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December 17, 2004

Dear Subscribers:

Happy holidays to all of our readers! The newsletter will be on holiday break through New Year's. The next issue will arrive in your in-box 1/7. Meanwhile, check my blog for kid-tech news as it breaks. Here's the lineup for this second week of December:

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Family Tech: To foil phishers

Have you gotten an email from PayPal, eBay, Citibank, or even your own bank lately? Did it say something unnerving about a certain amount having been removed from your account, or you can't use your account until you update it - "click here to update"? Chances are, it's a phishing scam.

The number of phishing emails that have been intercepted by MessageLabs (a large email security company serving businesses) increased 10-fold this past year - from 337,000 in January to 4.5 million last month, reported ZDNET UK.

Which means a growing number have been arriving in our families' PC in-box(es). The new news on this affects families even more: Now we and our Web-researcher kids can stumble on phishing sites just by using Google and other search engines, CNET reports. Phishers are "setting up legitimate looking e-commerce sites that disguise links to malicious software as pictures of goods on sale." You might see an instruction like, "Click here to download a picture" of the product, cartoon character, person, etc., and you'd be downloading malicious software that might log keystrokes (when typing in a password or credit card or social security number) or take control of your computer.

Fortunately, anti-phishing software products are emerging. I recently interviewed Jeffrey Hellman, president of the company that makes a simple anti-phishing toolbar called FraudEliminator that's free. [Please note: We spotlight online-safety options for readers when they're timely but do not have the resources to test software properly.]

One of the things I like most about this one is that, as Jeff put it, FraudEliminator's designer "set out to design a product that would keep his grandmother safe." Using it is not rocket science, it's perfect for the not-so-tech-literate or anybody who worries about online privacy or (like all of us) is tempted to click when email says someone's been accessing their bank account and they need to verify their ID!

If you do click to "PayPal" or whatever, a big warning box pops up and tells you it's actually a suspicious site based in Korea or Vanuatu (you choose whether or not to continue on to that site). The warning can be annoying, too, but the pluses might outpace the minuses when young Web researchers start clicking on faux "images" and downloading malicious software in sites they found in a search engine.

The toolbar on your PC "talks" to the FraudEliminator server, which updates its black list of scam sites every 15 minutes. How it "knows" a site's fraudulent and updates the black list is pretty interesting, but I won't bore you with too much detail. First, it uses artificial intelligence, the company says, to "recognize" key words and phrases that suggest fraud. It can also tell if the site you're clicking to is a real domain name (like or an IP address (a bunch of numbers); phishers' sites' addresses are more likely to be numbers only (an IP address is cheaper and quicker to be put up and abandoned). When a suspicious site is detected, a report goes from your PC to FraudEliminator headquarters. FE also has various "honeypot" email addresses scattered around the world, attracting spam and phishing emails, Jeff Hellman said. "In these honeypot accounts, we regularly receive up to dozens of phishing scams on a daily basis. These are reviewed and blacklisted" for the next update on users' PCs. FraudEliminator is not the only anti-phishing tool (see the links below for others) and it's probably not for the truly tech-savvy, but it's available, free, and easy to use - not much downside for families of varying age levels and degrees of tech expertise.

Further phishing news

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Web News Briefs

  1. Watch out: Xmas-greeting worm

    Tell your kids to be careful about opening any email that looks like a holiday greeting, even if it appears to be from a friend. It could well be the Zafi worm-carrying one that's going around the Net globally, CNET reports. It's "spoofing" email addresses in people's address books, so it could be coming from a friend or relative's infected PC. PCWorld world reports that, "in addition to the Christmas well wishes in the subject line, Zafi-generated emails contain the message 'Happy Hollydays' and are signed "Jaime'." What it does to PCs is shut down the anti-virus software on them, in addition to harvesting email addresses and sending itself to them. Home users with Windows PCs are most vulnerable, CNET added.

  2. P2P ethics in school

    With little kids who've never known life without the Internet, the ethic somehow came to be something like: if you can get it on the Net, it must be ok to have. That's why the media industry is taking file-sharing ethics ed to younger and younger children. Elementary schools in the Washington, D.C., area are inviting AOL's SafetyBot, a 5-foot-tall robot into classrooms to explain to 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders why it's illegal to download music, movies, and software from the Internet. According to the Washington Post, "the industry's approach is two-pronged: to terrify and to teach." The "terrify" part is where it's explained to the kids that they're not anonymous when their stealing movies, music, and software; they can be caught." Last month, the Motion Picture Association announced that it would begin suing those who download, one by one, to scare file-sharers away from the practice many believe has taken a chunk out of industry revenue in recent years," the Post reports. "With this, the movie industry followed the lead of the Recording Industry Association of America, which started its first lawsuits in fall 2003." (The RIAA announced today that it was suing 754 more file-sharers, taking the total number of lawsuits past the 7,000 mark, Reuters reports).

    Older student perspectives on file-sharing can be found in a recent article the news site of California State University, Chico, "Right, wrong? Good, evil? Who cares?", which points to, "founded by the student who sued diebold" (see Mother Jones) and probably a little to the left of Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig's Creative Commons (but fans of it).

  3. Good news for young researchers

    And everyone else - maybe including parents, teachers, and librarians who worry that students have forgotten about libraries and media other than the Web! At least there will be more good material to find on the Web, with Google's announcement today. Google is adding some of the world's best libraries to its database, bringing them "to life online," as CNET put it. "Google itself was born out of a library digitization project at Stanford," CNET reported, "and its founders had planned all along to build a vast searchable index of books." Now it has the technology and the resources, the company told CNET. It has already reached agreements of various sorts to digitize at least out-of-print and copyrighted works in the collections of Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Universities' libraries, as well as that of the University of Michigan (all of its 7.4 million volumes, as well as Stanford's), and the New York Public Library. Google is underwriting the cost of digitizing the books at each library, and they will be searchable exclusively at Google. This is in addition to the launch of Google Scholar, for searching academic papers online (here's an in-depth view of Scholar at Infotoday). [Google's search competitors, Yahoo, MSN, and Amazon, with it's new A9, are hard at work upgrading their databases too, CNET adds.]

    The sooner the better, many educators say, according to the Associated Press, citing one student - after being told some sourcing for a paper needed to be from books - asking a Georgia Tech professor where one could find a book. "It's a paradox to some that so many young Americans can be so accepting of online information whose origin is unclear," the AP reports. Books in Google's database will be clearly labeled as such. This is the tech story of the week so far, arguably of 2004. The New York Times had a great piece offering libraries' perspective on e-books. And here's the BBC's coverage and the Washington Post's round-up, "Google - 21st Century Dewey Decimal System", which - the Post adds - "raises big questions about whether a for-profit company should become a gatekeeper to such vast storehouses of knowledge."

  4. Communicating young Canadians

    Now there's a twist: Canada's youth are "less active online than adults," ClickZ Network reports. Canadians 12-17 spend almost a third (27.8%) less time online than adults (13 hours/week vs. 18 hours/wk, on average), with their Internet behavior largely confined to social activities, according to a survey by market researchers Ipsos-Reid. The latter half of that sentence is less a surprise. Seventy-three percent of teens use email, 70% do instant-messaging, 49% use the Web for school research, and then the figures plummet to only 29% downloading music and go down from there. "Only 17% of teenagers reported having ever purchased something online, versus 50% of the adult online population." Parents, note the numbers that spark online-safety concerns related to all that online communication: "About 14% of teens reported that they had been asked at least once to meet in person with someone they originally met online. That number increases to 20% among respondents between ages 15 and 17, according to the survey."

  5. Net crimes against kids: UK study

    The victimization of online kids figured prominently in the findings of a recent British Home Office survey on Internet crime. The survey, of "53 Internet and technology experts" looked specifically at "criminal threats posed by new technology," The Scotsman recently reported. From the perspective of these tech professionals, 7 of the 10 "most serious Net crime threats" were related to pedophilia and child-porn. For example, "increased grooming [of children by online pedophiles] and possible stalking across the Net" led the list. Three others among the 10 crimes were "increased access to pedophile content [child porn] sold by organized criminals ... online"; "use of online storage for pedophile images to bypass seizure of home computers"; and "use of secure 'peer to peer' [file-sharing] technology for all types of pedophile activity."

    The goods news is, the European Union recently announced a 45 million euro ($60m), multi-year program to help protect online kids, Reuters reports. The program follows a "38m euro ($51m) project "that led to the creation of 'hotlines' where parents could report illegal [child pornography] found on the Internet. It will increase the number of hotlines, finance technology to filter out pornography, and raise awareness among parents and children." According to EC figures, "around 60% of children regularly surf the Internet in Scandinavia and countries such as Britain, the Netherlands, Estonia, and the Czech Republic."

  6. Parents & video games

    "It may be a game, but it's not necessarily for children" is the basic message British officials and media specialists are sending. It's also a message that people who know video games feel is not getting through to parents on both sides of the Atlantic. This week, British government officials, video game industry representatives and the British Board of Film Classification met to discuss "concerns that children may be playing games aimed at adults which include high levels of violence, the BBC reports. "In 2003, Britons spent 1,152 million [$2.2 billion] on games, more than ever before. And this Christmas, parents are expected to spend millions on video games and consoles." For US news on the video-game front, see "Check out the game ratings!", "Kid-tested, parent-approved games," and "10 worst video games."

    In the US, a few days later, Katie Hafner of the New York Times writes on the very same issue in "Game Ratings: U is for Unheeded." Leading with a woman buying "Grand Theft Auto" (rated M) for a 10-year-old who very much covets it. "While many parents would not think of taking a 10-year-old child to see a film rated for mature audiences, young children routinely wander into the domain of mature games," Katie writes. One of her sources suggests that parents act on film ratings more than gaming ratings, for some reason (do you?). Also, "to some extent, the problem lies with the fact that few parents sit and play video games with their children." Meanwhile, the governor of Illinois wants his state to make it illegal to sell games rated M to minors, the Washington Post reported Thursday We'd love to hear from you on any/all of this!.

  7. Help in reporting child porn

    I hope the need to report child pornography never arises at your house. But if anyone in your family uses a file-sharing service such as Grokster, Morpheus, Kazaa, or BiTTorrent, it could happen, because illegal child porn is traded on P2P networks. [See "Porn exceeds music in online file-sharing" in my 3/21/03 issue, referring to an '03 study of what people were searching for on the Gnutella-based P2P networks (42% for porn, 38% for music, 6% for illegal child porn).] We've known about the porn risk in file-sharing for some time, but it was confirmed once again today, when a file-sharing trade association announced the launch of P2P Patrol, a Web page with instructions on what to do if you inadvertently download child porn images while file-sharing and how to report it, CNET reports. Please note what P2P Patrol says about deleting and not forwarding any child porn images, because possession and distribution are illegal in the US and many countries. The page explains how to permanently delete it while providing sufficient evidence to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's, other hotlines, or law enforcement agencies. For on P2P risks, see "File-sharing realities for families," 5/28/04.

  8. IM-ing in Arizona

    Teenagers' avid instant-messaging is still news in a lot of local papers - and maybe even to some parents. In the East Valley Tribune, a Phoenix-area paper, the lead sentence went, "When East Valley teens have something to say, an increasing number put it in writing with instant messaging." The writer adds that IM-ers "write about sex, drugs, homework, parents or even the weather" and even threaten each other in this medium. I suspect this is news more to newspaper people than to parents, but I would like to get your opinion on this - do you feel parents in your community have a handle on what's being talked about among teenaged IM-ers? Email me anytime via [For more on the IM part of parenting and educating young people, see my series on "The IM life of middle-schoolers" - the home front, a school's role, and home tech options.]

  9. Tracking teens driving

    With GPS (global positioning system), that is. It tells parents how fast their kids are driving, notifying parents when a predetermined speed level is passed, the Associated Press reports. The idea is to get kids to carry a cell phone that contains a GPS chip that "sends out regular signals letting parents know where they are and how fast they're going." An alarm goes off in the kid's phone and a signal is sent to Mom or Dad when the family-set speed limit is reached. The organization behind it is "Teen Arrive Alive," and Gen. Tommy Franks just signed on as spokesman.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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