Archive for October, 2009

Who’s That Squatting on My Domain?

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

In the world of the internet, there are a lot of strange new ideas and words. If you have taken that step of setting up your own web page, you already know what a “domain” is. Basically a domain is that phrase used to find you on the internet. For example, if you set up a web page to see your modern art, you can create a name like, joesmodernart.com and people can find you on the internet that way. So in this example, joesmodernart.com is your “domain name”.

For the internet to work, though, only one person or business can have joesmodernart.com for their domain name. That unique name is like your phone number online. Anyone, anywhere in the world that goes to their browser and keys in www.joesmodern.art.com will find your site on the internet. So to keep things orderly, domain names are sold on a first come first serve basis.

But the problem comes when someone learns to abuse the system. The internet and setting up web pages has become big business. So, as with any situation where there is money to be made or a crime to be committed, the internet has attracted it’s share of criminals and people who want to take advantage of honest people.

In the case of domain names, the crime that has causes endless grief for legitimate web site owners is called “cyber squatting”. Cyber squatters take advantage of the fact that there are ways to “steal” someone’s domain name. The idea is to hijack someone’s domain name so they have to buy it back from the squatter. That approach is similar to a hostage situation. There are many variations on the cyber squatter formula for stealing commerce from good honest internet businesses including?

* Setting up a parallel business so people think they are buying from a trusted company but they are actually giving money to a criminal operation who will not honor the purchase.
* Setting up an alternate business to hurt the original owner of the domain. For example, if someone is disgruntled at their local bank because they got turned down for a loan, if they can cyber squat on the bank’s domain name, they can create an “I hate XYZ bank” web site to hurt the bank’s credibility with their good customers.
* Jumping in during the short period of time when the domain name needs to be renewed and gaining ownership over it. Domain names are generally for a specified period of time of a year, three years, etc. So if you don’t pay your renewal, that name can become the property of someone else. If a cyber squatter steals that name away during the renewal period, they can hold you hostage to get that valuable name back.

There are even notable cases where criminals divert traffic to pornography sites by cyber squatting on a legitimate business site. Another clever ploy of cyber squatters is to purchase your exact same domain name with a different extension. So if you own joesmodernart.com, a cyber squatter might buy joesmodernart.net, joesmodernart.biz, joesmodernart.gov and any of the other popular extensions. By building a site out there under your domain name with an alternate extension, they can draw traffic to that bogus site and hijack your visitors, the traffic you would be getting and maybe even the revenue from sales that you can expect because your web site is well known for quality goods or services.

This problem has become so wide spread that congress has stepped in and put some laws on the books to help out legitimate web site owners. The strongest law on the books is called the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act or the ACPA for short. This law gives you some muscle you can use to bring a lawsuit against anyone who is using cyber squatting to hijack all the hard work you have put in to build that web site.

You will need some legal help to take this law and use it to protect your rights. But like anything else, your domain name and your cyberspace “property” has a value to you. So if someone is using some internet trickery to “squat” on your domain name, it is worth your while to defend it.

Government Records at our Fingertips

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Few know that the internet was actually started as a government project. It was created by the department of defense as a way of protecting our government’s infrastructure by decentralizing the computing power to many computers rather than one. But there is no question that the government has benefited from the move toward electronic records.

Over the last decade, the government has made great strides in putting virtually all of our public records into electronic data bases. While not all of them can be accessed freely due to privacy issues, many of them can be searched by citizens which has introduced an era of open access to public documents that was unimaginable before. The variety of types of public records that are either fully available or are in the process of being converted to online access is amazing including?

* Marriage records
* Birth records
* Death records
* Sex offender records
* Court records
* Bankruptcy records
* Missing persons records
* Census records
* Credit information

These extensive databases provide a tremendous resource to the public for a large variety of information needs. For a business, it speeds up the process of validating information about a potential employees. Before we had online access, just confirming that a prospective employee is a legal resident, that his or her background information check out and to confirm that they don’t have a criminal record took an excessive amount of time and effort. It was so cumbersome that most employers didn’t take those steps which could easily lead to an employment mistake.

The government record that has gotten the most public attention of late is the National Sex Offender Registry. Because sex offenders live under restrictions as to where they can live, work and socialize even after they have served prison time, many people watch these records closely to assure that they don’t expose their children to risks if a sex offender were allowed to move into their neighborhood or into an apartment complex near the school.

The balance of the public’s right to safety and the individual’s right to privacy come into direct conflict with the public release of this kind of information that is on file with government records. While it will take some wise leadership for us to sort that one out, the availability of this much detailed data does make it possible for the public to stay better informed.

The census is a rich source of information, particularly to businesses looking to expand or for a new venture that is writing a business plan. The census provides detailed information about population shifts, concentration of population in certain cities and even in zones of particular cities that can be invaluable to a business looking to locate a service or retail outlet where the potential customer base has convenient access to those services. Census data can provide a framework for evaluating the wisdom of a potential business strategy.

The first step in making this vast data resource part of your research tools is to educate yourself in both what is available from the government records and how to access such records. There are commercial internet resources that will provide search tools to sifting through the huge amount of data available from the government such as http://www.government-records.com/. While these sources charge for the help they provide, that help may be just the thing you need to make the chore of learning how to use government records less difficult.

Google also provides a good search tool for finding information from government records. To access it, just click on “Advanced Search” from the main Google home page. Scroll down to the bottom of that next page and you will see a link titled U.S. Government. That link will provide you with a search engine, driven by Google’s powerful search capabilities that will help you find what you need.

We can expect to see this resource expanded and made even more accessible in the years to come as the government’s drive to become automated continues. It is economical for the government, which saves tax dollars. Moreover, it places the vast information the government gathers at the fingertips of the public. And this is appropriate as it is the public that pays for government data gathering in the first place.

Protecting Our Kids Online

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

The internet has sometimes been compared to the wild, wild west. Part of the reason for that is because in those early days of the frontier, the law was in place to protect citizens of the land but in many cases, it was hard to enforce and criminals ran free to defy laws without fear of being stopped.

When it comes to protecting our kids who go online, in a lot of ways it is the wild west out there. Are there laws on the books to protect our children from being assaulted by internet criminals who would do them harm? Of course there are. But enforcing those laws and catching every bad person who your child might encounter out there in cyberspace is a task that law enforcement is working hard to conquer. But they have not conquered it yet. So cyberspace is in many ways, an untamed frontier.

While we don’t want to go to the days of the wild west where vigilantes roamed the land enforcing brutal justice on criminals, we have to do something. The stories we hear on television and read in the newspapers about children being seduced and abducted right out from under the noses of parents are deeply frightening.

This may be the most troubling thing about cyber criminals who would harm our children. Because the internet is in our homes and even now spreading to the phones and electronic devices of our children, the access of strangers to our kids is virtually unlimited. Kids can get into chat rooms, use social networking services like MySpace and view all kinds of filth online all while mom and dad are just a few yards away watching the news. Because of this unprecedented access, new strategies have to be developed for law enforcement to protect our kids but also so we can partner with them to stop these evil people who would use this wonderful tool of the internet for evil purposes.

At a public level, we want to give our police and law enforcement officials all the help we can to crack down on cyber stalkers so the word goes out to such criminals that it is possible to be caught stalking children and if you are caught, it will be a harsh penalty for this kind of crime. Some have even called for the death penalty for people who stalk children online. How severe we as a society wish to treat crimes of this nature is something for our leaders to help us work through. But our first line of defense is enabling those we trust to protect us to find and lock up these criminals so these crimes can be stopped.

But at this time, we cannot expect law enforcement to be able to stop anyone from approach our children online. So we as parents share in the responsibility of making sure our homes are secure. Just as we put locks on the doors even though police are there to stop intruders, we must secure the internet so the chances of our kids becoming victims is minimized. The three strongest locks we can use to protect our families online are?

. Software. We can put software on our computers that will keep our kids out of web sites where these criminals may lurk. These “Net Nanny” programs are inexpensive and effective.

. Knowledge. We must teach our children not to talk to strangers online any more than they would in a public place. Cyber stalkers are clever so we must be sure our children understand the risk and do not engage anyone they don’t know and trust online.

. Communication. Keeping the lines of communication open with our kids will assure that if they suspect they are being approached by a cyber stalker, they can come to their parents who can then alert the authorities.

It’s a shared effort to stop these criminals from having access to our children. But by working together with law enforcement and keeping those lines of communication open with our own kids, we can shut down their access to our children and so frustrate their ability to commit crimes against those we love the most.