Do you need help using the Internet?

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coverI have a new book and it may just be the thing you have been looking for!  The name of the book is You’re Never Too Old to Surf:  A Senior’s Guide to Safe Internet Use. 

This book is for you if you have ever wanted to harness the power of the Internet, but haven’t been quite sure what that means or how to do it.  It is intended for the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who want to use the wide range of tools that are available today on the Internet, from simply surfing the web to buying online, using email, blogs and even social networking sites.  You may have sought guidance from your child or children  only to be annoyed at their exasperated response to your questions.  Or, you may have tried it on your own, and gotten frustrated with the tools, or had some problem result from that use (or know someone who did).  You may be using the Internet, but just not feel very confident in what you are doing.  If you fall into any of those categories, I wrote this book for YOU!  Of course, if you are the child or grandchild and are having trouble explaining things to your elders, this book could help you too.

The book is available from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  Your local bookstore can order it too.  It is published through CreateSpace, ISBN 978-1506163857.

Please give it a try and let me know how you like it.

 

ACTA, CISPA, and TPP

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There is more alphabet soup to concern us today — ACTA,  CISPA, and TPP.  While they are two entirely different things, they both potentially threaten our privacy on the Internet and that is bad.   Let me clearly state that I am a published author and I too worry about people stealing my intellectual property and making a profit from their own use of it.  However, I worry about rights being taken in the name of protecting intellectual property.

ACTA is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement signed by the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, and expected to be signed by the European Union, Mexico, and Switzerland.  It is not “treaty” so it does not need to be approved by Congress. The goal of ACTA is to protect copyright and intellectual property, such as music and movies from pirating and counterfeiting.  I am not a lawyer and certainly not an international treaty expert, but the phrases, ” … including expeditious remedies to prevent infringements and remedies which constitute a deterrent to further infringements” and “authority to issue an order against a party to desist from an infringement, and inter alia, an order to that party or, where appropriate, to a third party over whom the relevant judicial authority exercises  jurisdiction, to prevent goods that involve the infringement of an intellectual property right from entering into the channels of commerce” sound like the government is asking ISP’s to watch over users — and such surveillance cannot be a good thing.  According to the EFF, “ACTA contains new potential obligations for Internet intermediaries, requiring them to police the Internet and their users, which in turn pose significant concerns for citizens’ privacy, freedom of expression, and fair use rights.”

TPP is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.  It too is multinational and it attempts to protect intellectual property.  It states that any party that “manufactures, imports, distributes, offers to the public, provides, or otherwise traffics in devices, products, or components, or offers to the public or provides services, that: (A) are promoted, advertised, or marketed by that person, or by another person acting in concert with that person and with that person’s knowledge, for the purpose of circumvention of any  effective technological measure, (B) have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent any effective technological measure, or (C) are primarily designed, produced, or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of any effective technological measure, shall be liable and subject to the remedies set out in Article [12.12].  That sounds a lot like ISPs will need to monitor all of our transmissions to be sure they are not in trouble.

CISPA is The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.  According to Demand Progress, CISPA “could let ISPs block your access to websites — or the whole Internet.  CISPA also encourages companies to share information about you with the government and other corporations.  That data could then be used for just about anything — from prosecuting crimes to ad placements.  And perhaps worst of all, CISPA supercedes all existing online privacy protections.”

None of these measures make clear how much authority the ISPs will have or what a citizen’s rights to argue will be.  That is the part that worries me most.  It seems perfectly possible in this era for this to be the first step to certain sites having more rights than others (such as movie sites or book publishers) because of these laws.  If they really are innocent protection of IP, then why have the discussions not been more transparent?  Why is the government determined to keep experts out of the discussion until after treaties have been signed.  Let us not allow anyone the right to evaluate the appropriateness of a site without oversight.

Individual Privacy: Is 1984 finally here?

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When I was in high school, everyone was required to read the book entitled 1984 by George Orwell.  According to Amazon’s description of the book, “In 1984, London is a grim city where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind.”  I recall there being much discussion of how horrible that would be and how it would never happen.

Yesterday I read an article on BBC.com that states, “The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon.”  That sounds to me like 1984 may have arrived.  Of course, those proposing the new law state that it is critical to have access to information about terrorists and their contacts in order to protect the country.  The difference between this proposal and one that failed a few years earlier is that police will not be able to access the data without a warrant.  But, the article goes on to say that the law would “enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.”

Most law-abiding citizens have no difficulty with the concept that terrorists or criminals would have their information recorded.  However, the law does not limit data collection to known criminals or terrorists, or even those under suspicion — it opens the door to collecting this information about everyone.  Once collected, will the government be able to help itself in doing more with the data than intended?  What is the difference then between the British government and that in China or Iran in modern times, or Nazi Germany and Communist Russia in more distant times?  Will the government not face the risk of taking action because of some communications that when put together look alarming?  How long will it take for the government to try to mine the data to find other “terrorists” or “criminals” who are so identified simply because they have similar surfing or communications patterns?

In addition, how will all of these data be protected from hackers?  We have recently seen hackers breech the security of Scotland Yard meetings, military data, corporate data, and, of course, credit cards.  In that same article, the author notes, “The Sunday Times quoted an industry official who warned it would be “expensive, intrusive [and] a nightmare to run legally.”  Most professionals respond to that quote as “to say the least!”

Police have always wanted this kind of information, but society has said that individual freedom is more important.  Just because it is (relatively) easy to get and keep such data now that it is electronic, does that make it right?   It is almost impossible to get privacy back once it is lost … shouldn’t we ponder this a bit more before we risk the loss of privacy forever?

WiFi Tricks and Threats

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Last week the Huffington Post commented on how to avoid hackers, especially for celebrities.  It was an article full of useful information, but only if you know how to use it.  The fourth of these was to avoid WiFi networks.  Well, that’s nice, but what is it and how does one avoid it?

One can define WiFi as the technology that allows an electronic device, such as your smart phone, laptop or iPad, to connect to the Internet wirelessly (using radio waves).  In order to connect, you must be able to send information to a hotspot (or access point).  Such hotspots are limited inside because walls, furniture and other physical objects can block the signals, but have a greater range outside.  Wi-Fi allows cheaper deployment of local area networks, and  in spaces where cables cannot be run, such as outdoor areas and historical buildings.

You may well have used WiFi at your local Panera (or St. Louis Bread Company as it is known here) while eating.  Bookstores, restaurants and lobbies of hotels also generally provide WiFi coverage to their customers.  Most devices attach easily to WiFi, and may attach automatically (with no obvious signal to the user).  It is a convenient way to access your email, social networking, or web searches from your portable device.

But, it is also an easy way for others to access your email, social networking or web searches.  Most public WiFi networks have no security associated with them (as indicated by the fact that you have no password or other requirements to join the network).  Since there is no security on the network, anyone can attach any device to the network and do on it what they want.  Some people, then,  attach devices that can read any non-encrypted transmission over the network.  That includes your passwords, credit card numbers, confidential corporate information or your surfing history.  This is comparable to the person eavesdropping, except it is with the computer.   They may also be able to masquerade as another device and send requests for information (such as data or pictures) to your computer (which your computer thinks it should honor).  As I have said before, sometimes people do this for fun, or to learn what they can do.  Others engage in such behavior to find information that might be sold to magazines or used to blackmail people.  Still others engage in the behavior to steal confidential information (such as credit card numbers) that they use to steal money.

So, what do you do?  Of course, the normal precautions of having your security software up to date will prevent someone from unleashing a virus or malware on your computer.  But in addition, many security experts suggest you avoid such networks.  Or, if you do use them, set up a virtual private network (or VPN).  You may already be familiar with a VPN because you may use that to login to your company’s computer.   VPNs typically require remote users of the network to be authenticated, and often secure data with encryption technologies to prevent disclosure of private information to unauthorized parties.  This software prevents sniffing of the material sent over the network, ensures that communications come from the place they say and that information is not intercepted inappropriately.

A Mobile VPN gives a user the same level of security when using public WiFi networks.  Instead of requiring a stable location on a network like the traditional VPN, a mobile VPN maintains a virtual connection to the application instead.  It allows the computer to move among WiFi networks which changes the “address” of a computer, and handles the changes of the addresses transparently.  This kind of security has been used by police officers as they move among cell towers, and by hospital personnel as devices move with patients.  Both applications require absolute security.  Using a mVPN may involve additional hardware and will involve additional software provided by a third party.

It is, of course, an extra step.  But, if you do not want the world to know the data you process, then perhaps the extra step is necessary.

 

A Sobering View of the Absence of Privacy

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It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so it is with a view of privacy.   There has been much discussion in the press of late about the change in Google’s privacy policy and how that will impact Google’s ability to track everything about us.  That all by itself is troubling.  But, it is not only Google who wants to know how you search — so too do other organizations with which you do business.  To learn just how much of my behavior is being recorded, I installed the new add-on to Firefox called Collusion.  The whole purpose  of Collusion is to help you track who is tracking you in real time.  According to their website,  Collusion “shows, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers.”

There are two handy tools they provide, wonderful visualizations (as we will discuss in a moment) and an audio clue whenever information is being shared about your surfing.  The audio clue is a clicking sound that resembles the sound of a typewriter key hitting the paper.  I recommend you turn it on for a while because it quickly helps you become very aware of just how much information is being shared.   The constant clicking when you select a link — and even clicking when you are not using your browser if you have a page open and it refreshes — helps to sensitize you to the amount of information being shared.  After a while, it gets annoying, so remember how to turn it off too!

Now for the visuals.  I downloaded the application and began to do some surfing.  The map of the information sharing is shown below.

The visualization is interesting.  The circles with the halos represent places that you have visited during your surfing, while the circles in gray are ones you have not visited.  An arrow from one to the other indicates that the first site has sent third party cookies to the other site.  I recognize some of the icons like Blogger, LinkedIn, Adobe, Facebook, MSNBC, and Northwestern University.  Others have no icons or they are not ones familiar to me.

If you hover over any of the circles, you will get the URL for the site (for example as I hover over the Facebook logo, I see facebook.com).  In addition, it will highlight all of the connections to and from that site.  So, I see that Facebook sent third party cookies to bit.ly, cbs.com, and reference.com.  I also see that cbs.com sent third party cookies to facebook.com.

I was surprised by the number of hits and the links between the hits because I am careful about not accepting cookies from sites that I do not know.  So, I decided to clean out all of my cookies  and surfed some more.  The number of hits reduced for a while as shown below.

Another View of Surfing Behavior with Collusion

Things were a little better, but notice how much information is being shared even without the cookies.  That is because the websites use third party applications to collect the data and share the data.

After a few hours of surfing by my husband or myself, the map looked like:

A Map of Surfing for a Few Hours using Collusion

And, after an entire weekend, the map looked like:

The Data Collection from A Weekend of Surfing with Collusion

If you did not think people were watching your behavior before, you certainly should be convinced with this image.  Further, the links between the sites, where they now have joint data begins to paint a picture of who you are and what they might do to get or keep your business, or how they can sell your data to others who want to market to you.

The creators of Collusion recognize that the tool is a work-in-progress.  The website says they are working on adding more features, such as the ability to click on any node in the graph and tell Firefox to block third-party cookies to that site, and visualizing other methods of tracking besides third-party cookies.

Using Collusion was an eye-opening experience.  I am looking forward to that add-on that allows us to block these third-party cookies.  What I do is private, right?

What is a Home Page?

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How do you know where “home” should be?  The home page (or homepage) is the point at which your browser will start each time it is opened.  If you have your own web page, as I do, that is probably your home page because it will have links to sources you visit often.  Most people do not have their own page though, and so they rely on another page.  This page should be something you read often, or that has links to other pages you like to read.

Many people select news sources for their home page.  Some of the common sites include: CNN’s site (http://www.cnn.com), the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com), CBS News (http://www.cbsnews.com), or BBC (http://www.bbc.com) because these sources provide headlines, links to articles and search capabilities.  Other people prefer news sources closer to home.  In Chicago, many people select the Chicago Tribune’s home page (http://www.chicagotribune.com) because it focuses on Chicago news and events, while people in Cleveland are more likely to select the page of the Plain Dealer (http://www.cleveland.com/plaindealer/), and people in San Jose are more likely to select the Mercury News (http://www.mercurynews.com) because they focus on events local to their communities.  Many sports fans start their web browsing at ESPN’s site (http://www.espn.com) so they can get information about their favorite teams and sporting events.

Other people select what are called “portals” for their home pages.  These portals may provide news, but they also provide links to a variety of other subjects that are of interest, such as movies, maps, weather, music, shopping, sports, health information, greeting cards, and even horoscopes and comics.  In addition, the portals give you access to email accounts, seach capabilities and other internet functions such as instant messaging and chat rooms.  Yahoo’s page (http://www.yahoo.com) is probably the most commonly selected portal.  But, Google (http://www.google.com/ig) and Microsoft (http://www.msn.com) each have one too.    In addition to the wide range of sources of information, most of these portals are customizable.   That is, you can edit the page and decide what information should be available in what spot on the page each time you open it.  So, I might weather forecasts both at my home, and where we intend to vacation so I can plan both what to wear today and what to pack for the vacation.  If I am active in maintaining my own portfolio, I might also locate a stock price window at the top of my page.  Instead, I might have the sports scores or technology news high on my page so I see them each time I go to my home page.    Some even allow you to adjust the colors on the page to make it seem more like your own.

Another source for a home page is that of organizations.  Some members of AARP (http://www.aarp.org/) use the AARP page as a home page in order to see information that is of importance to them.  Those who trade stocks and bonds might link to their broker, such as Ameritrade (http://www.tdameritrade.com/), or the New York Stock Exchange’s site (http://www.nyse.com/).  Others set their home page to the organization at which they work, or the one at which they study, or the one at which they worship.

There are specialized home pages based on interest.  Grandma Betty (http://grandmabetty.com/) provides a portal for “baby boomers and seniors.”  Ebay’s site (http://www.ebay.com) is selected by those who spend significant time with the online auction site.  The Sports Car Club of America (http://www.scca.com/) is a starting point for sports car enthusiasts, while collectors might start at the Collector’s Connection (http://www.collectorsconnection.com/) and knitters might start at http://www.patternworks.com/. What is the best home page?  There is no such thing as what is best.  Best is what provides the information and links that are of importance to you.

What is the Web?

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World Wide Web (frequently referred to just as “the Web”)  is similar to a library.  There are lots and lots of different kinds of documents sitting “out there” on computers around the world being maintained by different people.  All together they make up the Web.

Think about walking into your local library.  There are reference books, magazines, novels, nonfiction and more.  Some are well written, some are very good, and seem odd,and you wonder why your library bought them.  In addition, most libraries include a collection of newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, as well as videos/DVDs, music, and some government documents for citizens to browse.

All libraries have reference librarians, those magical people who expertly find just what you want, be it a particular book, references to some historical event, statistics, or your great grandfather’s birth certificate.  These people can help you find something specific, or teach you how to use the library, or provide summaries of information to help you investigate topics effectively.

Most libraries also have an announcements bulletin board and a place where local and not-for-profit organizations can place fliers so that people can learn about what is happening in their neighborhoods.  Sometimes people post “opinion statements” to share, or requests for help.

In addition, your library probably sponsors “book clubs.”  These groups select a genre of books, and select a particular book to discuss each month.  They meet at regular times, talk about the book and then decide what to discuss next time.

The library may sponsor other group discussions, such as young people’s groups, or people between jobs or whatever topic is of interest to the local community.  A quick look at my library’s offerings include sessions on Russian quilts, a career center workshop for job hunters, knitting and crocheting, introduction to genealogy, travelog Austria, tax assistance, and several needlework and crafting sessions.  All of the descriptions encourage citizens to bring a friend, or make new friends there.

The Web is all of this and more.  There are documents, periodicals, places to learn things, places to discuss things, places to voice your opinion, experts, clubs and more.  It is similar to a library – but it is very different from a library.  It is similar because there is a vast amount of information that is available to anyone – and most of it is available for free.  The Web, like a library, includes so much more than references.  It includes places for people to meet, ways of communicating, ways of sharing opinions, programs that accomplish some specific task and probably many things you may not yet have considered.

The scope of this library is enormous.  There are over 600 billion items on the Web today.  That’s over 100 items per person alive.  And, the number of web pages available is growing exponentially.  At your computer, you can access an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the world, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers, and more.   So, the Web is a very large library!

But, there are a few very important differences.  The first of these is that anyone can post whatever they want on the web and no one will stop them (usually).  This differs from what we see in books, newspapers and magazines, where an editor decides if the substance of the content is credible, well written and worthy of sharing.  On the Web, there generally is no editing, no overview and no one who decides that something is bad to include.  Readers need to consider things with a grain of salt, until they know of the writer’s credibility and credentials.

Second, the Web is alive.  What was available yesterday may not be available today, or if it is, it may have changed.  Documents are not like much-loved novels that read the same way today as hundreds of years ago.  People can, and do, update documents daily (or even more often), or replace them with something different.  So, it may be difficult to find items that you have seen before, even if you remember where you have seen them.

Third, in many ways, the Web is anonymous.  People need not identify themselves when posting pages (or as we shall see later, sending email or talking in a chat room).  People can, and do, disguise themselves both for reasonable purposes as well as for nefarious ones.  The user needs to have the same concerns for safety on the Web as they would in the “real world” and perhaps more.

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