Dangers of Using the Internet


There are several ways in which the computer can be dangerous to users. The following is a partial list:

These problems can occur when anyone uses the Internet. The present chapter will focus on the problems most likely to arise in school.



A virus is a program that replicates itself on computer systems by incorporating itself into other programs that are shared on a system. They are dangerous, because they can cause bad things to happen. For example, the virus may erase important files or cause the computer to crash.

There is a good possibility that students and teachers could contaminate their computers or local area network (LAN) with viruses by engaging in indiscrimate use of the Internet.

It is important to precautions against viruses. For example, a virus scan program such the the McAfee programs scans new disks and downloaded software and either cleans up or refuses to download files that are probably contaminated. In addition, it is important not to open any e-mail attachments from people you don't know.



The term spam most often refers to an e-mail message sent to a large number of people without their consent. This sort of message is also known as Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (UCE), or junk e-mail. Spam is also found in the newsgroups, where it refers to identical and irrelevent postings to many different newsgroups. Usually this posting has nothing to do with the particular topic of the newsgroup it is posted in.


Spamming is considered to be a serious violation of netiquette and many ISPs are developing anti-spam methods to fight and eliminate spammers.


The most common forms of spam in your In-Box are:



Spam is dangerous not only because it is annoying, but also because it causes readers to miss more imortant messages. In addition, spam may also spread viruses, and they are likely to contain malicious offers from con artists.

The best way to deal with spam is to filter it. A filter is an electronic strategy for recognizing messages from certain addresses or whose titles contain certain words and deleting those messages. Short of filtering, the next best strategy is to recognize spam and to delete it without bothering to read it. For example, messages that are sent to you as blind carbon copies (bcc) with no initial recipient are almost always spam, as are messages that contain the words "free," "nubile," or "nekkid." Note that it is also a good idea to avoid spam-like words in your own email messages or newsgroup postings - recipients are likely to perceive them to be spam and either filter or trash them.

The worst thing to do with spam is to respond to it. A subtle form of spam is the offer to delete you from the message list if you send an "unsubscribe" message. Although this sometimes works, the result is often that the spammer simply puts you on yet another list. 


Con Artists

As Phineas T. Barnum would have said, there's a sucker born every nanosecond on the Internet.


Misleading Information

A couple of years ago a fascinating speech by Kurt Vonnegut appeared on the Internet. The most interesting thing about the speech was that although it certainly sounded like something he might have written, Vonnegut was not the author. The speech was something a newspaper columnist had written, and someone else had simply inserted Vonnegut's name and put it into circulation on the Internet.

Robert Harris recommends using the CARS criteria to evaluate the quality of Internet information. That is, if you check a report's Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, and Support, you can minimize your chances of getting burned by false information on the Internet (or anywhere else, for that matter).

It is absolutely absurd to believe that "if it's on the Internet, it must be true." The plain truth is that anybody can put anything on the Internet, and so extreme skepticism is in order. Always consider the source and verify unusual information before repeating it.

One good way to verify or reject information is to check it out with an Official Skeptic. The following are a few websites that specialize in spotting and publicizing hoaxes:


A-Z List of Current Netlore

Urban Legends Reference Pages


Dangers to Children and from Children

Students can get into trouble - or cause it - when they are using the Internet. Problems range from students being suckered by a clever sales ploy while doing a homework assignment to wasting their time reading pornography to accidentally briinging viruses into the school's computer network. In addition, some students have a tendency to enjoy perpetrating pranks. They may perceive the Internet as an exciting forum for their escapades, and they may believe that they can get by with these pranks if they perceive that they are under minimal supervision in school.

For example, within one week recently we read in online newspapers about the following events:

Whatever the exact nature of the problem, it seems reasonable to protect students from the Internet - and to protect the Internet from students.


Protecting Children on the Internet


A major fact of life in North America is that we live in a diverse society in which people value that diversity and protect it by law. This means that people are allowed to express ideas that others find repulsive. The normal way that responsible parents have dealt with this freedom of expression in pre-Internet days has been by telling their children that "Uncle Bill has weird ideas" or by telling them to "Stay away from the bar on Elm Street." If a church taught "strange" beliefs, parents would simply not take their children there or would discuss what they thought was pernicious about those beliefs.

With the Internet, however, children can find their ways to web sites and encounter people that their parents may not even know about. And so, there is a legitimate concern that children need to be protected from harm when they use the Internet.

Actually, the preceding description of the "good old days" was a pious exaggeration. To a large extent, many children have always had access to people and information of which their parents disapproved; and there is little evidence that children raised in a puritanically sanitized home grew up with fewer problems than those who encountered beliefs at variance with those of their parents. The way in which parents reacted to dissonant beliefs and taught their children to handle "bad ideas" has always been more important than the degree to which parents shielded their children from different or bad people and ideas. This distinction is still valid when we consider the problem of protecting children from "bad" information and people on the Internet.

The key problem is that children could encounter persons and information on the Internet that their parents and teachers don't want them to encounter. Sometimes the problem is that children simply waste time (as by playing games or chatting online when they should be doing something more productive), but sometimes the problem is that children encounter some sort of danger (as when they find pornography or instructions for building pipe bombs or they develop friendships with strangers who may have malevolent intentions).

Considerable concern focuses on the possibility of sexual exploitation on the Internet. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va., surveyed 1,501 youngsters age 10 to 17 and found:

In examining these numbers, keep in mind that sexual solicitation and related problems can occur anywhere, not just on the Internet. It is possible that if we edducate children to view this sort of thing as a dangerous nuisance on the Internet and to react properly, their increased vigilance and responsibility will help them live safer lives even when they are off the Internet.


These dangers are not new. In the old days it was possible for children to meet bad people or read bad books during unsupervised visits to the library. In Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt describes how he engaged in sexual fantasies by reading Butler's Lives of the Saints while growing up in a backwater Irish town.


Our opinion is that the advantages of the Internet are so overwhelming as to make it worthwhile to take the effort to overcome these problems. There are three basic strategies for dealing with the problems the Internet poses for children.


1. Educate the children. Explain a solid value system to them and help them realize that there are both good things and bad things on the Internet. Help them understand that an Internet activity that superficially seems like fun can actually be harmful. For example,

  • People who are not cautious really can get viruses through the Internet.

  • People really do steal passwords and charge lots of expenses to the accounts of innocent victims.

  • 40-year-old men with prison records for child abuse really do try to seduce 13-year-old girls via web sites and email.
  1. However, keep in mind that


  • There are laws against these activities.

  • The police and public agencies are actually fairly successful in enforcing these laws.

  • If people are careful, they can avoid being hurt over the Internet.


Guidelines for educating children in Internet use can be found in the Online Links at the end of this chapter.


2. Supervise children when they use the Internet. In a classroom, a simple way to do this is to have the screens set up so that the teacher can see what the students are doing on the computers. [etc.]


3. Use software or web gateways that are designed to protect children.


The web gateway idea sounds like a natural. However, it's far from perfect. Click here for a detailed discussion of filtering systems designed to protect children from harmful Internet information.

Some child protective web sites are simply online places where kids are not likely to do or see bad things. Examples include FreeZone, Headbone, and KidsCom, which are described in the Online Links at the end of this section of this chapter. Their chat rooms for kids have human experts who serve as monitors to keep the participants on the straight and narrow path. That's the upside. The downside is that these sites give children access to almost none of the major advantages of the Internet. For example, children using these sites cannot read a newspaper story from a distant city, visit a museum a thousand miles away, follow the progress of Antarctic explorers, look up information in the Library of Congress, check out the possible errors in a movie through the Internet Movie Database, or find out whether a suspicious-sounding allegation about people belonging to a different ethnic group is true.

In addition, sometimes these sites focus so heavily on sanitizing their sites that they sacrifice accuracy of information. For example, we found on one site a snappy little quiz that gave us this question: "Our bodies need ________ to make important things like enzymes and insulin." The options were variety, zinc, oxygen, and sleep; and the "correct" answer was zinc. If you've seen a body making enzymes without sleep or zinc - well, that information oughta be appearing in the National Enquirer real soon! Our point is that we wouldn't want to hire teachers who were incredibly uninformed, even if they refrained from telling dirty jokes. Probably we should make similar demands of web sites that claim to protect kids while educating them.


Preventing Kids from Doing Harm


{Add this.}


Internet Addiction

It is dysfunctional to spend a disproportionate amount of time doing any activity to the detrimnant of other activities that are more important. Conceptually, it is equally destructive (and potentially adictive) to spend too much time engaged in any of the following sets of activities:


On the other hand, all of the above can be productive activities, as long as they are done in moderation and kept in perspective. That is, we can play games to re-energize our minds or to solidify friendships. We can do this on the Internet as well as in our homes or in social halls. We can send email that is productive and enriches our lives. The fact that we send a large amount of email can be productive as easily as it can be adictive.

When we were young, children were considered to be "studious" if they spent a large amount of time reading library books or participating in extracurricular activities that enriched their minds. These activities were "bad" (today we might say "dysfunctional" or "addictive") only if they detracted from something more important - such as important school activities, family obligations, or normal social development.

It is our contention that "Internet addiction" should be viewed in this same context. If something harmful transpires because a person is spending too much time on the Internet, then this should be treated as a problem, in the same way as any other dysfunctional or addictive behavior. The notion that the Internet is potentially dangerous because of its addictive nature is probably a misguided notion from pop psychology and television talk shows - to which people have become addicted.


Online Links

Information about Possible Dangers

to Children on the Internet


Note: The goal of this section of this chapter is to enable you to gain access to various sources of information. Many of these web sites belong to individuals and groups who advocate a specific agenda. Although many of these are praiseworthy, we do not mean to imply agreement with any group by putting its name and URL on this list.


A Parent's Guide to the Internet

This is an overall, comprehensive discussion of the topic.


Family Fun on the Internet

This site is designed to help parents understand the nature of the information highway: the benefits and the risks. Designed by the Baltimore Public Library, it is directly connected to useful Internet links.



The flip side. This is an example of how the computer can be used to prevent child exploitation and abuse.


Making the Web Safe for Kids http://childwelfare.com/kids/safeweb.htm

This information has been assembled by the people who publish the Child Welfare Review.


Internet Crimes from Pandora's Box

We don't want to be alarmist, and we are not certain that this site doesn't go overboard. {Please do not perceive the previous statement as being negative about this site.We just don't know much about it.} This site examines the problem of pedophile behavior on the Web. You can find a lot more information by backing up to previous pages and following different links.


Better a Millstone

This is essentially a tabloid-style approach to "stopping the predators."


Protecting Children from the Internet


America Links Up: A Kids Online Teach-In http://www.netparents.org/

This site is part of a public awareness and education campaign sponsored by a broad-based coalition of non-profits, education groups, and corporations concerned with providing children with a safe and rewarding experience online.


Internet Safety http://www.mcrel.org/resources/technology/safety.asp

This page from the Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory offers links to articles, reports, news, acceptable use policies, organizations, and technological options related to enabling young people to use computers without experiencing dangers from inappropriate information.


Browsers and Filters http://www.netparents.org/parentstips/browsers.html

This page lists the names and online addresses of a large number of browsers and filters that are designed to give children a safe and rewarding online experience with the Web.


Kids Online: Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace http://www.protectkids.com

This site is based on the book by Donna Rice Hughes.


Getting Started Step By Step http://www.childrenspartnership.org/pub/pbpg98/partII98.html#safe

Basic guidelines for using technology from The Children's Partnership.


Children Accessing Controversial Information http://www.zen.org/~brendan/caci.html

Computer networks hold tremendous promise, but also raise difficult issues which need to be discussed openly. Unfortunately, much of the publicity related to these issues has only dealt with potential dangers---and it has not encouraged reflection on solutions. This web site represents a newsgroup (actually a listserv) in which participants discuss the problems and possible solutions. This sort of thing is good for keeping abreast of current developments.


Parents Guide to the Internet http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/internet.html

Basic online information for families starting on the internet, published by the US Department of Education.


Privacy Playground: The First Adventure of the Three Little CyberPigs

This is an interactive privacy game for children. The game's purpose is to teach seven-to-ten-year-old children how to surf safely on the Net, and particularly how to spot and navigate around Internet marketing ploys.


Web Sites Designed
to Provide Protection

Crayon Crawler

The Crayon Crawler uses local database web site storage. This enables Web site navigation that is under total control of the Child's parents or from remote database storage via the Mindwalker Community. All of this provides for greater flexibility in the ongoing maintenance of approved sites. The Crayon Crawler will not allow a child to put in a web address that has not been previously approved by either their parent or the Community's System Administrators. The Community databases are not accessible to non-members and the Community itself is closed, thereby creating greater security for children.


Cyber Patrol

This software uses manages Internet access, limits the total time spent online, and blocks access to Internet sites that parents and guardians deem inappropriate.


Cyber Snoop

Cyber Snoop shows you which Internet sites have been visited by your children by monitoring their on-line activity. If monitoring components are disabled without a password, the computer will shut down and reinstate the missing monitoring modules. If suspect sites are found, you can use the software to generate a link to the questionable site and visit the web site through your web browser. Full Internet Blocking is optional.



This one uses relatively few steps to offer the ability to limit children's access to objectionable material on the Internet. Parents can choose to block, block and alert, or simply alert them when access is attempted to these areas.


Disk Tracy

This software includes (1) a search engine to find and display any potentially inappropriate material that may be stored on the family's computer, and (2) a flexible web monitoring utility that allows parents to log and/or block different Internet activities.


Family Connect

This is a server-based Internet filtering that blocks pornographic sites. "Server-based" means you don't download huge lists of sites. Instead, your software checks their server which always has the latest information.



This is another server-based site. It permits different levels of access, which can be individualized for each family member. The site restrictions defined by parents are portable; that is, they can be enforced at home, at school, or at the library.


Kid Control

This software allows parents to monitor what their children type online or offline. Parents can click on a popup calendar and view what their children have typed. This enables them to see what they are chatting about online, what web URLs they enter, and more.



This used to be a server-based filter installed at a central location maintained by a network administrator or an Internet service provider. LibrarySafe used a large database of Web sites containing sexually explicit, fraudulent, and other materials that would be deemed inappropriate in a public library. Sites were discovered with an advanced self-learning web searching system, and then automatically transmitted to each of the server sites during the early morning hours. As near as we can figure, these people alienated some porn hackers. Now whenever you go to this site (whose address we have deleted), you get all kinds of porn pictures.


Net Nanny

This program monitors and blocks various inappropriate sites and subject matter defined by parents, teachers, or supervisors. Net Nanny can also block unauthorized use of specified software on or offline.


Parental Control Software http://www.worldvillage.com/wv/school/html/control.htm

This is a very complete list with links to most of the major parental control systems available for the Internet.


Rated-G Online

This is a national filtered Internet Service Provider that offers unrestricted Internet access by utilizing state-of-the-art server based content management combined with its own proprietary technology that restricts pornography and other content deemed inappropriate.


Surf Monkey

With this software kids can visit only those sites on the Web that pass the safety check points, hang out in monitored chat rooms, and send and receive email only to people on their Approved Buddies List.



This software offers filtering in five Core categories -- Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco, Gambling, Hate Speech, Sexually Explicit, and Violence - as well as ChatBlock. SurfWatch In addition, they offer filtering in an additional 15 productivity categories: Astrology/Mysticism, Entertainment, Games, General News, Glamour/Intimate Apparel, Hobbies, Investments, Job Search, Motor Vehicles, Personals/Dating, Real Estate, Shopping, Sports, Travel, and Usenet News.


Webkeys Prowler

This s a small plug-in for Microsoft Internet Explorer™ and does not affect any other program. The program includes a Virtual V-Chip that automatically detects adult content.



This is a "safe site" for kids. Not only does it filter "inappropriate" material, it includes games and activities of interest to children plus a search engine that is tailored to children's needs and interests.

Simple Protection:
Safe Web Sites


A simple way to protect children from bad things on the Internet is to log them onto one single site and let them stay there. They can do interesting things at this one site, but they cannot go anyplace else. Protection is assured, to the extent that the site really does contain only good things. Here are a few web sites that fall in the "simple protection" category - that is, all they do is give kids a nice place to go and explore with little possibility of seeing anything bad:



The people who run this site appear to offer productive activities for pre-adolescent children.



Unless you're concerned that your children will be suckered by mild-manner pop psychology that won't hold up when they reach graduate school, this site looks sanitized.



The emphasis at this site is heavily on kids communicating with other kids. Interestingly, the ParentsTalk section has advice on Erectile Dysfunction, but Bob Dole has been discussing that on TV for quite a while.


Sites That Filter the Bad Stuff

At a slightly higher level of sophistication, there are web sites that try to supply more general access to the Internet by filtering bad stuff. Kids can still talk to kids and play games, but they can also access a wider range of Internet iniformation. The "danger" is that there is less direct supervision, and a greater possibility that children can see bad things. Click here to see a detailed discussion of some of the problems with this filtering strategy.

The following are a few examples of these web sites that safeguard by filtering:



We decided to do a blunt test on these filtered sites. Yahoo yielded 5 hits, but they seemed a bit vague. The most specific information was about the reproductive system, with no apparent treatment of psychological or emotional aspects of human sexual relationships.


Ask Jeeves for Kids

When a child enters a question or keyword into this search box, Jeeves first searches its knowledge base and returns any related questions. The child then selects the question that best matches her inquiry. The question will lead to a Web page that has been carefully reviewed by a Jeeves' Content Editor. Only "G-rated" Web pages and Web pages written specifically for children are included in their knowledge base.

When we asked Jeeves, "Where can I find information about sex?" the search engine responded like a parent. That is, Jeeves gave seven possible answers, only one of which was remotely related to sex.



This one gave us actual information about sex - that is, it gave us access to answers that kids normally want when they are looking for information on this topic. The four sites really did seem to cover the topic adequately.


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