Power User: Peer-to-peer networking doesn't keep out spam

John McCormick

Spam volume is doubling every six months, but weaning people from e-mail would be difficult because it's so useful. Instant messaging isn't an alternative because the popular IM programs are full of security holes.

California and other states have modeled antispam laws after federal junk fax legislation, making it easier to sue spammers. But spam isn't just about Viagra and gambling. One-third of the spam I get at the address below comes from companies that want me to do something I would never do'say, announce their staff promotions. Their unsolicited messages are as much spam as any porn offer.

A large portion of spam comes from legitimate vendors marketing their products in an illegitimate manner. You needn't be a con artist to be a spammer.

Unlike the spam buckets I've set up elsewhere, I have to look at every powerusr message because that's how I communicate with GCN staff and readers. There should be a place to do this without inviting all the junk I have to wade through daily. That means antispam legislation needs sharp teeth.

Peer-to-peer networking is a tempting alternative for users who don't have virtual private networks to block spam. But a graduate student told the House Government Reform Committee that he has pulled sensitive data ranging from e-mails to spreadsheets out of computers on peer-to-peer networks.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing networks were developed to make it easy to share pirated music and porn anonymously. They map remote hard drives so users can access any desired file. But the majority of peer-to-peer users lack the skill to manage files with the available controls. Even worse, they often install such services on office computers without the knowledge of IT managers.

Several readers thought my recent column was suggesting that governments hire consultants to compile lists of local emergency management computers because the current lists made by volunteers weren't good enough.

In fact, my rural Pennsylvania area has no list at all of this basic information. After a firehouse disaster, no one would know where to look for computers or backups with the names of volunteer firefighters and the maintenance vendors and storage locations for emergency equipment.

How do I know my county doesn't track such data? Before resigning to make this risk public, I was a local emergency volunteer for decades. I've never been asked about my computers, which contain huge amounts of medical and hazardous materials data.

Most county coordinators in rural Pennsylvania don't even have e-mail addresses, and many who do, don't use them.

Yet Pennsylvania is a leader in local emergency management planning. I wonder what the situation is in other states.

Homeland Security Department secretary Tom Ridge should set some guidelines to move local emergency management into the computer age.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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