CI 2/23/97 -- Where Nobody Knows Your Name
Mime-Version: 1.0 (NeXT Mail 3.3 v118.2)
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 97 12:09:47 -0800
Subject: CI 2/23/97 -- Where Nobody Knows Your Name
CERTIFIABLY INANE February 23, 1997
(c) Patrick C. Ross
Where Nobody Knows Your Name
Speaking of toe-sucking, you just don't know who to trust
on the Internet these days. Take a posting that popped up in
dozens of newsgroups last week, and was even forwarded to me by a
helpful reader. The missive claimed that the FCC was considering
levying a per-minute access charge on Internet service providers,
and begged the reader to e-mail the FCC in protest. Yet according
to the trade newsletter "Communications Daily," the FCC had
recommended in December against any access charges. Still, the FCC
received over 300,000 e-mails in the first week after the posting,
2,000 every hour. Each of those e-mails must be read and entered
into the official FCC docket, thus violating PR's Rule #273: I
want bureaucrats to have to work for their taxpayer-funded
salaries, but ideally the work should be more productive than the
5-page essays on etymology that Mrs. Burnsides would make me write
when she caught me talking in class.
Sometimes the abuse of the Internet has more sinister aims,
namely your pocketbook. Take the poor saps who chose to visit the
www.sexygirls.com Web site. According to the Washington Post, the
site told Web surfers that in order to have some fun, you just had
to download an innocuous little executable file. When you
complied, that file would then, without your knowledge, seize
control of your modem and dial long-distance to Moldova, an
obscure, land-locked former Soviet republic that's most likely
obscure for a reason. This reach-out-and-touch-your-wallet would
continue even after you logged off the Internet; as long as your
computer and modem were on, you'd be unknowingly ringing up $3 a
minute on your next phone bill.
There's a sucker born every minute (that's the only reason
some papers actually run this column), but it seems the Internet is
truly preying on people's desire to trust. Curious to find out
more, I tracked down a leading doer of mischief on the Net, who
would go only by his online name, PuckMan. The hacker refused to
meet in person, or even disclose what country he was in (I
suspected it was Moldova), but he agreed to meet me in an online
chat room dedicated to, of all things, toe-sucking. The following
is a partial transcript (the spelling errors typical of online
chats have been corrected so as not to fluster any typesetters;
Lord knows, they're busy enough inserting their own errors):
PatrickR: What makes you want to dupe people into
believing the garbage you spread?
PuckMan: The same reason you hope people will believe the
phony dialogue in your columns. I love the power of fooling the
PatrickR: Have I seen your handiwork?
PuckMan: If you're online, you can't miss me. You know
that handy message some friend or systems administrator will
forward you warning about a virus being carried on an e-mail with
"Good Times" in the subject line?
PatrickR: Sure. I haven't needed a warning not to open
it, however, because the only cheesy old sitcom I'd want to read
about is "Welcome Back, Kotter."
PuckMan: Well, the warning was a fraud, written by moi.
Computer viruses can only be transmitted on an executable file, not
some silly e-mail text message. By tapping into users' desires for
'safe computing,' I'll bet my words were read by more souls than
PatrickR: Yeah, but you don't get his royalty checks.
ToeLover: Hello everyone! I think Dick Morris kicks major
PuckMan: Tell it to the hand, ToeLover. This is a private
chat. Now regarding money, there are plenty of ways to make it.
You can be blunt about it, like I did in breaking into the Web site
of a bank and downloading all of its customers' Visa numbers. Now
if the bank is stupid enough to let that information be accessible,
they deserve to get stung.
PatrickR: And the bank's customers deserve it too?
PuckMan: There's no room for moralizing on the Net. As
you know, it's got no central administrator. It's international,
so it evades any nation's attempt to regulate it. It's the Wild
West, and the sheriff has just taken some hot lead in his chest.
Cyberspace will divide the globe into two camps: the entrepreneurs
and the suckers.
After I had concluded my conversation and spent awhile
eavesdropping on the subsequent discussion of some chat-room
participants' foot fetishes, I reflected on PuckMan's words. I
decided that I probably fell into the sucker category: After all,
I distribute my columns on the Internet for free.
"Lotsa laughs... Certifiably Inane lived up to its billing."
Wash. Post 6/27/96 review of this free weekly humor column
Certifiably Inane (C) Patrick Ross 1997
© 1997 Peter Langston