The Internet Parent
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Friday, December 22, 2006

Hacker, Miss Nevada Learn the Hard Way

It's never really private, and it's never really gone...

I've published an earlier piece on how we need to teach our kids, and realize ourselves, that Internet behavior is public behavior, and that the Internet is forever.

Here are a few additional cautionary tales on the topic, to contemplate over eggnog.

Internet behavior is public behavior. First, Declan McCullagh's CNET news story "Police blotter: Google searches nab wireless hacker" illustrates just how "not private" the Internet can be. Matthew Schuster, apparently disgruntled after being fired from Alpha Computer Services in Wausau, Wisconsin, misused sensitive data, hacked into networks, and disrupted business. How did they catch him, and what did they use for evidence? According to McCullagh,

"Schuster's own Google searches were used against him.

Court documents say that Schuster ran a Google search over CWWIS' network using the following search terms: 'how to broadcast interference over wifi 2.4 GHZ,' 'interference over wifi 2.4 Ghz,' 'wireless networks 2.4 interference,' and 'make device interfere wireless network.'

Google has confirmed that it can provide search terms if given an Internet address or Web cookie, but has steadfastly refused to say how often such requests arrive."

This isn't the first time either. According to McCullagh, Google search terms were used in a North Carolina murder case as well. Used as evidence against the perp were searches for the words "neck," "snap," "break" and "hold" before his wife was killed.

Think carefully about that. Your search behavior is NOT private. And there's proof that it can help a prosecutor convict you.

The Internet is Forever for Miss Nevada. The next example comes from the world of quasi-celebrity. The Associated Press article "Miss Nevada Loses Shirt, Then Title", by Adam Goldman, relates how the erstwhile Miss Nevada, Katie Rees, was stripped of her title because photos of her participating in, shall we say, exhibitionist behavior, appeared on the Internet. How old are the photos? According to Rees' attorney, Mario Torres,

"Katie Rees Miss Nevada USA wants the public to know she was 17 and had a lapse in judgment. The actions on that evening in subject are in no way indicative of the person she is or the person she has become. … She is a law-abiding citizen and talented adult. This was an isolated incident that occurred more than five years ago when she was a minor."

Even though she's now 22, it doesn't seem to matter. The pictures are out there, even accessible from the ABCNews website. Is it a tragedy for this young woman? Perhaps not. But it's certainly an unwelcome distraction as she tries to launch her career. Our kids may not be beauty queens (and perhaps we would not want them to be...) but they'd be no less immune to the consequences - in fact, a "regular" kid wouldn't have the implicit latitude we grant celebrities. For a regular kid, it might be much worse.

Sorry to be a downer here as we head into the holidays - let's focus on happier prospects.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to all. And parents, remember to keep your families safe, no matter where you travel.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Internet Etiquette: "No Snarking" PLEASE!

Seriously, Folks, Anonymity is a Dangerous Illusion

I read a commentary by the New York Times' David Pogue entitled "Whatever Happened to Online Etiquette?" At first, I began to respond to David as a lark - a sense of levity to assuage my dismay:

Ah, it’s so sad. I would like to create a logo: the word SNARK with the red circle-and-slash depicting "not allowed".

Yep, anonymity is probably a major factor in rudeness. How often have we driven like cutthroats, expressed our rage by finger or horn, then become mortified by the fact that the object of our scorn is a neighbor or friend? Ooops! Not so anonymous, are we?

But then I realized, wait -- this is a real issue. As I've said before in these pages, "Internet behavior is public behavior", and "the Internet is forever"... I've talked about it in the context of this first-generation of Internet parents raising their kids. But the reality is that adults need to learn the same truth.

Anonymity on the Internet is only a thin, illusory veil. In the end, it can be ripped away by a friend, a colleague, a technical error, or poor judgment on the part of some faceless organization (recall AOL’s leak of its users' search behavior in August of this year). And then, lo and behold, all our online excesses come home to roost.

Really, the Internet would be more enjoyable, illuminating, and refreshing if folks were civil and clear, with penetrating commentary instead of obnoxious, gossipy expressions of schadenfreude.

We desperately need to teach our kids good manners, both person-to-person and on the Internet. To use an old but very accurate aphorism, "It's for their own good!" We need to lead by example, of course. Our kids will inherit a better world, and will each be much less at risk, if common courtesy, thoughtfulness, and care take priority over attitude, aggression, and put-downs.

In the end, enlightened self-interest strongly suggests "No Snarkiness".

Have an opinion? Think we should start a movement with the logo? Comments welcome!