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Internet security is an especially important issue for childlovers, as we are targeted online by many groups, from organized law enforcement agencies to shady bands of vigilantes who want to do us harm in the name of protecting the children, to bored hackers that target people at random. Even if you don't do anything illegal online, security is important because it protects you from vigilantes, because as far as they're concerned we all need to get packed off to Hell as fast as possible and will do whatever it takes to get us there. Groups such as OPAAT (One Predator At A Time) work to catalogue user data revealed publicly on childlover messageboards to find out and expose the identities of individual posters.
Fortunately, there are many easy and free ways to stay very safe on the Internet. Nothing is foolproof; the only way to be 100% safe is never to go online, but there are techniques available that can vastly decrease risk on the internet.
1. Using Common Sense
Most of us have heard it from our parents a billion times: 'never give out your name or information online.' It's painful for me to repeat it here, because I know that if someone repeated it again to me I'd want to punch them, but it's true. The use of usernames and fake names is an elementary part of this. Less obvious are the minor security risks in the things we post; for example, if you talk about going to a rock concert last night, it's easy for vigilantes to check up on where the rock concerts were at that time and get a very good idea of your geographic location. Giving your time zone and country can also narrow down where you are. Little details given at separate times in separate posts add up--age, hair color, height...perhaps mentioning that you live in an apartment or just bought a new car. It's the little things that make the difference; you may never say that you live in an apartment in the north end of town X and ride the bus to school where you take advanced c lasses, but over time small comments can add up to exactly that portrait.
Most people who've been online for any amount of time will have noticed that most web addresses begin with the letters HTTP. This stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, which just means that the files being shared between computers in this instance are websites. There are other protocols, such as FTP (File Transfer Protocol,) IRC (Internet Relay Chat,) SMPT (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, or email,) and so on. When you visit an HTTP site, your computer sends out a request called a 'packet' to the computer where the website file is located. This packet is unencrypted and can be read by anyone who knows how to find it, which is not difficult for any moderately experienced hacker. The other computer then sends your computer the website file in the form of one or more packets, also unencrypted, allowing anyone who wants to to read everything you read and post on any website. Using HTTPS (for example, on this site, https://www.agetaboo.org) eliminates the problem of unencrypted packets. HTTPS sites use something called a 'certificate' to encrypt packets; when you use an HTTPS site you must agree to accept their certificate. People who are intercepting your packets will know what website you are on, and that you are posting to it, but they will not be able to read what you are posting or what the response is. Many sites, especially childlover oriented sites, have this option available for people wishing to protect their security.
3. Know how the web works.
Every computer with an Internet connection has a unique number called an IP number, or Mac Address for Mac users. This number is assigned by the ISP of the computer, or Internet Service Provider, that essentially provides you with your connection to the internet. It is extremely easy to find out who a person is once you know their IP address, or at least figure out their geographic location. This location can be as broad as town or city, or as specific as a dorm room or cubicle. Typically, IP addresses on large networks (schools and workplaces) tend to be more revealing. People who surf from college should use a proxy; people should not surf from work at all except of work-related issues, because it is not uncommon for employers to spy on employees' online activities. The IP address is supplied to webmasters every time you visit a site and is stored in the server logs kept by the site. So, incidentally, is the site you were on previously; for this reason, it's a bad idea to follow links from this site or sites like www.weareallpedophiles.com (exaggerated example) to non-childlove sites that might report you. Your IP address is also available to anyone you email using a non-secure email account such as Yahoo, AOL, or gmail. Your IP number can be guarded through a proxy, which I will explain in more detail later.
Another piece of info you should have about the Internet relates to networks. Networks are simply groups of computers that are all linked, that often share an IP address. They are used in places like libraries, schools, workplaces and even homes with multiple computers in order to provide ease of access to the Internet. They are an excellent tool, but also create security loopholes that need to be addressed. These loopholes are especially wide when you use a public network, such as one in an Internet cafe or school. On public networks there is often a monitor, or a person who can connect remotely to your computer without you knowing and see everything that is on your screen. Network administrators, or people who are in charge of running and maintaining the network, can also find out all the packets you've been sending, which basically means every interaction you had with any website. If you are on a network, especially a public one, I strongly recommend using a proxy.
What it all boils down to is this: people can and do see everything you do online. This is generally not a problem for people, especially when they stay within the law, but it's something important to be aware of.
4. Reject cookies.
Cookies are little packets that are sent by some sites, such as .asp sites, to help them run better by managing what is called, in webmaster land, 'dynamic content.' This basically means websites that can change appearance and function depending on your interaction with them. More often, however, they are used maliciously to hack or spy on your computer. They sometimes come loaded with little programs that watch your web activities and report them back to a master website. This is horrible news for anyone wishing to stay protected online. In your Internet Options on your browser, there should be an option to block cookies. Turn this option on. Sites that need cookies to work, such as your email site, or other sites where you have to sign in, are exceptions that you can put in your 'exceptions' list. Internet Explorer has an option to prompt for cookies; I use this option on the rare occasions when I use IE as it sends every cookie request to me directly, where I can make a decision about whether or not to keep it. If you use this option, a) never take cookies from Google, as these are unnecessary and work as spyware; and b) never take cookies from sites that you are not visiting. I generally block cookies first and only unblock them if the website doesn't work without them.
5. Avoid CP like the Plague
I have a personal, moral opposition to child pornography, but this is not the issue here. If you are a person who sees no problem with it, think again; it's a huge security risk. Many child pornography sites are set up by law enforcement to entrap childlovers. Same with emails offering free child porn, and people on Instant Messenger programs who say they're children or who offer child porn. The jokes that the largest CP collection on earth is owned by the US Department of Defense is based in something real.
6. Just say No to Internet Explorer
As one of my friends once told me, "friends don't let friends use IE." It has security holes you could toss a cat through, making it easier for malicious foes to penetrate your hard drive. It also keeps huge secret files full of information that it makes it almost impossible to find or delete. I strongly urge IE users to switch to a safer browser, such as Mozilla or Netscape, which offer almost all the same features and some new features as well.
If you use IE, it is imperative that you know how to locate and empty your chaches, those gigantic secret files that IE stores. Visit http://www.microsuck.com/content/ms-hidden-files.shtml for the best, most in-depth resource on this that I have ever found. I strongly urge you to print this document out and put it to good use, as anyone who has admin access on your computer or who has access to your account can find and read them using DOS. These sites store every cookie you've ever gotten, every site you've ever visited including pop-up ads that you didn't ask for and even then including some sites you've never heard of. It's a ticking time bomb security disaster. If you must use IE, be sure to keep these caches cleaned on a regular basis.
A quick note about Outlook Express: never use this program for sensitive emails. The full text of every email you send and receive with OE is stored in a secret file on your hard drive, similar to the IE caches.
7. Get Secure Email and Encryption
Most people don't know it, but email is horribly insecure in its basic form. It's easily intercepted and read, and easily traced. It can even be modified by a person who intercepts it. I have been able to locate and identify individuals who have sent me malicious emails in the past for purposes of ratting them out to law enforcement. Most free email services cannot be trusted.
Every time you send an email, a header is automatically added on to that email containing information that is used to send and direct it to its destination. This header includes the To, From, and Subject, as well as other information, including your IP address. This information can be found on an email by viewing the extended header; try it if your email service allows. There should be a small button or link that you can use. This is why, if you send email from a non-secure email site (or 'client,') you should be sure never to give away personal information of any kind or communicate with sites that you'd rather not let everybody in the world know you're visiting.
Fortunately, other options exist. Hushmail.com offers free secure email, which guards your IP address and offers powerful encryption. Hushmail encryption cannot be cracked using currently available computers, cannot be read, and cannot be modified without leaving the entire message a garbled mess (i.e.: giving you a heads up that someone messed with your mail.) As far as I know, it is the only widely used, free email client available.
8. Get a Proxy
Recommended free proxy: JAP: http://anon.inf.tu-dresden.de/index_en.html
9. Virus scan regularly
This is good advice for everybody. Spyware, malware, scumware, trojans, viruses, etc. all get hurled at any online computer dozens of times during the day. For this reason, it's important to have one or two active firewalls as well as a virus scanner. For a firewall, I recommend the free AVG scanner: http://free.grisoft.com. To virus scan, I use a battery of programs. My favorite is Ad Aware, which not only detects evil lurking files but also alerts me to 'innocuous files' such as my recently opened documents list for dozens of programs, which I find it reassuring to clear periodically.
Ad Aware Link: http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/
10. Use DOS
DOS is a great tool to learn how to use if you want to get a grasp on what your computer is really doing and how. DOS, or Disk Operating System, is a precursor to Windows. For IE users, it's especially important to learn how to use it, because you will need it to clear your caches. You can also use DOS to find out who your computer is connected to. To do this, open up DOS by using the 'Run' tab in your Start menu, then type in 'Command Prompt' (no quotes) or cmd.exe. One or the other should work. Earlier versions of windows can also shut down and restart in DOS. Then, type in 'netstat -a' (no quotes,) which will list the names or IP addresses of every computer connected to yours. I use this occasionally to see if any spyware is running on my computer. Be aware that any computer you're connected to can find out your IP address by typing in 'netstat -a -n'. If you use Google, you will find that Google likes to open up multiple connections to your computer and keep them open even after you close your browser. This is one of the reasons why I'm switching to a new search engine.
11. IM security
IRC is another instant messenger, less well-known but with better security options. It is a chat program where the option to do person-to-person chat is also available. IRC stands for 'Internet Relay Chat.' It's based on TELNET, one of the original "IM" programs from back in the days when hard drives were carved on stone tablets. It is, however, highly customizable with regards to security. The first time you use IRC on any given server, your ISP and IP are available for anyone in the world to see. You need to find out how to set the vhost on your chat server (it's different for every one, or I'd tell you.) A vhost masks your IP address invisible to other users.
You can find out about what a site is able to do with your information in the section that's titled something like 'Information Sharing' or 'Disclosure.' Read this section carefully. It should say something in explicit and clear language somewhere amidst the gobbletygook to the effect of 'we will not share your personal or identifying information with others unless we receive a court warrant or subpoena.' If this is not said, then the site is probably not secure. Most sites will have a clause in the Information Sharing section of their policy that allows them to disclose your information if they feel that you might be a safety risk for others, or even if they decide that what you're doing is morally wrong. It goes without saying that we are considered to be morally wrong by the vast majority of people, and most even think that we are a safety risk to children.
Here are some privacy policies that do not provide the minimum protection needed by a childlover online:
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