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Review: Bandits On the Information Superhighway by Dan Barrett
By: Jason Compton
Ok, we'd better get this out of the way. I know it was my first question
about the book and I'm sure a lot of other people feel the same way, so
No, BLAZEMONGER is not listed in the index of the book, but yes, it is
There. Now that's out of the way...
Dan Barrett undertook a fairly major task that any normal mortal would have
most likely screwed up. That is, in 200 pages or so, tackle a serious
issue of modern society without confusing the novice audience or insulting
the experienced audience, explaining enough basics to keep novices in line
and, above all else, not turning the book into a reference for those who
seek to constrict access on the net.
It all works out. Dan takes readers through the net and the possible
pitfalls and scams users can wind up getting caught in--including some of
the more exaggerated fallacies of the net. Little time is wasted throwing
out just some of the potential sources of trouble for net users, such as
the general lack of privacy for most data transmission. Also discussed
early on is the distinct possibility that just about anything you read
online has a measurable probability of being a complete fabrication done
for amusement or for illicit profit. That out of the way, Dan moves into
more specific areas of danger, such as how to keep information secure (or
at least to understand the potential risks of allowing it to be public),
how to (somewhat) safely make purchases on the net, and how to eyeball
potential scams and fake messages. (Of particular note is the spoofed Bill
Gates announcement of the cancellation of Word.)
A lot of what Dan says here you could easily have learned somewhere else
under a different name, or under different circumstances. (Pyramid schemes
are bad. Be extremely careful when 1-900 numbers get involved. Don't give
away your password to anybody ever never ever.) But Dan gives other
valuable information, such as a lengthy discourse on spamming vs.
crossposting (and how the latter, while it can be annoying to some, is not
a bandwidth or drive-space hog). And, although many of us already realize
that you can't get a virus or format your hard drive just by reading a
piece of E-mail, Dan states in black and red that no, there is no such
thing as a Good Times virus.
When Dan tackles the more personal side of the net--actually meeting,
befriending, and possibly even romancing people online--things do get a bit
dicey, because he's dealing with people who have actually been very hurt
and violated through such experiences but at the same time doesn't want to
scare anybody away or turn them into paranoid maniacs. You wind up doing a
lot of emotional bouncing in that section of the book.
The book gets into methods for users to help themselves if they've been
scammed, and wraps up with a (somewhat self-serving, I feel, for the
panelists involved) panel discussion section discussing the future of the
net and the security and safety of it.
Interspersed through the entire book are both real-life and concocted
examples of what to look for (and what to avoid), as well as quotes from
various knowledgeable people and actual anecdotal experiences, which all
give the book a very nice touch. On the whole, while the book didn't tell
me volumes that I hadn't learned from being on the net for a few years, it
does have a lot of useful reference material. For beginners, or for those
who are misinformed about the real risks of the net (and by that, I mean
those who think it's a den of iniquity for nobody but crooks and scam
artists all out to steal your soul), I'd say it's a required read.
(Oh, yes. While the book is hardly Amiga-specific, we do get the
occasional mention in a friendly, contextual way.)
Bandits On the Information Superhighway--
Published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
By Daniel J. Barrett - If you don't YELL when you SAY IT...
103 Morris St. Suite A
Sebastopol, CA 95472 USA