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Protecting Yourself On The Net This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   The author of "The Net Experience" (April issue) made a very good point when she warned about computer crackers on the Internet. (I prefer the use of the word A"cracker" to A"hacker," since A"hacker" also has several positive denotations that seem to be ignored by the media.) It is very simple for people to be taken advantage of when utilizing such online services as America Online, Prodigy, or CompuServe. However, I believe this illegal use of network accounts arises out of two major factors: the first being the human element (that of the crackers) and the second being due to the technology used to access the net.

The technology that I am talking about is the software. The recent trend in software for Internet access creates a system that is incredibly simple for people to use. This is great since people who harbor some fear of computers are not excluded from the riches of the Internet and similar networks.

However, such simplification pulls the user far enough away from what is going on that it is very simple for crackers to trick users into giving them sensitive information (done through "mockingbirds," which are programs or devices that look like the real McCoy, but are actually imitations designed to obtain passwords, etc.). In creating a simplified interface for the novice user, several new steps are added between what is actually happening to their data and what they see on their screen, and each added step is one more opportunity for mischief-minded users to get at your data and to use your money.

The obvious solution is to reverse the process and to revert to more complex methods of accessing the Internet. However, this loses all the benefits of the newer, simpler interfaces.

The best solution is simply to educate yourself about what crackers do, how they do it and what you can do to protect yourself. For example, if you have been using America Online for a few months and have never come across a window telling you (that for security reasons) you must enter your password to play an online game, but then you log in one Saturday night and such a window pops up, it probably would not be a good idea to blindly type in your password. Try typing in a wrong password. If it works, it is probably some cracker trying to sucker you into giving them your password. If it doesn't work, or if such a window pops up when you try to play a game, it is probably legitimate (although a poor design).

Seeing that the trend is toward making computers simpler, I believe security (especially when concerned with the Internet) is a big issue. The best defense is not just to be careful when on the net, but to try to learn as much as you can about what is really going on underneath the surface. This will let you, the user, understand what is supposed to happen, so the next time a cracker tries to victimize you, you will recognize it immediately and perhaps save some frustration and cash in the process. u


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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