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Computers, the Net, and Blackmail 31 July 2002 Edition
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According to a report published today, a group of Indian ISPs are effectively trying to blackmail some of the Net's most popular websites into handing over large amounts of cash.

Of course this would never happen in New Zealand where competition in the ISP marketplace would ensure that any provider silly enough to try such tactics would quickly find their customer-base dwindling to near-zero.

However, at least a couple have proxy servers that sometimes to a damned fine job of blocking access to the latest versions of some overseas websites.

Here's another worrying situation...

Earlier this month an Auckland school principal was found to have pornography on his computer -- something that prompted his dismissal and a moral outrage by concerned parents and citizens.

Fair enough perhaps -- but exactly how was this porn uncovered?

Well, according to The NZ Herald's report "material was found on his computer during routine maintenance".

Now what kind of "routine maintenance" involves opening what could be confidential files?

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    The Herald story also states that the "computer was sent away for routine maintenance", so we can assume that the files were inspected by a party who had no direct right to open what could have been private and confidential files.

    While some might argue that in this case the ends justify the means, what if the PC concerned contained very sensitive information pertaining to perhaps suspected child abuse of a pupil by a caregiver -- or something similar?

    What right does an independent maintenance worker have to go opening data files on a principal's (or anyone's) computer?

    If I were running a school, I'd be very seriously worried that someone was using their position to trawl freely through the confidential files on their PCs under the guise of "maintenance."

    Were the images stored in files called "porno.jpg" or "titties.gif"? If not then one can only assume that the maintenance worker must have been intimately familiar with the genre of material involved in order to recognise that 10039956.jpg was likely to contain objectionable material.

    All this raises the question of course -- are the confidential details of your child's school records really safe from prying eyes?

    What's to stop any PC maintenance worker from copying a child's sensitive academic, or other files and then perhaps using that information to extort money from some poor unsuspecting parent?

    And, if you had to take your PC to a service-centre to be fixed, would you be worried that your accounting information, personal emails or whatever might fall into the hands of people who have no right to read them?

    What protection do computer users have against this type of snooping I wonder?

    All the firewalls, anti-virus and online precautions in the world won't help you if the serviceman takes it into his head to take a good look through your hard drive while your machine is being fixed or upgraded.

    Have your say.

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