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January 16, 2004

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Family Tech: A tech-literate dad on file-sharing

For this, Part 2, of our conversation with father-of-six and CorePROTECT CEO Tim La Fazia, we asked Tim what parents need to know about file-sharing for both child online safety and family computer security.

"It's important to understand that when you install file-sharing software [like Kazaa, Grokster, or Blubster], you're setting your system up as a [Web] server," Tim told us, elaborating a bit: "The software's default setting turns your PC into a server and [as with instant-messaging services] broadcasts your presence on the Internet. People out on the Net can now find you and access the shared folders on your system.

"You can share far more than you intended to without ever knowing it, because your hard drive is now open. I would make sure that when anyone installs [Kazaa, for example], pay close attention to every option or preference." There are many, many file-sharing networks (for a large sample, see, and they're all a bit different. They don't necessarily come set up to share everything on a PC but undoubtedly arrive on your machine with file-sharing turned on, Tim said. "Once that happens, a PC is exposed to all the security risks [viruses, worms, spyware, trojans, etc.]."

So the No. 1 tip: "The best thing is for parents to set up the software themselves. In my house you're only using it to get files. We disable file-sharing," Tim said. "But again, pay close attention to all the preferences."

That could be daunting to some parents, we suggested, and Tim acknowledged that "there's a learning curve with each software program." But the preferences aren't that hard to figure out, it's worth the effort, and the payback is not just in better online privacy and PC security; working through the set-up process with your child can bring other parent-child benefits.

"In addition to maintaining high-security settings in the software," Tim continued, "make sure your virus software is updated.... Also, P2P clients [software products] are replete with spyware. Just downloading the client brings in all kinds of spyware," which can slow your PC down considerably. For that, get the free spyware detect-and-removal software, Ad-Aware.

We asked Tim if anyone shares files at his house. "Yes, my 16-year-old girl does. We have a rule that she not use P2P to share copyrighted information - don't download anything copyrighted unless you're at a site that says you're allowed to - like something from a new rock band. She knows to look for the disclaimer on the site - that's how to tell. And I do regular check-ups with her." We asked him if she knows where to find the copyright disclaimers. "Their locations vary, but there is an immediate disclaimer for each application as you install it - read the user agreement, at least the legal part."

Tim seems to have reached a certain comfort level with his daughter's file-sharing. "I'm reasonably sure she's not downloading copyrighted music. The key is good communication - and 'reasonably' is the operative word." With a policy agreed upon, good and frequent communication, and some basic Net smarts [e.g., go to a search engine, type in "security vulnerabilities" and the software's name - e.g., "Blubster" - and you'll find user groups discussing these services, he said), he feels the formula's working.

"Although banning P2P altogether might be the simplest solution, as a Dad, one of my charges is to teach responsible behavior. Sooner or later our kids will endeavor into the realm of P2P. I'd much rather have an influence over how they approach and use it. That said, there's always a risk that they would choose to abuse it - but I must err on the side of teaching and trusting my children."

Finally, we asked Tim a question on many minds these days: Parents are telling us they can't believe all the security issues they're having to be aware of and deal with all of a sudden. What's going on in the big picture that seems to make giving kids Net access so complicated now?

Tim told us that what's at issue more is what kids like about the Net than viruses, spyware, and hackers. "Security issues have always been present regarding kids' access to the Internet. However, as more applications, services, and forums are available to and popular with our kids, the more complicated it seems to get. My best advice to parents is to 1) be as aware of your kids' Internet behavior as possible, through communication and supervision, and 2) set some fundamental rules and guidelines regarding Internet-related use that can be applied across any of the sites, systems, and /or services to which they might subscribe."

Further info/latest news

Readers, we'd certainly welcome any tips and comments you have about file-sharing kids. Have you set any rules that really work for your family? Your experiences can be very helpful to fellow parents! Email us anytime at (Last week's feature on instant-messaging kids can be found here .)

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Web News Briefs

  1. Teens' blog life

    US teen life today: The school-based social group reconvenes at home(s) via its linked blogs or online journals. Where you find them -,,,,, etc. - has a lot to do with the kids' "type" (emo, goth, "the athletic crowd," "the social crowd," etc.) at their school. "Each pool of blogs is its own ecosystem," according to this not-to-be-missed piece in the New York Times Magazine. Though this whole online scene, the Times says, is "invisible to most adults," it's huge (one study the Times cites found that 90% of bloggers are 13-29, and 51% 13-19; there are expected to be 10 million blogs by the end of this year). "Peer into an online journal, and you find the operatic texture of teenage life with its fits of romantic misery, quick-change moods, and sardonic inside jokes. Gossip spreads like poison. Diary writers compete for attention, then fret when they get it. And everything parents fear is true. (For one thing, their children view them as stupid and insane, with terrible musical taste.) But the linked journals also form a community, an intriguing, unchecked experiment in silent group therapy - a hive mind in which everyone commiserates about how it feels to be an outsider, in perfect choral unison."

    The question that occurs is how this public/private scene of "compulsive self-chroniclers" changes when it actually becomes visible to adults (i.e., when we all realize just how public it is)? Probably the "hive mind" will just move to a different hive.

  2. Blogs & politics: Iran, US

    There's another side to blogs in places where they take on the role of a free press. An Iranian journalist credits blogs for his release from prison, Online Journalism Review reports. "Call them self-referential. Call them elitist. Call them blowhards. Call bloggers whatever you want, but you can't deny that they can make a difference, especially when they band together for a serious cause. In the case of jailed journalist/blogger Sina Motallebi, the Iranian and American blogospheres came together to get publicity and thousands of signatures on an online petition." There is a world of activity (virtual and real-world) going on in Iran-related blogs, both English- and Persian-language ones, from raising funds for Bam earthquake victims to protesting government censorship to circulating petitions. According to the OJR piece, "President Mohammad Khatami recently bragged at a United Nations summit that 'of the Weblogs that are created and generated - after those in English and French - we are No. 3 [in Persian]'."

    As for places where there is a free press, blogs are both part and sign of a shift in voter expectations. Young voters want to ask candidates questions and be listened to, via blogs or online chat, according to a new study out of the University of Maryland. "The study showed that teenagers and younger voters resented being peppered with one-way communications. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents said they would be less likely to pay attention to a candidate who sent weekly text messages to their cell phones or handheld devices," the Washington Post reports.

  3. Net use in 14 countries: Survey

    In its survey of Internet use in 14 countries, the University of California, Los Angeles, found a lot of similarities from country to country, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Internet users in all of the surveyed countries spend more time than nonusers in social activities and more or as much time as nonusers socializing with friends or exercising. In all of the countries except Germany and the US, Internet users also spend more time reading." The digital divide most apparent in countries is between the sexes, according to UCLA's World Internet Project (the range is from 25.1% men/23.5% women in Taiwan to 41.5% men/31.5% women in Italy). The top 5 countries in terms of Net use are the US (71.1%), Sweden (66.1%), Korea (60.9%), Britain (59.2), and Japan (50.4%). Two other interesting findings the Project highlighted were: "surprisingly high levels of online use among the poorest citizens in all of the survey countries - in spite of major divisions in Internet use between the richest and the poorest" and "important effects on social, political, economic, and religious life in urban China, where the world's largest population finds increased ability to reach out to others, in spite of government restrictions." [Another, China-based, study released this week found that that country now has 79.5 million Net users, up 20.4 million just in 2003, Reuters reported.]

  4. Canada's new online-safety ed program

    Launched this week, the national public-awareness campaign, Be Web Aware, encourages parents to be involved in their children's online activities. A worthy message, since 80% of Canadian kids have regular access at home and more than half use the Net "with little or no supervision," the Toronto Globe & Mail reports. Further, 25% "have been asked by someone they've met only online to meet face-to-face" and, of those kids, 15% have gone to such a meeting and almost two in 10 of this group went to these meetings alone," according to the Globe & Mail, citing figures from a just-released Media Awareness Network study.

    The Web site has some useful resources for families and educators, including a list of kid-friendly search engines, Internet 101 for newbie parents, a list of risks online kids face, online safety tips by age level, and info on where Canadian parents can report trouble. The coalition behind the site includes the nonprofit, Ottawa-based Media Awareness Network, Bell Canada, Microsoft Canada, and the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.

  5. Cell-phone monitoring for parents

    The new "text-track" technology is much more affordable and convenient than that of the GPS sort. Parents using it call their child's phone and get back a text message that reveals their child's location, the Melbourne Herald-Sun reports. They can also use the Web and a home phone to track their children. On what's being reported as the upside, parents can track kids 24 hours a day or at scheduled times (say, after school), including when the child's indoors (unlike with GPS). Parents can also "set up a zone around their wayward child's school or banned boyfriend's house. If the teenager leaves or enters the zone, an alarm is triggered and an SMS [short message system] alert is instantly sent to parents." The cost: 55 cents (Australian, or about $.42 US) per check, and set- up for less than $100 (about $77 US). "Previous tracking systems used GPS satellites costing up to $1000 [$770 US]." The rather scary downside: "Privacy experts warn pedophiles and stalkers could hack the system and engage in clandestine tracking." The Herald Sun also quotes a psychologist saying kids will figure out ways around this "with ease," and "it doesn't say a lot about trust and respect."

  6. Pay-per-folk song

    And now the nonprofit version of iTunes: The Smithsonian Institution is making its entire catalog of 33,000 folk songs available online at 99 cents a tune, just like at iTunes, the new Napster, and all the other pay-per-download music services, CNET reports. "Two titles currently for sale on the organization's Web site include Abayudaya: The Music of the Jews of Uganda [24 tracks for $15] and Cowboy Poetry Classics," just in time for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko later this month. Smithsonian Folkways's pay-per-tune launch date is April 1. Meanwhile, Napster-for-Penn State students has launched" and seems to have caught on, the Associated Press reports. There were about 100,000 downloads or streaming-audio requests Monday, three days after its debut. The service offers about 500,000 songs.

  7. Yahoo IM: Security fixes, coming features

    Remember what Tim La Fazia said (in last week's issue) about vulnerabilities IM creates for the family PC? Well, timely news when it was reported that someone could run malicious code on a victim's PC (using Yahoo Instant Messenger) just by "sending the user a file with an overly long filename." A PC security firm deemed the vulnerability "highly critical," Instant Messaging Planet reported. The article added that Yahoo fixed the problem at its end, but The Register added some helpful detail: "The latest version ( of Yahoo! Messenger is immune to the problem but users of earlier versions reportedly cannot upgrade to the new version unless they reinstall the product" (the article provides a link).

    In other Yahoo IM-related news, CNET reports that the company is considering adding new features, including games, friend icons, avatars, stealth-mode capabilities, and letting IM users listen to music together and share information about their music tastes (also remembering Tim's heads-up about how each feature - text chat, audio, images, video, etc. opens up its own port or window out to the Net from the family PC). Picking one of those features, "Yahoo's proposed stealth-mode tool would allow people to use IM without publicizing they are online - a feature Yahoo already offers. A projected facet of that feature would be the ability to select who could see you and who could not." Hmmm, more options for parents to consider in IM Preferences (see some tips offered last week)!

  8. The Net and child pornography

    "The activities of Internet paedophiles have recently changed significantly," reports Rachel O'Connell, director of cyberspace research at the University of Central Lancashire, in The Guardian. They "now use the Internet as a library rather than downloading images onto their hard drives or floppy disks. They are also far more careful to remove evidence of illegal material from their computers." She goes on to say that law enforcement certainly has the technical expertise to keep up with changing criminal practices, but generally not the resources and organizational structure. Ms. O'Connell was responding to a widely covered report from children's charity NCH in the UK's national media. The report said that demand for child pornography on the Internet has led to a 1,500% rise in child pornography cases since 1988, and that this increase "would be reflected in more children being abused to produce the pictures," The Guardian reported. Here's the BBC's coverage of the NCH report and a separate repor on NCH comments what kids could be subjected to with next-generation (3G) cell phones with video capabilities. The NCH report is available in pdf format here.

  9. Child porn sting

    US prosecutors announced dozens of child porn-related indictments this week. According to Reuters, they were part of Operation Predator, which was launched last summer. This time police arrested not just users but operators. The indicted were "people involved with a Belarus-based business called Regpay and Connections USA, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., credit card billing service offering paid memberships to 50 Web sites." About 1,600 people have been arrested so far in Operation Predator. "Among 15 people taken into custody in New Jersey on Thursday were previously convicted sex offenders, a pediatrician, a minister, a teacher and an 85-year- old retired engineer." The article added that 20 other people were arrested in the US and three of four principals of Regpay were in custody in Paris and Madrid and awaiting extradition. The fourth principal was still at large.

  10. Parent-school digital divide

    Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is concerned that his state's schools are relying on the Internet too much to communicate with parents, USAToday reports. He had pledged to expand Internet use in school and commissioned a study in support of his plan. But the study found some problematic stats: while 97% of Illinois's 4,000 elementary and secondary schools are connected to the Internet, only 47% of homes are. The study concluded that this and other disparities "could widen the information gap rather than close it if schools don't augment high-tech systems with newsletters, parent-teacher conferences, and other traditional means of communication."

  11. New MSN features and bare-bones AOL

    MSN and AOL are scrambling to keep customers at a time when many are moving on to broadband (high-speed Net access providers). MSN has added features such as "a souped-up email client, a more sophisticated digital photo editor that emphasizes picture sharing, the ability to access email from a separate Outlook account ... parental controls, antivirus software, a firewall, a pop-up blocker, spyware detection, and spam filters," CNET reports. These are available for $9.95/month, some in a slimmer version for $5.95/month. AOL has plans soon to offer a stripped-down version of itself under the Netscape name for $9.95/month, to compete with the likes of NetZero and Juno, the Washington Post reports.

  12. 'Speed-dating' at

    It's the latest trend in "offline dating services," now offered online, the Washington Post reports. It's like years of blind dates compressed into 45 multi-tasking minutes. "SpeedMatching" users will go into their accounts and call the company at a designated time for a 45-minute session during which they'll be introduced to 4-8 potential mates in a succession of quick one-on-one phone conversations while they review the potential mates' online profiles in the site." Whew! But, hey, if that biological clock's ticking.... The Post adds that "users can vote on whether they want to connect later with anyone they encounter during a session - if both parties are interested, the service will bring the two together."

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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