Spam, Spyware Advisory for Christians

Two of the scourges of the internet, spam and spyware, threatens the future growth and acceptance of the Internet. Although overall internet use is still increasing, with 800 million users plugged in worldwide at last count, a minority of people are unplugging their computers from the high-speed internet they have come to hate.

The issue of internet junk is one that often plagues the average computer user. Unscrupulous people have taken advantage of people’s predilections for installing programs they find online. Many people do not consider that programs that promise to help may actually take advantage of them.

Computers purchased this year with more processing power than supercomputers of the last decade are being rendered slow and unusable, the result of crippling programs that strain computer resources. A shining new and infected system may have more difficulty opening a web browser due to a deluge of advertisements than a much slower, but clean, system of yesteryear.

Spam is also a problem that is worsening every year. Every time you post your email address online or enter your email address for an online account or promotion, you may unwittingly be exposing yourself to email harvesting robots and those willing to sell your email information for profit. Spam accounts for the majority of email sent, and millions of productive man-hours are lost by society to having to fight the spam problem.

Crossmap is concerned about this problem, especially among Christian internet users. Christians are sometimes less knowledgeable about the internet, and by their innocent nature, are less aware of the pernicious traps that are set by those with uncaring hearts. Identity theft, system compromises and breeches, overloaded email accounts, and credit card theft can all result from careless internet browsing. For those who fall victim to online scams and problems, they may be less willing to venture online in the future, weakening the Godly presence that should be present throughout the internet.

In accordance with the scripture, Crossmap suggests that internet users “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” when it comes to the Internet. Research and know the dangers that are online, and avoid them so that you are not deceived. Once you have an understanding of the Internet, then take advantage of what it offers to help share your light with the world.

The following list offers suggestions to protect yourself from the internet:

· Be careful of ‘phishing’ emails that request for you to enter sensitive financial information on an external website. These sites may ask you for your banking, PayPal, or credit card information, only to scam you later on. Always be sure the URL you are entering sensitive information into is that of the financial institution you want to submit it to.

· Be careful of ‘Nigerian 419’ scams. These emails come from those purporting to have a large fortune, but need some financial assistance from you to get their money out of the country, at which time they will reimburse you.

· Be careful what programs you install from the internet. Many programs will install secondary programs on your system that will do everything from serve pop-up advertisements to log your credit card information. We recommend that you install only those programs that you are familiar with and need to have on your system.

· Use a browser such as Firefox that will help prevent against attacks that are aimed specifically at users of Internet Explorer and Windows XP. Even with the latest patches, attackers can often find an exploit that will compromise your system with their programs.

· When you check your email, be careful of random attachments from people you do not know. Many email attachments, especially .zip files ranging from 15-60kb in size, are viruses, Trojans, or worms that will infect you and neighboring computers. Do not open attachments unless you trust the source.

· If you must submit your email online, it is wise to use a throwaway account if you do not trust the source. There are many questionable websites that will sell email addresses they receive in a moment. Also, it is best not to post your email address in text format on websites or otherwise. If you can use a form submitter for email, it is much safer (see http://www.crossmap.com/about/contact.htm).

· If you receive spam, use a browser such as Thunderbird (http://www.mozilla.org/projects/thunderbird/) that has a built-in spam filter. You can train its filters to determine what is spam, and then you can have those automatically be filtered out.

These are some ways you can protect yourself from the perils of the internet. Feel free to leave comments if there are any ideas we are leaving out.