Bad Guys Just Keep Coming

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

November-December 2004


I teach a course called “The Global Impact of Technology.”  Since technology changes so rapidly the reading includes a website with “Hot Topics” that deal with real issues in technology that I get from the Internet and various online newsletters.  As I was uploading a batch of hot topics, I realized that the online world has gotten decidedly scarier.  Here’s a list of the topics since August 2004:

This is very scary.  So, what can you do?  Some of these issues I have dealt with in previous columns.  All of my columns are online at http://www.csudh.edu/psych/TNPTopics.htm including: privacy (September/October 2002), Viruses (January/February 2002 and November/December 2001) and Spam (January/February 2004).  Here are suggestions to deal with some of the other problems.

  1. Most people have figured out that they should not open attachments from people they do not know.  However, “hackers” have risen beyond that to more clever techniques.  Now, they are hiding their programs in pictures.  So, if you receive a file from someone with an extension of .jpg (e.g., prettypicture.jpg) you should not open it unless you are sure of the source.  Even if you know the source, don’t open it until you check that the picture actually came from that person.
  2. You may receive an e-mail from your bank, your credit card company, even the IRS telling you that there is a problem and to follow a link to a website to correct the problem.  The site appears to be the real deal, but in fact it is fake.  It will have pictures that look real which they are since they were lifted from the real website.  You will be asked to input information about your account.  DO NOT DO THIS!  This is called “phishing.”  According to a recent survey, 57 million Americans have received these fake e-mails and, believe it or not, 1.8 million have provided the phishers with account information.  A group called MailFrontier tested 1,000 adults and found that 28% could not identify phishing e-mail and were ready to follow the links and answer the questions.
  3. A recent study indicated that an “unprotected PC” will be invaded within 20 minutes of being connected to the Internet.  Get a good firewall program (McAfee, Norton) and install it now.
  4. I don’t know about you, but pop-ups drive me nuts.  I got a new computer at school and I started getting dozens of pop-ups immediately.  I installed a pop-up blocker and the problem disappeared.  I use one that comes with the google toolbar (toolbar.google.com – see my article from May/June 2004 for more information). It is easy to install and does the job.
  5. My gym has a large sign that says camera phones may not be used in the locker rooms.  A recent news report in San Diego noted the arrest of a man who was accidentally dropping his picture cellphone in a teen clothing store and then snapping pictures up skirts when he reached down to retrieve the phone. Congress just passed a bill to make “video voyeurism” a crime punishable by a large fine and/or prison.  This is sad, but true.  With the rise in technology comes a loss of privacy.  Get used to it.  Soon all intersections will include cameras to catch red light runners.  Get used to that, too.  I could go on and on, but the upshot is that technology can be a time saver and can be a privacy breaker.  If you are worried about the security of your AOL account, for $1.95 extra per month AOL will provide you with a device that generates a new password every minute.  That should stop hackers from getting your password!  If that is not enough, Microsoft has a keyboard with a fingerprint reader to prevent anyone but you from logging on.  I haven’t tried this but if you are worried about security it costs $104.
  6. It is possible that you have a program currently residing on your computer that is tracking your website visits and showing you advertisements based on information about your preferences.  This is called Adware. Spyware is similar, but it stays in the background and collects your private information.  If you are getting lots of pop-ups or your computer is running sluggishly, you may have one of these programs.  I have used a program called Ad-Aware and since I have had no problems it must be working well. Download.com (where you can download it for free) gives it 5 stars.

I am starting a new feature of this column.  Each month I will offer a website that provides a useful service.  This month’s site is winkflash.com.  If you have a digital camera you must be bewildered by what to do with the dozens of photos that you take on vacation.  I took over 150 on a recent vacation and was overwhelmed.  I couldn’t begin to imagine trying to print the ones I liked and I had no desire to go to my local drugstore and use their kiosk to laboriously make prints.  Then I discovered winkflash.  All you do is drag and drop the images that you want made into photos and indicate the size and format (glossy, borders, etc.) and your pictures arrive through the mail within 2-3 days.  The price is pretty competitive, with 4 x 6 photos costing only 18 cents.  And shipping is free! 

If you find a website that you like let me know and I will check it out.  Remember, you can always e-mail me at LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU. I am happy to answer your questions.


Copyright, 2004, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.