information, saying it would only be used as a proof of age and that users would not be billed. Instead, credit cards were billed, usually at $59.99 a month after the initial visit without the consent of the users." Scores of Web sites were involved, including sites based on magazines published by New York-based Crescent Publishing Group. The three men were arrested this week and charge with money-laundering, among other charges. Here's coverage by the New York Times and the Associated Press.

  8. Password-stealing emails

    Never send credit card information out via email. That's familiar advice, but worth heeding - especially right now. "A new con aimed at Discover Card holders is just the latest in a long line of scam emails sent by con artists trying to hijack accounts at AOL, PayPal, eBay and other online firms," reports MSNBC. This week a "flurry of emails" that looked like they were from Discover Financial Services "told recipients that their accounts were on hold and they needed to log in with their account number and mother's maiden name to reactivate them," according to MSNBC. "The email looks real, and most of its content is pulled directly from Discover's computers.... But replies, including any credit card numbers, are quietly routed to a computer with an Internet address in Russia."

  9. 'Primer': Laws about online kids & porn

    Useful to anyone following the issue of online kids' exposure to porn is the Washington Post's roundup of related legislation in the US. "While the courts are busy upholding, overturning, or refusing to hear a cavalcade of these 'C-laws,' the public has a hard enough time keeping abreast of what law seeks to accomplish what goal," the Post says in this helpful followup to our March 7 issue covering developments with two of the "C-laws", COPA and CIPA, and the latest research on this subject.

  10. Dell will help recycle

    Good news for environmentally conscious PC users! Dell Computer Corp. has started a recycling program to address concerns about the negative impact improperly discarded computers can have on the environment, the Washington Post reports. Beginning next week, Dell - for a small fee - will pick up old computers at consumers' doorsteps "to better ensure that unused and obsolete equipment gets properly recycled." The fee will be $15 per item, according to the Post - "printers, desktops, laptops, or monitors (consumers will still have to box up the old equipment themselves). Donated PCs that are still useable will go to the National Cristina Foundation, a nonprofit organization that distributes computer equipment to schools and organizations for the disabled."

    However, the program was "quickly criticized by environmental groups," the San Jose Mercury News reports, for turning Earth Day into a "marketing gimmick," using prison labor (through a contractor), and having little long-term benefit to the environment.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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