February 7, 1997 1:00 PM PST

CNET Special Report: Crime on the Net

The Net is widely hyped as a new community and a wild electronic frontier. And just like San Francisco's Barbary Coast during the Gold Rush days, the sometimes mean streets of cyberspace can become traps for unsuspecting Netizens not familiar with electronic crime.

So in the community-minded spirit of the Internet, CNET offers a guide to online safety, offering some valuable tips to protect yourself against the four most common electronic crimes: forgery (of email), assault (on your Web site, email box, or computer system), fraud (cyberscams), and robbery (theft of valuable information). Then, test your knowledge with the interactive security check.

Forgery
With millions more users logging on every year and the volume of email and newsgroup postings growing at astronomical rates, it's inevitable that the online medium will be misused and that participants will be misrepresented by others. The catch is in cleaning up the mess and clearing your name.

Assault
Bombing a server connected to the Net requires no special skill or subterfuge. It can be as simple as sending an email message with a big, juicy attachment, loading it with so much data that it cripples its performance. Unfortunately, Web sites, online services, and even users' hard disks aren't much more secure. It's only a matter of time before an online user faces the pitfalls of hacks, cracks, and viruses. Preparedness and prevention are the best protection.

Fraud
The emergence of the Internet has allowed a new set of entrepreneurs and business to set up shop. Some of them are breaking the law, and they rely on the same impulses as their offline associates: greed and gullibility. Here's how to fight back these too-good-to-be-true deals.

Robbery
Computers and networks are playing a greater role in our daily lives, and that's not always a good thing. Personal files, corporate data, and other sensitive information--not to mention access to, say, bank accounts--can be just one password away from the curious or crooked. The consequences of computer crime, experts and victims agree, are getting worse.

Security check
CNET plays 20 questions: Have you ever written down a computer password? Do you scan downloaded files for viruses? Assess your security situation with this interactive quiz.

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