There was a time when tricking a teen into viewing pornography meant that his pals pasted a Playboy centerfold into his locker. On the other hand, if he went looking for it, he could’ve gotten hold of a magazine or two through an unscrupulous store clerk or a friend’s older brother. But once those few pages had exhausted their appeal, there was no full-scale blitz to deluge him with more.
Times have changed. Not only is pornography today more lewd and provocative, but its peddlers (now part of a multi-billion dollar business) are much more aggressive in their recruitment of new customers. For both sides, the Internet has offered up a crucial ingredient to the burgeoning industry — anonymity. No need to leave one’s home to purchase pornography. Now, a never-ending supply of ever more erotic and interactive pornography can be accessed and experienced in a completely private world. And now, teen boys aren’t the sole target. To a pornographer, anyone with a computer is a potential addict.
Just about anyone who has used the Internet — from 7-year-old boys to 80-year-old grandmas — knows that pornography is just a click away. But most Internet users still believe that unless they go looking for porn, it won’t find them. What they don’t realize, however, is how aggressively pornographers are implementing new strategies in marketing and technology to actually push pornography to unwitting users, without their consent, and often even without their knowledge.
The most common technique for tricking the Internet user is by sheer deception. When you walk into your neighborhood grocery store, you expect to find groceries on the shelves. But if, instead, you find thousands of explicit pornographic videos, you would be outraged. If the store appeared just as it did yesterday with the same name and same signs, wouldn’t any unsuspecting shopper assume it was the same grocery store and not a porn outlet? Sound far-fetched? Not on the Internet!
It is a common practice among pornographers to purchase expired domain names when the original owner forgets to renew the current domain name, a strategy known as “porn-napping.” After purchasing the expired domain name, they then redirect the expired URL back to their own porn sites. Porn-nappers sometimes offer to resell the domain name back to the original owner for an exorbitant fee that borders on extortion.
Thousands of well-known companies have learned the hard way how critical it is to keep tabs on their domain registrations. Due to an unfortunate clerical error, the accounting firm of Ernst and Young let the registration lapse on their children’s money management site, moneyopolis.org. Quickly purchased by a pornographer, all visitors to the site ended up at euroteensluts.com, obviously a porn site, until Ernst and Young repurchased moneyopolis.
Ernst and Young is not alone. Other big-name porn-napping victims include AOL, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dutch Government, the United Nations, and even the U.S. Department of Education.
Many pornographers legally purchase domain names for legitimate topics in a switch-up referred to as “cyber squatting.” As an example, someone expecting to find information about the President of the United States might type in whitehouse.com and be very confused (or outraged) at finding explicit porn on the site. The official site for the Whitehouse is at whitehouse.gov rather than .com. Other examples of cyber squatting include the innocent-sounding web domain names of civilwarbattles.com, eugenoregon.com, and tourdefrance.com.
A close cousin to porn-napping and cyber-squatting is a technique known as a ” doorway scam,” which makes use of one of the most common tools on the InternetÑthe search engine. Experienced pornographers have figured out that by carefully constructing their websites, and designing them around non-pornographic themes, they gain new opportunities to deceive unsuspecting surfers. Web page content is created to place the website high on a search engine’s results, and after clicking on it, the user is redirected to a porn site.
Another version of the doorway scam is to create a porn site around a common, non-pornographic theme. So rather than redirect the Internet user to another unrelatedÑbut pornographicÑsite, this technique actually creates pornographic web pages related to their title. Thus, in an innocent search for “livestock,” the unsuspecting user may open up a page depicting bestiality.
Not long ago, if you were attempting to go to one of the most popular search engines, google.com, and accidentally typed in an extra “l” (googlle.com) you would have ended up at an Asian porn site. Pornographers are buying up the misspelled domain names of trendy, high-traffic sites with hard-to-spell names, such as abercrombieandfitch.com, etc.
Speaking of Google, it recently became one of the first search engines to offer the ability to search the Internet by images, rather than in text and text-links. With this new technology, the results of the search are presented in an image or thumbnail graphical format. It is not hard to imagine how pornography can easily make its way into image search results.
Advertising has become a huge business for websites, and this innovation has not eluded clever pornographers. Fortunately, most legitimate and responsible businesses will not sell advertising space to pornographers. But unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped a large number of porn-industry leaders, who have created fake system error messages, message alert boxes, or false forms that dupe you into thinking you have to click on the OK button or enter certain information, when in reality, you are clicking on the link to open the pornographer’s front door.
If you’ve fallen prey to any of the above scams and entered a porn site, whether accidentally or not, your computer may have been marked or altered in some covert way. Depending on what was done at the porn site — whether just an unintentional visit, a quick tour, or a download of a picture or program — a whole host of problems can be encountered.
One common trick is to put your computer into a never-ending loop with new porn pages appearing, one right after the other. The faster you close the pages, the faster the new pages appear.
Depending on the browser you use, some sites will alter the use of the Back button or the Close function, preventing you from exiting the pornographic website. This practice is sometimes known as “mousetrapping,” because it renders your mouse useless. Regardless of what you do, you have lost control of your browser, similar to being caught in a mousetrap.
Startup File Alteration
It is also possible to have your computer altered with the consequences not showing up immediately. In one technique, pornographers place a program into your startup directory that sends you to a porn site or displays a pornographic image whenever you boot up.
A cookie is a small file placed on your computer’s hard drive when you visit certain websites. Though not necessarily a bad function, cookies may contain considerable personal information such as your buying habits, personal preferences, and Internet usage history. Since they can store information about you personally and about your Internet habits, they can be used by unscrupulous pornographers to track every move you make on the Web and target you for various scams, as well as becoming a threat to your Internet privacy.
Pornographers are experienced at disguising themselves as credible websites. How well do you know the reputation of the source of your newly downloaded graphics? Hopefully, you didn’t just invite the pornographer, in sheep’s clothing, to invade your computer with a program that will take you on a never-ending pornographic ride with the wolf in the driver’s seat.
With literally millions of free downloads readily available for the taking, you can get everything from screen savers, background images, and fancy desktop icons to serious gaming applications and highly advanced software programs. But be warned — that very appealing new screen saver may actually be a Trojan horse, that when clicked upon, kicks off a program that opens up into a world of pornography, and also possibly wreaking havoc in your system. Trojan horses and other malicious invaders can be placed on your machine even when downloading something as simple as a pretty calendar or a childrens’ puzzle.
A more recent trick that unscrupulous porn dealers are experimenting with involves using downloads to covertly install expensive dialers on an unsuspecting user’s PC that will automatically dial for-pay (and frequently long distance) porn sites, charging exorbitant fees every time they do so. The Federal Trade Commission recently filed a case against a company for a variation of the dialer scam. This particular porn dealer was using downloads to install 1-900 dial-up programs that replace the existing ISP Internet accounts.
Also called adware, spyware can be installed on your computer without your knowledge when you download something from the Internet or from file-sharing programs. Spyware covertly gathers user information through the user’s Internet connection and transmits that information back to the spyware author. Some spyware programs have the ability to monitor keystrokes, scan files on the hard drive, snoop other applications, and collect email addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers. Generally used for advertising, spyware can also give a porn peddler a wealth of information about his unsuspecting prey.
Webcams are special cameras that are set up to record and broadcast full-motion video and sound over the Internet. Originally, this technology was used to implement inexpensive teleconferencing capabilities for businesses. Now it is one of the favorite technologies used on pornographic websitesÑreal-time viewing of sexual activities. This concept, popularized by the movie, The Truman Show, allows for 24-hour uncensored and uncut online viewing. Webcams can be installed in a bedroom, dormitory room, showers, etc. A simple click from a website can allow you, as an invited guest, to participate in a voyeuristic journey into an individual’s most intimate experiences.
Depending on which email service you use, you may have already been flooded with unwanted and unsolicited pornography. Hotmail and AOL email accounts have been favorite targets for porn peddlers’ aggressive marketing strategies. You can actually become entangled in an inappropriate or adult website before you even know that the email you received has anything to do with pornography.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that simply following the unsubscribe instructions will end your email problems. By responding, you are telling the pornster not only that your email account is valid, but also that you read his unsolicited message. Most likely he will continue to use and sell your address.
Some emails contain high-tech multimedia video attachments that begin playing the instant you click on them, whether inadvertently or not. New email technology even allows a video to be sent as part of the email rather than an attachment, with the result being that the video begins playing on your screen before you even realize what happened.
Emails are infamous for transmitting worms or viruses. As an example, the worm known as “Homepage” can modify your browser’s user default home page, so that every time you click on your browser, you are automatically sent to a porn website.
One of the latest techniques in getting unsuspecting readers to open inappropriate email is to use a technique known as “spoofing.” Originally developed as a virus transmitter, this practice works on users who wouldn’t think of opening an email attachment from an unknown source. Through various methods, a deceitful marketer can send you a “spoofed” email from someone in your address book, creating a false sense of security as you open their attachment.
Would you leave your front door open for a stranger to walk in and talk to your 10-year-old daughter while you are away at work? When it comes to Chat, that is exactly what is occurring. With Instant Messenger (ICQ) or IRC chat, it is extremely easy for a pornographer or pedophile to gain the trust of your child. Once this trust is built, your child may be persuaded to do a myriad of activities they would normally never consider doing, such as learning about and discussing sexual activities with a stranger, being coaxed into downloading pornography, or, as in several notorious cases, being lured to a meeting location and then being raped and murdered.
Another chat room trick that has been recently introduced includes “bots,” robot programs that automatically invade ongoing chatroom discussions. These programs seduce the chatroom participants with provocative come-ons like “Click here to see me live,” or “Hot girl, click here to see naked”.
One of the most rapidly growing segments of the porn market is through file-sharing networks. Why? Because it’s free. Most parents have never heard of file sharing, but the growth rate of file-sharing programs has been absolutely explosive. In fact, CNET has a site called download.com which is used as an Internet clearinghouse for software. They report that during a single week of software downloads, over 3.1 million copies of file-sharing programs were downloaded.
Since most file-sharing networks are set up outside of the worldwide web, thus bypassing your browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.) and even your Internet Service Provider, they are also outside the realm of most filters. Very few filtering products can protect against file-sharing activities, but since this system is largely unknown to a whole segment of the population, many people have a false sense of security after installing a regular Internet filter.
You have probably heard of Napster, the peer-to-peer network that was originally created to exchange music without any fees. Porn peddlers are implementing these same strategies. Instead of sharing your favorite song, they are making it easy to share the most popular pornographic materials, including X-rated adult videos.
Using bulletin boards — which do not use the Internet — is another method of sharing files. To access a bulletin board, typically you dial into their computer system, via a modem, and sign in with a password. Pornographers dealing with child pornography frequently use bulletin boards because it is easier for them to hide their illegal activities and also to control who is entering their computer systems.
After reading about the pornographer’s extensive bag of tricks, the most common reaction is to just shut it down — disconnect the Internet, get rid of the computer, and eliminate the threat. Unfortunately, this radical approach is not only impractical and improbable, but it may also be the worst thing you can do to your children (and yourself, for that matter). Students — young and old — need the Internet to succeed in school and train for the future. It won’t be long before most, if not all, high-paying jobs will require Internet skills. Plus, the Internet is arguably the most incredible and valuable resource ever conceived to connect us to our worldÑpast, present, and future. It would be a shame not to take advantage of the many positive aspects of this remarkable, though unpredictable, technology.
So… What To Do?
Getting rid of the pornography problem in the new millennium is not quite as simple as closing the locker door or stuffing the magazine under the mattress. But if the old adage “knowledge is power” is true, then gaining an understanding of how pornography is being disseminated can at least be the first step in helping the unwary consumer gain power over the Internet. Other steps include playing it safe by:
- Positioning the computer in an open room with the monitor facing out
- Disabling your cookies (which might, however, undermine your PC’s online functionality — especially with shopping carts and user accounts)
In addition, a majority of these problems can be solved by using a filtered ISP to access the Internet or by installing reliable monitoring or filtering software. A good, comprehensive monitor that logs and reports all computer usage, online and off, may be all that’s needed to dispel your fears about what’s going on with your computer.
If, however, the monitor indicates that pornography is getting into your PC through one of the above-noted methods, you may want to consider a filtering solution. Before purchasing one, it’s a good idea to do some research on the background and credibility of the company, and then compare the different features offered. Some things to look for in a good filter are:
- It should be effortless to install (See our filtering tools)
- It should be user-friendly with basic pre-set functionality
- It should be customizable and adaptable to every user’s needs and values
- It should include easy-to-find helps and provide live customer support
- It should be impossible to disable without authorized password
- Reports and logs should be convenient, detailed, and easy to access (from any location)
With technology changing at the speed of light, these tricks may be just the tip of the iceberg. But the solutions don’t lie solely in technology. Online pornography is now a worldwide problem, affecting toddlers to grandparents from California to Calcutta, from Sydney to Sudan. It’s not going to go away on its own, and taking the ostrich approach won’t keep it off your computer. It will take a huge world-community effort – combining the best of education, technology, legislation, and vigilance—but it can be done. It must be done.
© 2003 Jerry Ropelato. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Internet Filter Review seeks to provide the most current Internet safety tips. If you do not see an Internet safety tip that you feel should be included, please email to [email protected]. If you need a speaker to present on Internet child safety issues, please email to [email protected].