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ISSUE 118 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/22/2004

Porn slowin' you down?

By Jennifer Hancock
Contributing Writers


Friday, October 22, 2004

Pornography. What do you think of when you read that word? Exploitation? Surgically enhanced breasts? Enormous penises? What about computer problems?

It's a fact: people who view Internet pornography put their computers at risk. Pornography sites bombard viewers with pop-up ads, hijack their web browsers, redirect web browsers to the wrong places and install backdoors and other unwanted programs onto viewers' computers, all in an effort to create and maintain a pornography audience.

Most people do not realize why Internet pornographers would want to get into their computer. A major motivation for breaking into any computer is that several such compromised machines (referred to as zombies) can be used as a small army of zombie computers to do whatever the hacker wishes (read: send SPAM using your high speed campus internet connection.) So if you think the Internet on campus is slow, it may be because your neighbors down the hall, who like looking at porn without taking the proper measures to protect themselves, are unwittingly sending SPAM to you and everyone else on campus.

Here are a few tips for the person down the hall to keep your computers safe: First of all, you must recognize if you have any problems. Warning signs include the following: most of the pages you surf have pop-ups, pressing cancel does nothing, your computer becomes so slow that you must reboot or you end up at various lookatthishotchick.com porn sites against your will.

Although the negative effects pornography has on your computer cannot be avoided entirely (particularly if you surf the web for porn on a regular basis), there are certainly ways to keep your computer somewhat safe. Never use Microsoft Internet Explorer. It is an old browser that is vulnerable to pop-ups. Try downloading Mozilla Firefox (www.mozilla.org/products/firefox). This browser prevents annoying pop-ups making your life that much easier, even if you are not looking at pornography.

Whatever browser you choose, be sure to use its latest version. Malicious programs target security gaps in old browser software. Also, if you use Microsoft Windows, remember to update your computer with the company's security patches and updates (windowsupdate.microsoft.com).

Additionally, you can purchase or download free software that helps prevent malicious programs from installing on your computer. AdAware and Spybot Search and Destroy are two good anti-spy/parasite options. Use a free firewall like ZoneAlarm (www.zonealarm.com). While these instructions cannot ensure absolutely secure porn surfing, they can certainly help protect your computer.

Finally, if you use Windows XP or Windows 2000, you should create a guest account with non-administrator privileges to surf porn. Better yet, use a secure operating system like Linux. You can download a free ISO CD image of Knoppix Linux (www.knoppix.org) that allows you to use your Internet connection without having to install anything on your computer.

According to a recent study conducted by Cerberian and SonicWall (developers of Web filtering and security products), over 75 percent of people have accidentally visited a pornographic website due to pop-up windows, misrepresented links, misspelled URLs or auto-links within e-mails. Thus, we are all vulnerable to the tactics pornographers use to gain an audience, though those who actively surf the web for porn are still at the greatest risk.

As more and more people gain access to the Web, the number of pornographic sites and the number of people who access them will only continue to grow. Legislation has yet to be passed to protect people from the dirty tricks Internet pornographers play to ensnare an audience. Maybe someday the Net will be free from annoying pop-up ads and viruses, but until that day you must protect yourself from these nuisances. So if you are going to look at porn, for your computers sake, do it safely.


Any questions or comments may be sent to sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu


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