|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 57||May 31, 2000|
Because broadband Internet connections pose special security risks for consumers, small businesses and nonprofit organizations, NetAction has published a guide that explains how to prevent unauthorized access to computers connected to the Internet over high-speed cable or digital subscriber line (DSL) service.
The guide, titled "Broadband: Are You Exposed?" was written by NetAction Advisory Board member Judi Clark, an Internet consultant for over a dozen years.
Broadband Internet service is becoming increasingly popular because the high-speed, always-on connection allows Internet users to download graphics and video content much faster than with a regular dial-up service. But it also makes home and small business computers more vulnerable to security problems. The guide provides step-by-step instructions for reducing the security risks associated with always-in Internet connections provided by broadband phone and cable service.
The complete guide is available on NetAction's web site at: http://www.netaction.org/broadband/exposed.
As Judi explains in the guide, "If you're using DSL or a cable modem your computer is at risk from intrusion by mischievous outsiders. Without your knowledge or consent your computer can be used as a mail relay for unsolicited commercial email or a distributed denial of service attack, or even as a staging area for exchanging pornographic files. And you won't even know this until the police come knocking at their door."
Consumers, nonprofit organizations and small businesses that store personal or financial information on their computers, or use their computer for banking, or other financial transactions, also risk unauthorized access to that information.
The guide includes a set of easy to implement steps called "The Five A's of Security:"
The online version is available in several formats which can be downloaded and printed for easy reference.
Grassroots activists and nonprofit organizations that have tried it know that email can be a powerful tool for outreach and advocacy. Online action alerts make it possible for activist groups to mobilize their supporters almost instantly. Electronic newsletters let nonprofit groups communicate with their members for a fraction of the cost of traditional newsletters.
But email isn't always the most appropriate tool. In our Virtual Activist Training Guide, NetAction advises against using email to communicate with policy makers. In recent months, several readers have asked us why this is the case. So we decided it was time to revisit the issue.
Although there are certainly exceptions, most policy makers still don't give email correspondence the same attention they give to phone calls and letters. There are a number of reasons for this:
Policy makers know that email correspondence requires less effort than picking up the phone or writing and mailing a letter, so it's less valuable as an indicator of public opinion.
It's not always possible to confirm that the sender is a constituent. Correspondence from people who don't vote in the decision maker's district gets less attention than correspondence from constituents.
Since Internet users may have more than one email address, it's possible for a small number of people to generate a large volume of correspondence. This also diminishes its value as an indicator of public opinion.
Many decision makers still don't use email regularly and consequently don't place much value on email correspondence.
While all of this is likely to change over time, NetAction believes we have a long way to go before policy makers really accept email correspondence as an indicator of public opinion.
This does NOT mean that email is a less effective tool for outreach and advocacy. It just means that we need to recognize its limitations and develop our online advocacy strategies accordingly.
Email is still a powerful tool for educating and mobilizing activists. Use it to let your members know when phone calls or letters are necessary, and to distribute sample letters and the addresses and phone numbers of targeted decision makers. Use it to educate activists by directing them to online background information. Use it to "brainstorm" with other activists about strategy, and to recruit volunteers.
But for the time being, we recommend that you pick up the phone or put a letter in the mail box when you want to communicate your concerns to policy makers.
For the complete list of NetAction's Email Outreach "Do's and Don'ts," see: http://www.netaction.org/training/part2a.html.
If the recent rash of Microsoft viruses gave you headaches, the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UTICA) could bring on a full blown migraine. UCITA is the software industry's attempt to subject the United States to a uniform computer software licensing rule that would overwrite existing copyright, privacy, and consumer protection laws, essentially trashing consumers' rights when buying software.
When NetAction Notes last reported on this issue, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) and the American Law Institute (ALI) were working on an amendment to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The goal was to legalize the "shrinkwrap" software licenses that require the purchaser to agree, signt unseen, to the seller's terms. ALI's objections ultimately killed the proposal to amend the UCC, but the NCCUSL continued its work and eventually drafted UCITA, a "model" law that each state can consider independently.
So far, only a handful of states have considered UCITA, and only two -- Maryland and Virginia -- have adopted it. But the software industry isn't giving up, so the threat to state and local consumer protection laws continues.
The 4CITE coalition is monitoring developments in all 50 states and is working to coordinate opposition to the legislation wherever it's introduced. General background on the issue can be found at: http://www.4cite.org/. To find out what's happening in your state, see: http://www.4cite.org/action.html.
According to 4CITE, if UCITA is signed into law it will overwrite existing consumer protection, copyright and privacy laws. The changes will impact nonprofit organization as well as individual consumers and businesses. What this means is that software will no longer be owned by the individual, business, or nonprofit organization that buys it. But buyers won't know this since they won't see the software license until after they've made the purchase.
Under UCITA, software sellers would be able to:
In addition, UCITA allows software makers to invade the buyer's privacy by incorporating "back doors" into the software that can be used to monitor the buyer's personal information or disable the software after it's been installed on the buyer's computer.
Other sources of information on UCITA include the Consumer Project on Technology (CPT): http://www.cptech.org/ecom/ucita/ and Cem Kaner's Bad Software page at: http://www.badsoftware.com. (The latter does not include recent developments but has extensive background on the issue.)
While the Internet lets activists bypass the media and communicate directly with the public, it doesn't eliminate the need for media advocacy. TV, radio, print and electronic media can all be useful in publicizing your organization's activities and promoting your organization's position on public policy issues.
San Francisco's NBC affiliate, KRON Channel 4, has created a Media Access Guide For Non-Profit Organizations. The Guide provides advice on a wide range of media activities, from submitting Public Service Announcements (PSA's) about your organization's fundraising events to being interviewed for the nightly news. While some of the material is specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, most of it is practical advice that can be of use in any community.
The Guide is at: http://www.kron.com/nc4/4listens/media_guide/.
NetAction Notes is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policy makers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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