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Today's Flame

October 1, 1998 |, San Francisco | Issue #005

Protect Kids? Protect the Net!

Sometimes our technology races beyond our reflection, and we are left with a dangerous gap — a period when society is unprepared to deal with the far-reaching results of rapid change. That is the situation we have on the Internet. This is the situation which [the CDA] will address.
— Senator Dan Coats, 142 Cong. Rec. S.707.
"PROTECT THE CHILDREN!" has become a rallying cry of millennial America. One of the greatest threats to children cited by right-wing family advocacy groups, right up there with deadbeat dads, explicit AIDS education, and television violence: uncensored access to the Internet.

The powers that be have heard the message loud and clear. From the Communications Decency Act (now reborn as CDA II) to a recent FTC report (detailing privacy violations), the federal government is pushing hard to protect children from the Internet and its myriad evils. Why reflect when it's so easy to fall back on knee-jerk conservative reflexes?

I think they've got it all wrong. We don't need to protect children from the Internet. We need to PROTECT THE INTERNET from children!

Huh?! In short, some children, especially teenagers, are serious Internet pests. The paternalistic assumption that children are naive Internet users and adults are keepers of wisdom is incorrect. More than a few children have decided that trying to crack Internet sites is fair sport. Even as I pen these poison words, a child is downloading a hacker program from one of dozens of exploit sites. Soon that child will join the nefarious worldwide phenomenon known as the "script kiddies" — smart youngums with just enough skill to run a cracking script and just enough ignorance not to know it's wrong.

They're everywhere all the time. Attacking computers. Getting into computers. Breaking the law with impunity. Sure, most of the time the attacks are completely ineffectual — the script kiddies are also affectionately known as "ankle biters" in the computer security community. But there are so many of these semi-literate child-crackers that they probably cause as much nuisance and damage as the hardened pro's.

Check into the USENET security newsgroups — it won't take you long to find the poorly constructed posts from the teenage set searching for hacking tips. A couple of examples:

hey all,
any1 know of any good hacking sites that teach u the basics and stuff? also, any1 here into AOL hacking???
~Fallen Angel
want some kewl hacks. how can I get the root password?
Of course, these kinds of posts are notorious flame-bait. The canonicial response: "Ask your system adminstrator for it: I'm sure he/she will want to hear about your cool hacks."

Better — surf to Rootshell or any one of hundreds of hacker sites where "exploits" are posted. Most of these programs can be run by even the novice systems cracker: "far-reaching consequences" indeed. Depend on the net for more than an occassional surf or two? You're probably making a mistake. Somewhere a child is hacking, and your site may be next.

-- Seth Ross

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