Silicon Insider: Hijacked on the Information Superhighway

What happened next even Daniel can't explain. No sooner had my son clicked on the site than my wife's computer was hit with a program of unprecedented virulence. Within seconds, it was literally impossible even to turn on the computer without having the screen overrun by dozens of windows of spam, offering everything from real estate to some of the nastiest porn images imaginable -- all for the edification of my 14-year-old (thank God it wasn't my 9-year-old).

It took Daniel, who had never seen such a mess, hours to clean that one up -- even as he was destroying one nest of viruses another one would crop up. By the time he was finished, the final count was more than 20,000 infections. Another C-note to Daniel.

So, here is my simple question: Why is this happening?

Once a Nuisance, Now an Epidemic?

I have no doubt that millions of other people are going through the same experience that I am. Why are we allowing it to happen? I'm sure there are a few idiots out there who actually fall for spam -- and, given the amazing economies of the Web, where it costs no more to pitch 10 million suckers than it does 10, these morons subsidize the assault on us all.

I'm also sure there is an acculturation factor. To those of us who have been on the Net for years, spam and spyware began as minor nuisances, like the first snails in the spring, that we accepted as part of doing business. Now that they have bred by the thousands and threaten to overrun the garden, we still can't shake the mindset that they are still a minor matter. And so, unwittingly, we waste more and more time each workday swatting at these mosquitoes, slathering ourselves with insecticide and swallowing malaria pills.

But surely the misery factor has now reached the point where something must be done. This assault on personal computer users and Web surfers, this defiling of the whole Internet experience, is no longer a nuisance -- if my life is any indication, it is now a serious challenge to our national productivity. These parasites threaten the entire digital revolution, turning what should be an empowering experience into a soul-crushing, time-wasting, profit-burning slog through endless billboards and hucksters just to get to the library or a favorite shop.

Even Microsoft, which I hold in large part responsible for this disaster -- it had enough capital to crush Netscape, but not enough to build an impervious operating system? -- recognizes the problem, and has stepped up with free security software for Windows users. The Feds, as usual, talk a lot, but do almost nothing.

Meanwhile, the sleazeballs get ever more brazen. A few months ago I wrote about a spyware company that was hijacking people's online searches. A number of blog sites picked up the story and ran with it. Now, from what I read, they are getting threatening letters from this outfit not to use the word "spyware" in describing it. Thus, the online world in 2005 is beginning to resemble Cicero, Ill., in 1929.

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