Should You Need a License to Surf the Internet? – You Decide

Car drivers must be educated, practiced, and licensed in order to drive a car. This legal requirement of course, does not stop drunk drivers from getting into a car and killing innocent victims.

And it certainly does not eliminate our exposure to the speeders, tailgaters, and the road ragers that seem to plague our highways. Licensing then, doesn’t seem to eliminate the risks we face on the road.

So would requiring a license to use the Internet make it a safer place for all of us? Would requiring a license from the “Department of Computer Literacy”, protect us from the ever increasing exposure we all face to Trojans, Spyware, Virus’, Phishing Scams, Identity Theft, ….. the list goes on.

You may think that I’m being facetious; but I’m not. The fact is the dangers on the Internet are not, in a sense, unlike the dangers and risks we face while driving on our streets and highways.

Unlike the need to be educated and practiced, in order to qualify for a driver’s license; to access the Internet all that is required is a modem attached to a computer. There’s no need to prove qualifications. There’s no need to prove an awareness of the very real dangers that the Internet presents.

Being involved in computer security, I am amazed at the lack of knowledge exhibited by typical computer users, and most importantly, the lack of knowledge concerning the need to secure their machines against the ever increasing risks on the Internet.

I’m not talking about unintelligent people here. I am talking about people who are intelligent in every other aspect of life, but who view computers like cavemen who saw fire for the first time.

The problem, it seems, is multifaceted. Part of the problem is simply fear. People do not understand computers, so they are afraid of them in a sense. Secondly, people generally, are simply not interested in learning about computers sufficiently to make the fear go away. The question is, of course, should they need to know anything other than how to turn on a computer? Well maybe not.

Many computer experts agree that it is primarily flawed computer software, and not just inadequate user knowledge, that is the biggest contributor to the proliferation of unsecured computer systems and cyber-crime, on the Internet.

It seems to me then, what is needed as a good first step, are machines that are designed with simple, but internally sophisticated operating systems, secure and easy to use for the majority of users; where no user interaction is required to maintain the security of the system.

We now live in the age of the “Interconnectedness of All Things” in which we are beginning to see the development and availability of large numbers of Internet connected devices. There is no doubt that this will lend new strength to computer-aided crime and perhaps even terrorists.

Unless we develop a rational approach to the underlying security issues surrounding the Internet, and insist software companies’ stop rushing out new products with little regard for security, hackers will continue to flourish and successful attacks on computers over the internet will continue to proliferate.

There are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood you will be the victim of a successful attack on your computer.

The following is a brief guide to the basic security issues you should be aware of on the Internet, followed by a guide to some of the steps you can take to secure your computer for Internet usage.

Security risks on the Internet you need to be aware of:

Trojan horse programs

Back door and remote administration programs

Denial of service

Being an intermediary for another attack

Unprotected Windows shares

Mobile code (Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX)

Cross-site scripting

Email spoofing

Email-borne viruses

Hidden file extensions

Chat clients

Packet sniffing

Security Checklist: Actions you can take to protect your computer system:

Install WOT (Web of Trust), a free Internet Browser add-on. WOT tests web sites you are visiting for spyware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, unreliable online shops, phishing, and online scams, helping you avoid unsafe sites.

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable hidden filename extensions

Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible

Disable scripting features in email programs

Make regular backups of critical data

Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer

Install a personal firewall on the computer

Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet

Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments

4 Comments

Filed under Browser add-ons, Don't Get Hacked, Firefox Add-ons, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Personal Perspective, Spyware - Adware Protection, Windows Tips and Tools

4 responses to “Should You Need a License to Surf the Internet? – You Decide

  1. Thomas Jespersen

    Similar to Wot is McAfee SiteAdvisor:

    http://www.siteadvisor.com/

    You can run both Wot and SiteAdvisor simultaneously for maximum protection.

    It is a browser plugin as well, so it will work on Mac OS and Linux as well as Windows systems.

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  3. As a Help & Support Technician, I see the consequences that a lack of awareness has on the general public– the damage done by foolish clicks, the naive belief that they actually can win a free iPod, etc.– and I can tell you that I, too, am amazed on a daily basis.

    I have no solution for you, because of these facts–
    1) any education solution would have to cover every age group, language spoken, and socio-economic level, and it would be resented and resisted and ignored and seen as a punishment– very much like Traffic School is.
    2) “Legacy” machines. I have a very dear and sweet Aunt who is very proud of her ability to check/send e-mail on her “new” Windows 98 machine.
    And there’s the entire “undeveloped” countries.

    The time to implement security was the very first generation of equipment– but back then, users had to be somewhat savvy (I mean, DOS required effort to learn and use) and there were few who would dial in to the ARPANET.. mainly academics.
    Connectivity– not security– was the desired goal.

    Security has become so “bad”, and so many people are getting nailed, that the Tech companies are finally becoming more proactive in making their products secure.
    But frankly, it’s a case of closing the barn door after the horse has left.

  4. Hmmmm…a government agency, one Department of Computer Literacy, tasked with determining who gets online access and who doesn’t. What body of government would make those decisions? What standard of review would be applied? What protections would be put in place to prevent such review from becoming a means of suppressing certain types of content the government doesn’t like?

    Are you sure you weren’t being facetious?

    The analogy to car licensing is flawed. That involves a compelling governmental interest to regulate, in the name of safety, who can have motor vehicle access to public highways. I don’t see the logical connection between reducing highway carnage and reducing viruses, trojans and identity theft.

    I will agree that there are far too many pinheads with PCs and modems out there. However, creating a licensing requirement for internet access would certainly trigger First Amendment issues in the U.S. It’s a silly idea.