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Spam, spam, spam
Dec 17, 2004

Perhaps in the New Year someone will actually put a stop to all the phishing, ad-blasting and spam that plagues today’s computers.

Anti-spam, anti-virus and other prevention paraphernalia masquerading under a plethora of names do little to stop the inventiveness of people trying to corrupt your computer system. 

The anti-this-and-that devices can be just as frustrating as spam because they sometimes stop legitimate e-mail. You want to scream when someone finally calls you a week later on the phone saying they sent 100 urgent e-mails needing your reply. Why didn’t they phone in the first place!

As far as I’m concerned, e-mail has become the scourge of modern society. Every morning I have been forced to spend valuable time deleting unwanted messages. It has got to the point that the only mention of spam I can now abide is that found in a Monty Python skit.

Is e-mail a convenience? Not in all instances. The only possible convenience is sending information that could not otherwise be conveyed over the phone or by fax or conventional letter. E-mail is great for receiving quality photos, cartoons and the like, but it’s a poor substitute for a friendly voice heard over the phone giving you a birthday greeting or wishing you a Merry Christmas.

With e-mail, simply sending someone a message of greeting opens up the flood gates. These messages are the portal to destruction because of their ability to aid in expanding the reach of viruses. For example, a friend has sent you an e-mail message and this friend had received an e-mail message from someone else and this other friend had received an e-mail message from someone else, etc. — the tendrils of a network susceptible to viruses and spam has been created. One gateway leads to the opening of thousands — nay, millions — of others. 

Do you curse your long-time friend because his name is attached to some unwanted e-mail spam? Don’t blame him or her. Sometime in the past, a message was sent from another friend, and so on and so on — the interconnecting web needed for fraudulent use of e-mail.

The newest nightmare of the Internet is ad-blasting pop-ups, referred to  as adware, spyware, malware or junkware. A computer can be infested to the point that the ads become incessant. The ads  are loaded directly into your computer  — sneakily — by the next generation of spammers. It’s an insidious plot. The ads overload and take over your computer. Short of having your hard drive wiped clean by a specialist, there’s nothing else that can stop these ads which now infest 80 per cent of the computers in North America.

Looking for a prime vacation spot to get away for the winter? You enter your desired location on a search engine and then click onto one of the choices offered. What you see next astonishes you. You didn’t ask to see the site of such-and-such an airline, but there’s a pop-up ad extolling its merits.

Besides trashing your computer’s hard drive, the really, really bad thing about these ads is that they can let in a virus or spyware that can then be used to steal personal information. Identity theft has been made infinitely easier with the advent of the Internet — the supposed next wave of technology to lead mankind to another plateau of consciousness.

I’m not a luddite when it comes to computers, but I am overly suspicious of the gifts bestowed upon humans by humans. While a higher entity may be able to bring rhyme and reason to the world, what a human has wrought can be pulled asunder and used for the devil’s work.

Satan’s tricks are used to get Internet users to open files. A prize is offered or a bank with what sounds like a plausible name e-mails you. The imaginary bank claims you are a client and then asks you to click on to an address. Little do you know that it’s one of beelzebub’s minions e-mailing you, rubbing his hands in glee that you have been tempted. You click on and then it asks you to fill in a form which includes devulging personal information — perhaps your social insurance number or credit card numbers. You send the information. Poof! You’re in Hades or at the very least Purgatory.

The imp has your personal information and uses it to steal your identity. The fiend gets legitimate financial institutions to issue more credit cards in your name and then drains them of money. 

The only way you know that this has happened is when you get your next credit card statement and it says you bought a Rolex watch in Hong Kong. But, you know you haven’t left Canada in the last five years. The real blow is that it can take years to clear up your credit rating.

Governments claim to be taking action against unscrupulous use of the Internet, but don’t ever feel too comfortable — someone will find a way to get around any safeguards and regulations. 

Be careful. If you understand that the Internet and e-mail are tools and nothing more, you are on the way to greater peace of mind. They are not some magic elixir. Without truly understanding the pitfalls and limitations of the Internet, you may be tempted to open Pandora’s Box, thus unleashing woe upon yourself and the interconnected world. Don’t do it!