From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 19 APR 2005 - Predators and Snoopers
Today's TOURBUS post is all about safety. Find out how to access the sxx offender database for your area, and make sure you're surfing safely when you use a public wireless (wi-fi) hotspot. Read on...
You'll note that one particular word is misspelled in this issue, and it's done for a good reason. To prevent spam filters from zapping this before it hits your inbox, I had to be a little creative. :-)
With so much recent news coverage of child abductions and crimes committed by sxxual predators, there is increased focus on public access to sxx offender databases. Fortunately, the Internet can help you determine if there is a dangerous sxxual predator living in your town. Most U.S. states have searchable offender databases online, which you can find here:
I asked my teenage daughter if she had heard of this registry, and she said "Oh yeah, a former teacher at my elementary school is in there." We looked him up, and sure enough, he's in there with a mugshot, current address, along with the make, model and license plate of the truck he drives.
For Canadians, the news is less encouraging. In December 2004, the government announced SOIRA, the Sxx Offender Information Registration Act, and a National Sxx Offender Registry. Unforunately, this database will only be accessible by police agencies. For info, see:
And in the UK, a project known as ViSOR (Violent & Sxx Offender Register) is currently being rolled out, but will be accessible only by law enforcement. Here's a link for more information:
In my research, I found that some local provinces, counties and cities do have online searchable databases, so even if there is no national registry or database in your country, your local officials may be providing this info either online or by request.
On a slightly less somber note, those of you who use wireless Internet access in public places should take some simple precautions to make sure you're not broadcasting your passwords and other personal info to others in the vicinity.
Recently I met with a group of Internet professionals, all of us sporting laptops with wireless connections to the hotel's access point. On the second day of the conference, one of the attendees put up a slide on the overhead showing logins and passwords from a dozen of the attendees. Needless to say, many jaws dropped open.
He was running a "sniffer" program that anyone can download to spy on the internet traffic floating around in the air. Fortunately, he was a trusted colleague, and was nice enough to tell us that we were caught with our virtual pants down.
---> So here are a few tips to help you surf safely in Starbucks.
First, be aware that (almost) ANYTHING that you type or any info that appears on your screen while you're using a wireless connection can be seen by others nearby.
If you are accessing a page that requires a login & password, or if you are entering ANY personal data (credit card, SSN, etc) make sure that you are on a secure site. That's easy enough -- just check that the web address begins with HTTPS instead of the usual HTTP -- and your information will be safely encrypted before transmission. As long as you're on a page with an address that begins with https, the data you send and receive is protected from sniffers and snoopers.
But be on your guard, some web-based email providers have a secure login page, but after you're logged in the access reverts to normal non-encrypted mode. So any email you send or receive while on a wireless connection is out in the clear. Google's GMail and Yahoo Mail are examples of webmail services that work this way. (Hotmail doesn't even offer a secure login option. Thanks, Microsoft!)
Oh, and there are the "shoulder surfers" to watch out for. Just like when you're entering your PIN code at an ATM, you need to keep an eye open for anyone who might be glancing over your shoulder while you hunt and peck in the airport or coffeeshop.
And finally, Beware of the Evil Twins! Aunty Spam's Net Patrol warns of a scam where a hacker may put up a bogus copy of the wi-fi hotspot's login page. Learn how to stay safe from this attack by reading this helpful article:
That's all for now, see you next time! -- Bob Rankin