The Internet: Getting more dangerous all the time! OK, so it's not the motto that the online world was looking for, but computer security experts say that's the sad reality. As 2004 comes to an end, Internet users have to contend with a noxious glut of spam, viruses, worms and legions of shadowy thieves out to steal their identities -- and 2005 promises to be worse.
That's one of the big trends that washingtonpost.com identified in its look back on the big stories of 2004 and its look ahead to what's coming down the pike in 2005.
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Marcus Sachs, the former White House cyber-security adviser who now runs the SANS Internet Storm Center, compared our troubled online times to the '20s and '30s and notorious gangsters ran rings around the law. Many other experts interviewed said much the same thing.
Security, of course, raises the question of just who should be in charge of insuring it, and washingtonpost.com's Robert MacMillan took that bull by its digital horns in a commentary. Short answer: It begins at home, despite the tech industry's continuing refusal to make it easy enough for the least knowledgeable computer owner.
washingtonpost.com also examined some other changes and developments. Among them:
* Incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) will begin grappling with the dicey question of how to cut down on Internet piracy while the movie and music conglomerates figure out how to present legal alternatives that people will actually pay for. While no one is quite sure what Specter will do, it seems clear that outgoing Chairman (and songwriter) Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will maintain his interest in -- and influence over -- intellectual property issues on the Web.
* States are still trying to figure out how to tax all online sales. The prevailing idea is to get states to simplify their tax systems in order to win congressional approval for the sales tax plan, but some states are showing signs of dissent. Instead, they want Congress to endorse the whole Internet tax proposal before they change anything, and are trying to find ways to persuade lawmakers to help them.
Voting with your pocketbook is by no means a novel concept, but some activists are giving it a new twist. A group of frustrated Democrats started a Web site called BuyBlue.org, which lists political contributions of major companies and encourages shoppers to only buy from firms that represent their blue-state values. In addition, a retired California couple set up a similar site called ChoosetheBlue.com.
The sites base their recommendations on the donation records of businesses' political action committees and corporate officers and employees, which at least one expert said was a dodgy idea. Alex Knott of the Center for Public Integrity said companies tend to give money to both sides in many political races and often support incumbents for reasons that have nothing to do with partisan concerns.
Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics (which collects corporate donation data at its opensecrets.org Web site), agreed, saying that it's more about access than ideology for many corporate donors.
So Long and Thanks for All the Phish
To Our Readers:
Today you are receiving the last edition of washingtonpost.com's Tech Policy & Security E-Letter. During the past two years and two months, we have tried to bring you an assortment of news and commentary on events and trends that fall under the amorphous rubric of "technology policy."
Early on in our e-letter history, we started producing files telling people how to take care of their computers in as simple language as we knew how. We saw this as a service to the majority of Internet readers who are not qualified to parse every syllable of geek-speak and don't want to learn anyway. At that time, too few mainstream publications bothered to seek that middle ground of simplifying without "dumbing down."
Nowadays, there is much more of that, but we like to think that we helped get the ball rolling. In the future, we will continue to push ourselves to explain to readers why they should care about cyber-security. Anyone interested in following this coverage can check washingtonpost.com's Technology section regularly, and even sign up for an RSS feed of cyber-security security articles (if you follow the latter link, look for the "RSS" box in the left column of the page).
We also encourage you to sign up for two continuing, free e-letters. The TechNews.com Daily update includes all the technology articles from The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com. Tech gadget lovers should sign up for the weekly Personal Tech e-letter written by Rob Pegoraro, which offers more news and advice than can be squeezed into the newspaper. Visit washingtonpost.com's newsletter center to sign-up for both.
And when it comes to technology policy -- everything from online privacy, Internet copyright issues and fighting spam -- reporters from The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com will continue to tell readers why the political climate on Capitol Hill and in the nation's statehouses and courtrooms affects their Internet experience. We will do it in our news coverage and in other ways that we hope you will find engaging, insightful, comprehensible and forward-thinking. An most important of all -- interesting.