Traveling the virtual world is just as risky today as the day the
Internet began. We have all heard of a person that connected to the
Internet and then their computer could no longer boot. What was the
cause? Could this happen to you? What kind of Internet program can be
downloaded onto your computer and render it useless? Was it a hostile
Java program you heard about?
As many of you know, little programs called Java are downloaded on to
your computer and run automatically. Other programs can immediately run
as well; however, Java is the Internet’s most common of these programs.
Java programs can download and run without warning. They load at the
same time and in the exact same way a graphic and text loads in your
browser. No delay. No waiting. Most often without your permission. Yes,
Java programs can run without letting you know exactly what they are
doing to your machine.
You surf Web pages; therefore, it is best to explore the basics of
Java. Java comes in two flavors, Java Script and Java Applets.
Due to the many applications and relative simplicity of Java Scripts,
they are in very wide use. There are many Web depository sites where
webmasters can simply cut, then paste Java Scripts into their Web pages.
They can do this with very little programming knowledge. Java Scripts
create many of the cool effects you see on web pages, and because of the
simple installation process and flexibility of Java Scripts, these
effects rapidly became established features on websites.
Of the two forms, Java Script is also the least harmful — that is,
if you are not running an older browser. Later browsers fixed a problem
that allowed Java Script to write on your hard drive. Let’s use a tiny
Java Script I wrote to check
the browser version you are running right now.
While Java was being invented and refined, browsers were still under
development just as they are today. For this reason you need to be using
a later browser. A vintage version later than
Netscape 4.0x or Internet Explorer 4.0x.. If you are running an early
browser stop now and go get a later version. You are putting your data
at more risk than the rest of us that have later versions.
Hostile webmasters prey on people with older browsers. This is not
one of those cases of “If it’s not broke don’t fix it.” Trust me, if
it’s older, it’s broke. You have been very fortunate and don’t realize
it. Every browser is broken. It’s just a simple matter of how broken?
To this day, there has never been a completely functioning bug free
browser. Chances are high that there will never be a completely
functional working browser made during our lifetime. It’s no surprise.
My new super-fast Windows 98 machine is broken. Oh, don’t smile if you
are running a Mac because it too was broken when you purchased it. Just
as every new Mac I purchased was broken. I have never purchased a
computer that didn’t come with broken software. You have never purchased
a computer that wasn’t broken before it left the factory. NASA also buys
broken computers. So why would you expect to get such a break?
Why would you think your browser is not broken? Simple, because it
looks like it works. You must upgrade your browser or risk disk drive
melt down. Later versions of browsers have evolved security features.
Including warning abilities that you can activate by changing the
preference or options settings.
Java Applets are a more powerful compiled version of Java programs.
Extra browser security and configuration is required. So, let me scare
you into upgrading with a
tiny list of hostile Applets. You can find other lists throughout
If you haven’t already, upgrade your browser and check your Java
If you have already had a bad Java experience, e-mail me the details.
Last Friday’s article about Cookies prompted the following very
Dan in San Jose, CA @ ix.netcom.com: “I just read your column on
cookies in today’s WND. I have configured my browser to prompt me when
receiving cookies and it is my observation that media companies (CNN,
ABC, Washington Post…) are by far the most ‘guilty’ in bombarding one
David @ Exchange.Microsoft.com: He helps date the term cookie (and
himself), when he writes, “In fact, a popular joke program on many
computer systems (I first saw it 20 years ago on a VAX/VMS system) is
the ‘cookie monster’ which would break into your session at random times
and type ‘Give me a cookie’ and wouldn’t release your terminal until you
had typed the word ‘cookie.’ Cookies came to mean any opaque chunk of
bits that you hold but don’t understand, but some other program does.”
Ken @ ipass.net said, “In making your argument against disabling
cookies you failed to mention cookies that come from and are sent back
to third party servers. I have monitored cookie-use during websurfing
and have found that most cookies placed on my machine were coming from
third party servers. These third parties most often were web-marketing
companies, the most notorious of which being ‘ad.doubleclick.net.’ Why
would a third party web marketer need to ‘recognize’ me? What benefit
does having their cookie bring me? My best guess is that there is no
benefit derived to me, the unknowing surfer. I believe these cookies
are used by marketing companies to track surfers’ viewing habits so that
data can be used for direct marketing purposes — so that a targeted
banner ad is displayed to a specific webpage viewer. I do not give my
consent for such targeted marketing and by default keep cookies
disabled. Very rarely does this cause any problems.”
Tom in Cupertino, CA @ PacBell.net: “The real stupid thing about
those sites is that they lose customers because they have to play their
requirement game (you are required to accept cookies before you can
enter the site.) Suppose I went to that site because I wanted
information for a friend; now they mark my computer with a cookie that
states that I have an interest in subject A and in reality I have no
interest. This is big brother on a smaller scale.”