Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hacked Through an Instant Message

We've all been familiar with the dangers inherent on the internet. Malware, spyware, adware, popup, cookies, etc., Then there's the trolls, bots, phishers, pharmers, scammers, and creeps in general. But my concern today is with all of the Instant Messengers services. The instant access they provide hackers was a shocker to me.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of being connected in real time to people all over the world to talk about any subject at all. I've had MSN, Yahoo, AOL, ICQ, and now Google chat services and each and everyone of them have the potential to provide hackers dirct access to your computer. My worst experience was with Yahoo several months ago. I was a regular visitor to the political debate chat rooms and one individual sent me an IM private chat invitation which I did not accept and clicked on the block sender button, but the hacker was able to override those commands and somehow caused my computer to freeze. Out of options, I restarted the computer and when it came back up I couldn't start Yahoo. Clicking the desktop icon simply did nothing.

After uninstalling and re-installing Yahoo, I was able to get my mail and do everything else but I was never again able to enter the chat rooms on that computer. Even so, I consider myself fortunate. The hacker could have gone deeper and overclocked my processor and burnt out my mother board or reformat my C: drive and wipe everything, including the Operating System off of the hard drive. It taught me a lesson. I no longer chat with strangers over IM's. that's why I was glad to see Google's chat does not, at least not yet, include chat rooms. This allows me to send IM's to family and friends but not to be in an environenment where perfect strangers can troll for Screen Names to send chat invitations to randomly, or rather targetedly!

Still thinking about it. There is nothing to prevent children from being stalked on these chat servers. I mean when you sign up for free, you get a screen name that you can change at any time. So the stalkers can remain anonymous as long as they want and at the same time watch screen names of kids to know when they're signed on and which chat rooms they're in. These stalkers could use different Screen Names until they create a character the kid find's acceptable to win their confidence and heart and wind up being able to talk them into anything. I mean these kids accrue relationships in these chat rooms with complete strangers. There is nothing to prevent chatters from mis-representing themselves, in fact, that is one of the big draws to these rooms. I could be a complete sedentary social malfeasant loser but if I have a quick wit be considered a hero in the virtual space of chats. We've all heard the horror stories of kids meeting someone on-line and then arranging a real-world meet alone only to wind up disappearing and appearing on a trajic 11:00 news story.

Its not just kids, either. You've heard the same kind of horror stories about adults developing cyber or virtual love lives. I've met some very nice people online and recognize the value of access to world wide communities, but this is not the place to get to know someone. With the ease of misrepresentation online, you can't depend on a virtual relationship alone to evaluate someone's character.

Its the Wild, Wild West in terms of Virtual Reality. The laws that exist are very difficult to prosecute and the police are so few and far between, literally billions of moral atrocities go unaddressed. Most users don't even know who to report to and usually there is no-one to report to. This does not mean that most users online are lowlife, in fact the vast majority are indeed good and decent, but the lowlife are frequent enough you can count on an attack, or an invasion weekly if not daily through the chats. I expect better security and a lot more consequences to the daily travisties committed against innocent patrons of the genre before I'll be willing to test the chat waters again.

I have reverted to forums where I read a post, take the time to think through my response and get back a day later and read their response, usually a well thought out post. In this way, I still get to converse with people all over the world about any topic at all, and the conversations are far more rational. I do have to admit, though, that I miss the instant access to feed back.

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