Internet Dangers - A Week's Roundup
Symantec released a study of the websites infected with the greatest amount of malicious code. These so called "dirty websites" mean even a casual website visitor's computer could be victimized by drive-by downloaders and other passive forms of infection. This survey ranked the worst of the worst, which were the 100 most infected sites containing as many as 18,000 different forms of malware on average and included primarily adult or porn sites. We aren't even publicizing the list of sites to prevent the curious reader from clicking on a site name and visiting one of these "cyber cesspools" by mistake. (Journalists can obtain the list from us upon request.) But if you follow the link above you can learn more about the methodology (it stars Norton Safe Web , a free community of information about safe and dangerous websites).
Making online threats of bodily harm or worse can get you in plenty of legal trouble, even without cyber bullying legislation. Nevertheless, it made the news last week when, in the UK, a girl's cyber threats on Facebook resulted in the first jail time for cyber bullying. It's likely that a recent, unrelated case where a young teen committed suicide after suffering from online bullying has many in the British parenting and legal communities feeling that it's time to take a harder line against the bullies to give the victims more backing. In the latter case, after reporting the online harassment, the victim was isolated from the rest of her school peers and put into classrooms with misbehaving youth, sending the message to this child that she was the problem and not her tormentors.
Back in the US, adults continue to behave stupidly - most notably one Elizabeth Thrasher took out some frustration against her ex by posting private information about the child of a new romantic rival. This private data was put in an adult Craigslist posting. Naturally, the child was inundated with inappropriate calls, messages and texts. And as day follows night, law enforcement quickly tracked the problem to the posting and the posting to the computer that placed it, landing Ms. Thrasher in legal peril. You see, post- Megan Meier, this sort of online bullying is a felony in the State of Missouri.
Freedom of Speech - protecting your 1st amendment rights has long allowed the Internet world to promote anonymous postings and commentary. For example, you can register here with any pseudonym (within reason) and comment on this blog. Frankly, I applaud this aspect of the internet, this freedom to communicate without revealing age, gender, race, religion and so forth. We do restrict language and will take down slanderous or offensive commentary because what counts for one person's right of expression can be limited by what is defaming, obscene or posts a threat to safety. Nevertheless, when it comes to your choice to say what's on your mind, the Internet has been the Wild West to a degree. It's notoriously difficult to get online postings you don't like removed or edited and they do tend to linger in computer caches or in sites like The Internet Archive.
If you are a famous person, it's even more difficult to deal with rude things said about you online. You may find it frustratingly difficult to get things removed unless you make a request directly to a sympathetic poster or site owner, or until it crosses that Freedom of Speech boundary. For a model in NY, insulting online commentary about her clubbing activities and defamation of her character appeared on a little known gossip site, ultimately leading her to sue to reveal the identity of the anonymous blogger.
The model, who had been a vicious victim of a physical attack several years earlier, felt it necessary to know who was following her around, in order to protect her own safety. Ultimately, Google (owner of Blogspot, the blog's host) was compelled to reveal the blogger's identity. And predictably, the blogger is countersuing since she feels betrayed by Google's failure to defend her privacy. The lesson of interest to me here is the implied privacy you might feel when you create an online account or persona and the ease with which that privacy might be removed. Food for thought.
Back to more traditional cybercrime topics, a data breach in the Radisson hotel chain has led to stolen consumer credit card information: including names, credit card numbers, expiration dates and so forth. The breach occurred sometime between November 2008 and May 2009. If you've stayed in a Radisson hotel in either the US or Canada within the last two years, you should try to monitor the credit cards used to register or pay for your stay with special attention. Visit the special web page on the Radisson site for information on how to get free credit monitoring or to get more information on the stolen data.
Lastly, though such centers have existed for several years in China and South Korea, now the US can boast our first internet addiction center. Following the "cold turkey" model favored by many other therapeutic centers, the reStart center, near the Redmond, Washington campus of Microsoft, is a 45 day in-patient treatment program for those who cannot balance web use with real life activities. It's a costly $14,500 stay but includes all you might need to kick a dangerous, expensive and damaging addiction.