Premiere issue Autumn 2002

The Internet for worriers

Internet Insecrity
Internet Insecurity
By Harley Hahn
Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, N.J.: 2001

To learn more about this book, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

It is somewhat difficult to describe just what a bad book this is. The information is often questionable, the author wanders all over the map (economic theory, relationship advice) — but most of all, the main purpose of the book is fear-mongering about the Internet.

The saddest thing about this book is that it should have — and could have — been very good. The author has been on the Internet since before it was public — his earlier books about the online world have been well-written and informative.

Everything that "Internet Insecurity" isn't.

I realize that the little blurbs and touts on the cover aren't the responsibility of, nor even under the control, of the author. But Hahn's text mirrors the alarmist "You are being watched!" warning on the cover, while the subtitle of "Why your privacy, security and safety are at risk and what you can do about it" is drawn from the tone and content of the book. For that, Hahn must bear responsibility.

Lord knows there is a need for solid information on protecting your privacy online — of how to set up a firewall, how to use anti-virus software. With more and more folks going online, and most of us not being programmers or computer scientists, we could use some guidance here — how secure are online purchases with credit cards? Can someone hack into my computer if I have cable or DSL? Can I get a virus from e-mail?

But sober analysis of these issues means putting the above risks into proper context — just as we know that there are risks in flying in an airplane or crossing a busy street, we also know that with basic precautions we can minimize these dangers to a level we're comfortable with.

The fact that this is also true on the Internet is glossed over by Hahn in favor of hyping the dangers and risks.

Hahn repeatedly emphasizes the risks involved in venturing online, and then presents the most extreme overkill as the only possible response to what are in many cases fairly low-level risks.

For instance, in his chapter about using your PC at work for going online, Hahn repeatedly points out that your employer owns your PC and can thus extract any information he wants — and then gives detailed information on hiding your tracks from your boss. I mean, how many of us are spending our work hours browsing the 'Net? And if we are, won't the fact that our work isn't getting done tip off our supervisors long before they figure out how to look at our browser cache?

Then there are Hahn's blanket statements that display an ignorance his earlier books never even hinted at. A favorite would have to be from his chapter on e-mail, in which he's railing against folks who forward chain e-mails to everyone they know: "Many AOL (America Online) people have little knowledge about how the Net really works. As a result, such people truly do not understand how they are expected to behave on the Net." If Hahn has any legitimate basis for such a sweeping statement — studies showing AOL users send more chain e-mails, hard numbers to back it up — he doesn't share it with us. Sigh ...

But he doesn't offer any supporting evidence for any of his big claims — that all businesses are bad, that you can't trust your lovers, et al. He just throws them out there, and then tells you how to protect yourself from these evil people.

While not the most egregious failure of a book about the Internet, the chapter in which Hahn tries to explain finance theory is still annoying. Hahn is not an economist, but a computer scientist — and despite his asserting at the beginning of the chapter, no, we really don't need to know how the monetary system works in order to go shopping online. But for sixty-some pages, Hahn shares everything he's ever read about money with us.

Did his editors exercise no influence over this book at all?

Read this book, and you're likely to move to some remote outpost with no telephone service, no electrical power, and subsist on canned meats. The man just beats the fun right out of the Internet, and makes you want avoid going online for any reason.

You're infinitely better off not reading this book, frankly. It's unfocused, alarmist and about three times as long as it should have been. "Internet for Dummies" is, as much as it pains to write this, a better book.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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