NEWS

Web casts net for the unwary, with cheats and child pornographers topping list of risks

Only time will tell whether the slogan «more Internet,» uttered by the larger parties during their election campaigns, was to woo voters or a frank acknowledgment of the situation. What is certain is that informing people properly of the potential hazards they face on the Web will significantly contribute to the success of the enterprise – if it ever takes off. Because lurking on the Net are the sharp operators that use the Internet to rake in a profit – or gratify perversions. The group most vulnerable to Web-associated risks are children. While they may be more familiar with new technology, they often tread the Internet’s paths in an impulsive and over-enthusiastic fashion. Experience so far suggests that the most potent threat is posed by the rapid spread of websites containing child pornography and cyberspace pedophiles trawling for victims among the youngsters surfing chat rooms. It has not been long since the discovery of the activities of a 27-year-old teacher from Yiannitsa in Pella, who approached young girls and persuaded them to strip in front of a camera, after e-mail communication. Subsequently, he fed the pictures to illegal websites abroad. In a similar case in Athens, a ring of pederasts created four websites containing messages for underage young people that invited them to erotic rendezvous at nightclubs in the city. Besides the obvious dangers of children being exposed to pornographic material whose contents surpass the most unwholesome imagination, these websites can pose dangers to their physical well-being. To protect children, computer firms offer software with special filters that block access to Internet sites with unsuitable material. Web browsers also have such filters, but few know of their existence. The filters recognize key words, certain types of files and program codes to be found in the specific pages, depending on the filter. They will then permit or block the connection. At the same time, the most widely used browsers, such as Internet Explorer, have a tool that defines the «degree of tolerance» of unsuitable language, or of how provocative pictures can be. The filters are relatively cheap (60 euros for the most reliable), are installed with comparative ease, and offer two more useful services: protection against the dangers of redirection to a pornographic website, which then bills the telephone number for massive amounts, and protection against viruses that threaten the operation of the computer. Such viruses would include the recent worms SoBig and MyDoom, which in a few hours had spread to computers all over the planet, either by sending contaminated e-mails to millions of computers or exploiting security loopholes in software to get control of the computers. One of the largest Internet providers in the country, Forthnet, was spurred by the growing dangers to give Kathimerini a list of five basic measures to deal with 99 percent of cases: – Frequent security upgrades of software; – Upgrading the operating system at regular intervals; – Use of security programs (IP packet filtering and firewalls); – Use of anti-virus programs; – Proper knowledge of the programs and applications available. Vivian Tsamadou, public relations chief for Microsoft in Greece, said the firm’s Web pages, www.microsoft.com/ security/antivirus and www.microsoft. com/hellas/security/antivirus, keep the public up to date on security issues. At the same time, quite a few people, while engaged in electronic shopping, fell into the nets of thieves who stole credit card numbers and then made purchases of huge value. Nikos Vassilakos, president of the Association of Greek Internet Users, commented that «if purchases are made via certified traders, then nothing will happen. Users must be wary, and be especially careful to whom they give their credit card number.» Safe Internet use – Don’t reveal personal information in chat rooms. – If you want to meet a person that you have met in a chat room in person, get a friend or parent to accompany you. – Don’t reply to e-mail messages if you don’t know the sender. – Install special filters which block access to pornographic websites and e-mails. – Install anti-virus software that will protect your computer from viruses. – To prevent your e-mail filling up with spam and junk, delete them before even reading them. Otherwise, the sender can confirm that your address is active. – If you are a parent, place the computer in a public space and not in the child’s room. – Don’t use your credit card to make purchases from dubious websites. – To avoid connecting to a pornographic website by accident, activate a firewall against international calls and enter the Internet by using pre-paid Internet cards. – Familiarize yourself with the Internet, as well as the programs which your computer already has.