Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not represented as fact|
Today I'm continuing what has turned out to be a series of articles that look
at the local ISP industry, warts and all.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
The catalyst for today's column is the experience of a friend who suddenly
found their Internet account for December was ten times the normal amount
(they're a light user who pays by the hour).
On investigation, it turned out that someone else had been using their
dial-up account, racking up many hours of "free" use at my friend's expense.
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Now this friend is very much representative of a huge percentage of Net
users around New Zealand. They're not particularly computer literate and
are using an "out of the box" install of Windows, complete with Internet
Explorer and the Outlook email software.
Like so many others, this person was blissfully unaware of the need to keep
a constant vigil for the latest security patches -- and they didn't know that
all but the latest versions of Outlook suffered from some hideous security
holes that left their computer system as open as a gaping wound.
It's little wonder therefore that the security of their machine appears to have
been compromised and their valuable Internet login ID and password stolen
by some malevolent idiot.
Their situation is almost certainly not unique, naive (aka: average) Net users
are having their machines compromised every day -- simply because they're not
computer "enthusiasts" who do more than read the manuals that came with their
Of course the ISP concerned says that the unauthorised use of my friend's account
is not their problem or responsibility and they expect the bill to be paid promptly.
On checking the ISP's website, I found some very good information on viruses
and security matters in general, although it doesn't seem to mention
the need to check and apply security patches. However, this absolutely
critical information was hidden away in the "help" section and didn't seem
to be a part of the sign-up process.
As a result of this low-profile positioning, my friend had never read all the
warnings and advice -- after all, they use their connection mainly for
email and, when you're paying for access by the hour,
there's little incentive to wander around the ISP's site looking for nuggets
Of course the more cynical amongst us might suggest that since the ISP is
going to make some good money out of incidents such as the one which affected
my friend -- there's little incentive for them to educate new Net users is
So the question has to be -- are ISPs doing enough to educate their users --
and if not, why aren't they sharing the responsibility and cost of poor security?
Remember -- that users who aren't aware of the importance of good security
are actually a danger to other customers so you owe it to all your users
to ensure they're aware of the need for good practice
Now there *are* some ISPs that are doing a good job. -For example, IHUG
are sending out regular emails to warn users when new viruses appear on
the scene -- albeit this email also doubles as a sales pitch for their
"iSpy" virus protection service.
Maybe it's time that a new user's introduction to the Net includes a short
online tutorial and test (which users must pass before being given unfettered
access). This tutorial could ensure that they are aware of the need for
proper attention to security issues and an awareness of what spam is, how
to minimise it, and why they should never send it.
Of course it wouldn't hurt to throw in some information on other "dangers"
such as the numerous scams which proliferate ("Earn Money From Home", etc).
It should be remembered -- ignorance is a dangerous thing and most Net newbies
are loaded with it.
Although my friend was on a "per hour" account, it's worth noting that in the
case of some ISPs, even those on a flat-rate account can find themselves
hit with a huge bill if their login ID/password is stolen. XTRA for example
will charge $2.50/hr if two users are logged into the same flat-rate account --
and you'll have no idea that this is happening unless you religiously check
your online account balance -- but who does that with flat-rate anyway?
Hey, perhaps it's time for ISOCNZ (sorry,
Internet NZ) to poke their head
out of the dark abyss in which they appear to have hidden themselves, and
create a suitable online tutorial for local Net users. ISPs could then include
a link and recommendation to this site as part of the sign-up or login process.
The results can only be good -- fewer complaints from naive users, fewer
arguments over account charges, and a safer surfing environment for everyone.
If any ISPs are interested in such a non-partisan tutorial,
let me know and I'll do my best to try and organise
something (with InternetNZ's help or without).
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