Aardvark Daily
Local Net Users get porn shock
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26 Aug 1997

What happens when you revisit one of your favourite Web sites and find it littered with pornographic images?

Has it been hacked? Who do you tell? What's going on?

These were the questions that Efficient Software users were asking today when they found porn images appearing in the most unexpected places.

It seems the problem was caused by a corrupted proxy server at ES which started dishing out random images from its cache.

A proxy server is the cache most ISPs use to reduce the amount of traffic that must be transferred from popular sites such as Netscape, Yahoo, CNN, AltaVista, etc. Instead of fetching these popular pages and their images over and over again the ISP's proxy server keeps a local copy so that each time another user requests them, the proxy server can deliver that copy instead.

Unfortunately there is always the potential for the proxy server's index to become corrupted. If this happens, users may find that instead of seeing the CNN logo on top of the CNN news pages they instead see a completely different image from the ISP's proxy server cache.

It's perhaps very telling that most proxy-server index problems are noticed first when people discover porn images popping up in unexpected places. The seemingly disproportionate number of pornographic images residing in the proxy-server cache reinforces the assertion that sex is the number-on topic of interest on the Internet is Sex.

ES are not the first ISP to have encountered such a problem and they are unlikely to be the last.

The effects of such a corruption are something that certainly need to be addressed however.

How would you feel if you ran (say) a church or children's Web site that suddenly appeared to have pornographic images appearing on it? Regardless of the actual cause, most users won't understand what's happening and they'll believe the problem to be with your site.

How long before a business or individual sues for damages over such an event? Do ISPs have public liability insurance to cover such an event - perhaps they should!

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