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Friday, August 06, 2004

Free virus protection?

Many families have this question: Must we pay a yearly subscription for decent protection from viruses, worms, etc.? The basic answer from New York Times tech guy J.D. Biersdorfer seems to be, "you get what you pay for." He names some free anti-virus programs, but this is key: "You may find better technical support and a wider array of features in some of the antivirus programs designed specifically for home users."

Disney PC for kids

The "Disney Dream Desk PC" will cost $599 (plus $299 more for the monitor) and be available at CompUSA stores and Disney's Web site starting September 11, the Associated Press reports. Web and email filtering from a company called ContentProtect will be bundled with it, along with software that "allows users to combine their own video clips with Disney characters and sound effects and create drawings using a built-in digital pen." Of course the Windows PC (made by a private label company in Germany called Medion AG) will also play Disney CDs and DVDs and will combine. Soon there will also be a Disney digital camera and camcorder, according to the AP.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Spam: How some people cope

Some have given up on filters because, with them, they lose important messages. Others have just about given up on email altogether. But some depend on it too much and simply can't do without the technology, spam or no, the New York Times reports. My friend Jean, who's quoted in the piece, is in that last group, because - as Net-mom - she answers a lot of people's questions about the Net. And Jean's quite happy with the new Bayesian filtering used by the latest versions of Eudora email software. Good filtering just takes a bit of work. Jean gets about 900 junk emails/spams a day, and she's grateful Eudora filters the bulk of it out, but she still has to go through the junk folder every few days to make sure she doesn't trash anything important. A key point is that she's in control - she sets the level of restrictiveness and can check Eudora's work. Some ISPs do the filtering for you without showing what's been blocked, so you can miss legitimate mail without ever knowing it. I can't really imagine life without email - as the Times puts it, spam is the bathwater; email's the baby. It really helps to hear how people are dealing with the bathwater.

Incidentally, here's a step in the right direction: The giant pharmaceutical Pfizer is taking action against publishers of spam about Viagra, the BBC reports.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Kids swap files, parents sued

The reaction of this mom and dad - Sandy and Richard Nauman of Des Moines, Iowa - to an RIAA lawsuit is far from unusual, we suspect. Sandy said she and her husband had no idea how to download music from the Internet. But, according to the Associated Press, their 15- and 18-year-old kids certainly do. The Naumans are among "a group of
90 named defendants from across the country sued [in federal court] late last month in the latest round of [some 3,500] lawsuits" the RIAA has filed against what it calls music pirates. The settlement could cost the Naumans "up to $4,000," the AP reports. the RIAA says they have downloaded more than 1,000 songs on free file-sharing services (such as eDonkey, Kazaa, or BitTorrent).

Online suicide 'advice'

This might just be a good thing for parents to know about: suicide sites and chatrooms on the Web. The Australian parliament is considering legislation to "make it a criminal offence to use the internet to counsel or incite suicide," Australian IT reports. The legislation "would also cover material which promoted and provided instruction on a particular method of suicide. Possession, production or supply of that material would also be covered." The article refers to the many "easily accessible" sites with instructions for different methods of committing suicide and actual chats in which participants encourage each other to do so.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Latest on home zombie PCs

One person commenting on a BBC piece today likened getting a high-speed Net connection more to getting a driver's license than having cable TV coming into your home. With the latter, you just turn the set on and start consuming; with the former you're only getting the privilege to figure out how to drive safely. Why the metaphors? Because so many families are now getting broadband Net access, many of them without understanding the (PC) security issues involved. Thus figures like this one cited by the BBC: 85% of email leaving broadband-connected homes is now likely to be spam - of course largely unbeknownst to those connected families who are inadvertently sending out that spam. Their PCs have become "zombies" - controlled by others, spam publishers, because the families don't know (or haven't been told by their Internet service providers) that they need firewalls (software like's ZoneAlarm, free for personal use); constantly updated anti-virus software/service (like McAfee's or Symantec's); and timely downloads of Microsoft's ever-more-frequent "critical updates," or PC security patches.

Families' PCs become controlled by others when kids (or parents) mistakenly open attachments that contain "trojan" viruses that open up a "backdoor" and allow outsiders to take over their computers. Less often it's because someone has visited a Web site that sends software code to the PC which similarly takes control. At the bottom of the BBC piece are readers' own experiences with the zombie problem - you might find these helpful, or at least comforting. You're not alone (if you have a zombie on your hands); way too many of us are dealing with this problem. We wish broadband ISPs were doing a better job of informing their new customers about what the "driver's license" they're providing entails - though the BBC points out that ISPs are getting better about this, for the benefit of their own bottom line as much as for their customers. You'll find more on this in "What if our PC's a zombie?"

Monday, August 02, 2004

Canada's Tipline

The fight against online exploitation of children is getting a big boost from the Canadian government and private sector, the Calgary Sun reports. The government pledged to fund, a program of Child Find Manitoba, $700,000 a year for five years, and Bell Canada has contributed that amount to the tipline to expand its Web site for nationwide coverage by the fall. " receives tips regarding Internet incidents of child pornography, luring, child sex-tourism, or child prostitution and forward that information to the appropriate law enforcement agency," according to the Sun. The tipline appears to be modeled after the US's CyberTipline, run by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia.