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September 16, 2005

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Here's our lineup for this second week of September:

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Mac security: An issue for households?

When I talked with CEO Susan Lutz last week about Eli, her new home-computer-security product, Mac security came up.

Susan's company is marketing a total solution - for any type of home Internet use (broadband, that is). So of course she's not going to say Mac users don't need her product. Instead, she said that Mac users have a false sense of security: "Malware [viruses, worms, Trojans, etc.] will run on anything."

I decided to ask her for details and check out what a Mac tech-support expert had to say about what the Mac users among us should know about security.

"I believe Mac users believe they are indeed completely secure, which of course is a false conception," Susan wrote in a follow-up email. "Yes, Macs are safer than PCs; however, Mac users are still susceptible to the same content on the Internet as Windows users," she added. Especially phishing sites - sites that persuade people to type in personal information and thus make themselves vulnerable to financial and identity theft and computer hijacking. Phishing depends a lot on what experts call "social engineering," the power of persuasion or trickery that dupes people into giving up information in sometimes clever ways. For example, you're told in an email that your bank account info has expired, "click here to update," and the site you're taken to is not at all your bank's site. Or in an IM to a child: "Check out this cool skater video clip" (sometimes the message looks like it's from a friend).

The other social-engineering danger kids can be susceptible to is downloading software that they think they want but that you really don't want on the family computer. "The extra layer Mac requires for downloading executables [software] is just the authentication," Susan wrote. "People still install and download software without knowing vulnerabilities [such as embedded viruses] exist." A lot of the people she's talking about are kids. Of course, there's no better way to deal with social engineering than family communication and hands-on parenting - helping your kids think (or ideally ask you) before they click or download.

I asked Matt Hicks, a Mac techie at MacDocs, one of Utah's oldest and biggest Mac retailers/service stores, what his experience has been with malware on Macs. "The security built in to Mac OS X (Panther and Tiger) is more sophisticated than what you have to buy from Norton [Internet Security], Matt said, adding that he's never had to remove a virus on an OS X Mac or fix a computer that had one.

That doesn't mean it can't happen: "Yeah, sooner or later it will because a lot of hackers use Linux and Unix [code in writing viruses], and the Mac OS is based on Unix. That makes it more stable and better but also open to the possibility of infection. We recommend that our customers buy anti-virus protection now for when it could happen. You just never know when it's going to start."

Macs now also come with their own firewalls (not on by default), Matt pointed out. "Not only is it there, but it makes you [your Mac] invisible to people out there on the Net," he said. Of course, if you or your kids use IM, you're "opening certain ports - no way to get around that" (Eli will block viruses coming in thereby), so IM makes you vulnerable even with a Mac.

"But I've never had a customer who's had someone break into their system," Matt told me. "A Mac user can download a PC virus but won't get infected by it - s/he can only pass it on to friends [using PCs via emails, IMs, etc.]. Both Matt and Susan said they've never seen spyware affect a Mac [Eli is working on an anti-spyware feature that will help PC users]. Matt added: "I'm sure that, as more and more people buy Macs, security risks could grow, but Norton and other security companies certainly will have products ready."

The bottom line: Security (for kids and components) is a must for any broadband home. There are lots of good products out there for all aspects, from filters to anti-phishing and -virus to detecting and blocking personal info from being sent out. What's great is the choices we actually have: the turnkey and updatable new Eli package (see last week's feature) and individual software products for filling in the blanks (e.g., I.M. Control and Blockster). To me, one great option for families now is to try a package like Eli for computer and network security, then add on a product or two for the desktop that covers one's own family configuration - kids' ages, online interests, and trust levels.

Related links & other sources

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Web News Briefs

  1. Gaming watchdog gets tough

    Now this is a smart move on the videogame industry's part: According to the BBC, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (the industry's watchdog) has told game publishers that from now on they must disclose any hidden content in games, such as the sexually explicit code unlocked by the "Hot Coffee" mod that created such a fracas last summer. Smart self-regulation, I'd say, if the industry doesn't want anti-game laws to proliferate - it not a little late in coming, because state and federal lawmakers have long been trying to implement regulation at the other end, the retail end, of the videogame food chain. In an email to publishers and developers (leaked to gaming Web site Gamasutra), the ESRB warned them that "any hidden material should reflect the games rating," the BBC reports. "Publishers failing to disclose content face 'punitive action'," the email said.

  2. Teen pleads guilty to phone hack

    The 17-year-old in Massachusetts has a self-professed history of hacks and violent threats. He not only pleaded guilty to hacking into Paris Hilton's cellphone account, he also told the Washington Post he made bomb threats at two high schools, broke into a phone company's computer system to set up free accounts for friends, and participated in a well-known data theft at LexisNexis that exposed more than 300,000 people's personal records. Prosecutors in the case say his actions caused victims about $1 million in damages. He was sentenced to 11 months' detention at a juvenile facility, and when he turns 18 he'll "undergo two years of supervised release in which he will be barred from possessing or using any computer, cell phone or other electronic equipment capable of accessing the Internet." The Post tells the story of how he and fellow hackers - known as the "'Defonic Team Screen Name Club' or 'DFNCTSC' for short" - carried out their exploits.

  3. Videogames for creativity

    Hmmm. Food for thought, maybe, if the Singapore Ministry of Defense can defer a Singaporean teenager's compulsory National Service "so he could finish competing in the finals of the World Cyber Games - the Olympics of online war games," as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman points out. Friedman uses that development to illustrate Singapore's new thrust in its effort to stay competitive in the global economy: supporting creativity of all forms (rather than rote-learning) in education. He points to a tool being used in 35 of Singapore's 165 schools:, "started four years ago in Chennai, India, by two young Indian bankers ... in partnership with the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University." Parents and educators, check out HeyMath, free to all on the Web, and see Friedman's piece for further details. As for the World Cyber Games 2005, their Grand Final is in Singapore in mid-November, with 800 players from 70 countries competing for some $430,000 in prizes.

  4. Calif. law about violent videogames

    California's legislature just passed a bill that requires violent videogame packaging to carry a sticker restricting sales to minors, The Inquirer in the UK reports, "in the same way as adult movies are." The bill now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing. California would be the second state to pass such legislation, after Illinois. According to The Inquirer, "this means that while the intended purpose of the bill, to stop children from being able to get hold of these games, will be carried out, it also means that large retailers such as Wal-Mart will probably not carry the games." So the gaming industry will be protesting the bill. The Inquirer makes an interesting point about this impending "kerfuffle," though: "The videogames industry really should have moved faster to address these concerns itself." The article points out that Japan's industry was self-regulating to avoid such legislation, "entering into a deal with retailers to ensure that over 18 games were sold only to over 18s or minors with their guardians present." Meanwhile, the New York Times suggests that Illinois was only the beginning (actually a milestone): federal-level politicians, led by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) of New York, are "ramping up" efforts to regulate videogames.

  5. Child-porn conviction overturned

    A decision in Maryland's highest court could be a major setback for US law-enforcement agencies' practice of catching online predators by posing in chatrooms as teenage girls. The Maryland Court of Appeals "unanimously overturned the Frederick County Circuit Court conviction of Richard J. Moore, saying he could not be found guilty of committing a crime with a nonexistent victim," the Washington Post reports. Moore had thought he was chatting online with a 14-year-old who was actually chatting with an officer trying to lure him into a physical meeting for the purposes of an arrest. He was arrested and convicted - the conviction that was just overturned. The Post said the court's decision was based on the experience of the state's legislature, which had "tried but failed six times to broaden the law and make it illegal to proposition an adult who the suspect believes is a minor."

  6. Web's role in disaster relief

    It has become a mainstream tool and medium in times of crisis, according to the Los Angeles Times - in ways the Internet's founders never dreamed 30 years ago. Besides enabling contributions and relaying info fast, "it reunited families and connected them with shelter. It turned amateur photographers into chroniclers of history and ordinary people into pundits. It allowed television stations to keep broadcasting and newspapers to keep publishing. It relayed heartbreaking tales of loss and intimate moments of triumph." The examples are inspiring:'s classifieds site was "jammed with offers of shelter across the country" and more than half of the $500 million+ in donations the Red Cross has received came in via its Web site. You'll find more in the Times article, which also tells how the Net personalizes and humanizes these huge events.

  7. Vlogs on the rise

    "From unbashful bloggers to proselytizing pastors, people are using inexpensive software and high-speed Internet connections to share video clips of their lives, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports - a little worrying where teen vloggers are concerned. There are doubtless no numbers yet on how many teens do video blogging because the phenomenon is so new, but there have been media reports of teens posting videos to sites that host them, "a recent check of the Yahoo video blogging group showed it had about 1,200 members," and teenagers are the earliest of adopters." With all the suggestive photos and posts about the intimate details of teen lives in regular blogs, seeing those move into vlogging is no great leap. For more on this, see "Teen vlogs?!," "When it stops being funny," and - for the extreme end of the spectrum - "Self-published child porn."

  8. Virtual High School in Va.

    Online learning is basically self-directed learning, so it can be a great alternative for some students but it's not for everybody. That's the bottom line of this Gainesville (Va.) Times article about Prince William County's Virtual High School. And whom might those students be? The Web-based school has especially helped students "with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who have a hard time concentrating with all the activity in a traditional classroom," but what's emerging is the program's value to students who want to "practice for college," the Times points out. Because of its flexibility, the best students become their own time managers and material masters. "There may not be a set class meeting time, but there are set due dates. There is also a mandatory orientation meeting, required times and places for midterm and final exam testing, and set office hours when teachers are available." Check out the article for further insights. [Thanks to for pointing this piece out.]

  9. 'Come and get it'

    That - along with "Find it. Rip it. Mix it. Share it" - is the invitation to the UK public from the BBC, where it's new Creative Archive is concerned. The Beeb says it had young people in mind in making these 100 clips of TV shows available to people for free use in their own digital creative work - people used to the idea of getting content exactly when they want it, to mash up however they like, BBC News reports. Very cool for future TV producers and video editors! I hope other media companies will follow suit, since the licensing agreement does restrict use to UK residents. Thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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