Since the big Internet craze has calmed down, many once-profitable sites have seen their incomes drop drastically. Many free services have gone the way of the dodo, either from the sites vanishing or cutting back on services. But one sector of the Internet market has been going strong through this economic downturn: pornography.

The Internet has been a boon for the porn industry. Where people once asked for a brown-paper-wrapped magazine from the top shelf or quietly bought movie tickets while dressed in a hat and overcoat, now people can get all the smut they crave in the privacy of their own homes, thanks to the Internet. Porn sites now offer enough picture galleries and videos on demand to fit every discriminating pervert’s desire. And the market is booming.

I don’t care how well Internet porn is growing, since I don’t visit their sites on purpose. But too often I am assaulted with porn even when I have not asked for it–and I’m not the only one. More and more people are complaining about e-mail spam messages which advertise porn sites. These messages are bad enough with their explicit titles and text, but many porn shillers are using the image capability of many e-mail programs to deliver what I call “boobs in your face.” With the younger generation using computers and accessing the Internet, parents are concerned about their kids getting this sort of spam delivered daily to their e-mail inboxes. And I don’t blame them.

Porn sites are also using sneaky techniques to direct extra eyeballs to them. A common method has been registering domain names very similar to widely used sites. For example, people who mistakenly surf to www.whitehouse.COM instead of www.whitehouse.GOV will access a porn site. Many reputable sites have been buying up their misspelled names and alternate top-level domain names like .com, .net., .org to prevent the smut-peddlers from hijacking their visitors, and to make sure that fumble-fingered folk make it to the right site. Typing in www.gogle.com will take you to the Google search site, as will typing in www.google.net. As little as I admire porn peddlers, I have to give the www.whitehouse.com site credit for being slightly more responsible than many other porn sites. When you access their site, you must now click on a link to get to the smut. This gives the unwitting surfer a chance to realize his or her mistake without seeing anything, but too many other porn sites will instantly slap boobs in your face if you type in the URL. And once they have captured your browser, they will often pop up extra windows linking to other porn sites. These pop-ups are more than annoying, for when you close one of them, they usually generate another dozen or so windows into the wild and wacky. You can think of this as a modern-day Hydra like the one Hercules encountered, with extra windows popping up instead of heads.

To block these pop-up windows I use a little program called Pop-Up Stopper by Panicware, Inc. You can download Pop-Up Stopper for free at www.panicware.com. Not only will it block porn pop-ups, it will also block the annoying pop-up advertisements. The only problem I have had with this program comes from those websites which use JavaScript to open up a small window when a link is clicked. I consider this a very minor inconvenience for a very good service, since Pop-Up Stopper may be turned off and on easily while surfing. And Pop-Up Stopper puts a smile on my face every time I hear the sound of another annoying pop-up being blocked.

Because porn is so easily accessible on the Internet, it is incredibly simple for an inquisitive child to get hooked at a very early age. If you have a computer with Internet access in the house and you don’t want your kids to look at porn, then you must take steps to guard them. So what can a concerned parent do to keep children safe from Internet porn? Quite a few things, really. The most important thing is closely monitoring what children are doing on the computer. This can be as easy as sitting with the children and watching what they do, or installing some sort of “nanny” software to supervise, up to more complicated steps such as monitoring the computer logs to see trends in Internet traffic, or configuring your own home network for maximum content control and monitoring. With the current prices of computers and software and the high availability of broadband connections to the Internet like cable or DSL, it is becoming easier and cheaper to configure a home network. I have residential DSL for an always-on connection to the Internet, a designated server computer to manage my Internet traffic, and two computers that my wife and I use. Our server uses Microsoft Windows 2000 Server as the operating system, with Microsoft’s Internet Security & Acceleration software. This is probably overkill for most home networks, but it serves me well. This software configuration creates a good firewall and web cache server for my network. In addition to logging all Internet traffic, I have configured my ISA server to block known porn sites. So if I were to go to www.playboy.com, instead of ogling naked women I’d get a notification that the porn site has been blocked by the server.

While most people don’t have the means to install multi-thousand-dollar software on their home networks, there are many more reasonable options available that can provide monitoring and filtering services for a small home environment. Any broadband Internet connection needs a firewall to provide security from people wanting to hack into your home network, some Internet sharing software to allow everyone on the network to surf over that one connection, and software to monitor and filter traffic. With these things in place, a parent may prevent children from intentionally surfing to known porn sites and monitor Internet traffic to see who is going where. If keeping your young children away from porn is your goal, this will require constant and consistent vigilance because close monitoring of Internet usage is the best way of seeing what the children are doing. This is true whether you are reviewing the server logs or sitting next to your children as they play on the computer.

My next article will delve into a different approach to porn and what can be done by the Internet community.

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