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November 14, 2003
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this first week of November:
- Family Tech: File-sharing detection software for parents; Try blogging, The new 'Office,' E-encyclopedias
- Web News Briefs: US kids' top Web picks; How police are doing with Net crimes against kids; Net pirates to be felons?; Child porn in file-sharing; Latest Microsoft patches; Death knell for pop-ups?; Movie industry to sue file-sharers; Singapore urges chat crackdown; New way to 'catch' e-viruses....
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- New file-sharing detection software
MediaFence is a simple new software program that "helps people who don't know their way around a computer understand what's on their computer in terms of file-sharing," said Scott Schwendiman, president of BRS Technology, the product's makers. Designed for parents and tech newbies, MediaFence scans and shows two types of results at a glance: 1) which P2P applications (Kazaa, Grokster, Piolet, etc.) are on their system, if any, and 2) the number and type of files being shared by their PC. Here's a page in the company's site with a screenshot showing what each results list looks like. Users will see what file types are being shared, whether they're media files such as songs, films, or video, or a Quicken file with family financial information on it!
Interestingly, BRS Tech's marketing message at the top of its home page focuses more on "exposure to identity theft" - the inadvertent sharing of personal information when file-sharing networks are used - than on music piracy. We asked Tim Lordan, head of Washington-based GetNetWise.org, about this, and he said that - though the risk is still theoretical and reports of violations as yet nonexistent - exposing personal files on the P2P networks is definitely happening - emails, tax returns, medical records, in some cases people's entire hard drives. Tim pointed to a study done over a year ago that found this kind of file-sharing a widespread mistake, partly because the design of the software is confusing. "Many users do not realize that when they add files to the download folder, all the files in the directory, as well as the directories below it, can be recursively shared," reported PCWorld in its coverage of the study. "The report also criticizes the way the software searches for files to be shared, noting that it does not give criteria for discovering folders to be shared, such as searching only for media files. Therefore, when it discovers a folder to be shared, 'it presumes that users have a perfect knowledge of what kinds of files are contained in those folders and what will be shared,' the researchers wrote."
We noted with interest that MediaFence doesn't delete files. To avoid liability issues, BRS Technology decided not to remove files for you but rather to provide step-by-step instructions so users can do any deleting themselves.
- "Over Exposed: The Threats to Privacy and Security on File-Sharing Networks," a hearing by the US House of Representatives's Committee on Government Reform, May 15, 2003 (thanks to Tim Lordan for pointing this out)
- Information from the University of Chicago on how to disable various brands of file-sharing software
- Other types of parental-control software (7 monitoring and filtering products) were reviewed by PC Magazine last July in "Parental Guidance Suggested."
Please note that Net Family News does not have the resources to test or endorse products and services. We simply let you know about new developments in online safety/security. Comments on products readers try are most welcome - via email@example.com. With your permission, we publish reader comments for everybody's benefit.
- Parents can try blogging (momentarily)
Here's an idea: If parents want to get a handle on blogs and online journaling so popular among teenagers, they can try blogging themselves. You could have one for a day or so for free and in the process see how easy it is to start and maintain one (and how hard it is for a busy person to keep updating daily or even weekly for very long!). If it actually isn't easy, that's ok - tech is almost always easier for teens. As SafeKids.com's Larry Magid writes in a recent blog- demystifying column, basic blogging is always free at Blogger.com, Pitas.com, etc., and a neat new service called TypePad has a 30-day free trial. Heck, you could blog for a mere hour and learn a whole lot. As BlogSpot puts it, "this is your brain on the Web."
As for blogging's popularity, here are recent numbers: "Ten million people are expected to have blogs by the end of next year, more than half of them teenagers and 91.1% of them under 30, according to a Perseus study cited by The Register. And this is not just in the UK and North America: 62% of Polish blogs are written by women and a staggering three quarters are written by teenagers or younger, according to a Polish study cited in a different Register piece. However, blogs have quite a turnover rate! More than a third of the some 2.7 million blogs were abandoned after a day, according to a study cited in the first Register report.
- The new 'Office'
Microsoft's Office 2003, that is. Wondering if you should get it? On close examination, Larry found that "the incumbent version of Office (Office XP) is a hard act to follow. It already does just about everything that most consumers, professional and students would want to do with a suite of programs." However, he adds that the specially priced ($149) version of the standard editions available to "the 52% of American homes with a student or a teacher" really might be worth it if you can get it at a retail store offering some freebies with the purchase of this edition. See Larry's piece for details.
- Reference resources we (as kids) could only dream about
It's amazing for baby boomers to think that for $69.95 they can get their kids or grandkids an encyclopedia better (searchable and multimedia) than the huge stack of books for which our parents shelled out "thousands of inflation-adjusted dollars." Remember all the shelf space they took up? For a recent column, Larry had a chance to try out the new 2004 Encarta Reference Library Plus DVD and was impressed, but encourages us to check out what reference resources are available online from our local public library. "Where I live, the Santa Clara County library system provides free access to Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Funk & Wagnall's new World Encyclopedia, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, New Book of Knowledge and World Book Online, and you don't have to go to the library to access it. You can use them from home or the office by entering your library card number plus a secret PIN number." So cool!
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Web News Briefs
- US kids' top Web picks
About 27 million, or more than 20%, of US Net users who logged on from home in September were between the ages of 2 and 17, CyberAtlas reports. It was citing Nielsen-NetRatings's look at Net traffic for that month. Interestingly, kids are catching up to teens: That was 12 million 2-to- 11-year-olds and 14.9 million 12-to-17-year-olds.
Even more interesting were the top Web site picks for those age groups. For the younger set they were obviously very tied to media and toy brands:
For 12-to-17-year-olds, the Top 5 had more to do with peer communications and socializing with a little celebrity gossip thrown in:
- Originalicons.com (downloadable graphics for AIM users - shows how incredibly popular AOL's free instant-messaging-for-anyone is)
- BluntTruthGame.com ("the free game where you find out how your friends really feel about you," anonymously)
- TeenPeople.com (the teen version of People magazine)
- FireHotQuotes.com (pretty vacuous ones perfect for pasting into an online chat or instant message, e.g., "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happend [sic]")
- Buddy4u.com (profile enhancements for AIM users - e.g., polls, special effects, and more space to write about oneself; users and parents should know to be on the alert about what's revealed to strangers in instant-messaging and chat profiles).
- Net sex crimes against kids: 1st look at US police efforts
It's a first look at how US law enforcement is doing in its fight against Net- related sex crimes against children nationwide, and it found they're "beginning to have notable success." Those are the words of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in its press release on the study it commissioned and unveiled this week, "Internet Sex Crimes Against Minors: The Response of Law Enforcement fight". The study, conducted by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center, pointed to some 2,500 arrests between July 1, 2000, and June 30, 2001, finding that 95% of the state and 93% of the federal prosecutions led to convictions. These percentages are notable for the level of cooperation they indicate: "Because offenders often reside far from their victims and violate both state and federal law, most of the investigations involved agencies in multiple jurisdictions, and in nearly half a federal agency as well, such as the FBI or the US Postal Inspection Service," the National Center reports. Here are some other findings it highlighted:
- 40% of those arrested "were involved in criminal relationships with actual children," mostly reported by victims, their families, and other.
- 25% of the arrests came from undercover operations in which agents, posing online as minors, were solicited for sexual acts.
- More than 33% of the arrests were of offenders who had not solicited victims, but had downloaded and traded child pornography.
- 83% of those arrested for child porn possession had images of children 6-12.
- Net pirates to be felons?
A bill that was introduced in the US Senate this week focused on file-sharers who offer pre-release music and movie on the Internet. "The movie and record industries are eager to stamp out pre-release piracy, which they see as one of the most dangerous trends facing their respective industries," the Washington Post reports, citing losses of $1 billion a year to the movie studios. The Post pointed to The Hulk and Matrix Reloaded as examples of films hurt by pre- release piracy. "More recently, popular hip-hop artists Jay-Z and G-Unit had to bump up the release dates for their albums when pirated copies hit the Internet," the Post adds.
- Child porn on file-sharing networks
Its growth has been "exponential," The Guardian reports, citing the view from UK law enforcement. "Senior officers have revealed that the scale of peer- to-peer traffic in illegal images of children now dwarfs almost any other paedophile network they have encountered. The images are generally more extreme and at least 20% of the users are what police class as Category One, meaning that the suspect is 'of significant risk to children'." Child porn traders reportedly like file-sharing because the services are free and they believe that, because they don't have to provide credit card information, they can't be traced. This is not the case, according to The Guardian. "Investigators are able to access their shared folders and quickly discover if they contain illegal images of child abuse. They are then able to establish the location of the owner of the shared folder." (Our thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this article out.
- Latest Microsoft patches
They were released Tuesday, and - these days - it's good computer security for all PC owners to download them. According to Wired News, they "fix four newly discovered holes in its software, including three that are rated 'critical'," and the holes meant vulnerabilities in the Internet Explorer Web browser and Windows 2000 and Windows XP operating systems. This is one of Microsoft's big three (security steps): having anti-virus software and a firewall running and staying on top of its security patches. That's probably all MS thinks we're capable of remembering (do remember them!), but a fund of information and step-by-step instructions (including how to enable the firewall that comes with Windows XP and how to secure a wireless connection) can be found at GetNetWise.
- Death knell for pop-ups?
Yes, it's quite possible because Microsoft "plans to add pop-up blocking features to Internet Explorer next year as part of its Service Pack 2 update for Windows XP," CNET reports. First, though, the company will be seeking customer feedback on such a move, views that will be folded into the final decision. If it does happen, CNET adds, the move would go far toward stamping out this form of Web advertising. To deal with pop- ups ourselves, we downloaded the Google Toolbar (for PCs with Windows 95 or later and Explorer 5.5 or later). It has already blocked 649 pop-ups on one of our home PCs.
- Movie industry to sue file-sharers
It's only a matter of time, the Los Angeles Times reports. In an article this week, the Times describes "an anti-piracy summit" of movie studio heads put on by News Corp. chairman Peter Chernin in late September. The participants and Motion Picture Assn. of America President Jack Valenti "listened intently as Universal Music President Zach Horowitz, a chief architect of the record industry's anti-piracy strategy, gave a report from the battlefront." Afterwards, when Chernin called for a raised-hand vote, it was unanimous. "While no one will confirm a specific timetable, the studios have instructed Valenti to begin preparations for lawsuits aimed at avid file sharers, be they junior high schoolers, computer-savvy techno geeks or grandmothers. Our thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this item out.
- Singapore urges chat crackdown
Singapore politicians are calling for a crackdown on Internet chatrooms beyond Microsoft's closure of its chat in most countries (announced in September), Australian IT reports. "Other Internet access providers have not followed suit, with some claiming the move would have no impact on cyber abuse," according to the article. "The potential abuse in Singapore was highlighted by media revelations last month that a 15-year-old local girl" had set up a prostitution business that had already garnered 80 customers. Singapore is one of the most wired countries in Asia, Australian IT adds.
- New way to 'catch' e-viruses
Net security experts are predicting more computer infections through emails done in HTML, which makes them look more like Web pages (don't worry - it won't happen with this newsletter!). The type of viruses that exploit HTML, the BBC reports, can be right in the body of an email message (not in an attachment with it) or in a Web site one clicks to from an email. Tell your kids to be careful what they click to and certainly not to type any personal information into any site an email links to (these nasty emails often request a customer's verification of, say, a credit card or account number). Legitimate Internet businesses would require a user name and password for a customer to type in any such information. The best defense is to make sure you're using the latest version of the Explorer browser. One of the experts quoted in the article said that because he gets so many HTML emails he wants from people and companies he knows that it is not realistic to say, "if it's HTML based then I am going to delete." For more information on family computer security, see "Latest Microsoft patches" above and last week's issue.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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