Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Internet Censorship: Is it Inevitable?

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001

Vol. 10, #7 - Feb 15, 2010 - Issue #417

 Internet Censorship: Is it Inevitable?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Internet Censorship: Is it Inevitable?
    • Follow-up: Gone Phishing
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • 7 Reasons to Stick with Windows XP (or not)
    • Unauthorized copies of XP sold on refurbished computers
    • New Xbox game releases announced at Microsoft X10 conference
    • Cool new Bing Maps features
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to change the XP Logon screen background color
  5. XP Security News
    • February Security Patch blamed for XP Blue Screens of Death
  6. XP Question Corner
    • Get rid of black background for icon text
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Windows Logo + BREAK shortcut doesn't display System Properties
    • Administrator Logon dialog box is hidden under the Welcome Screen
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Registry Reviver: Registry Reviver Cleans Repairs and Optimizes your PC With 1 Click.

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 Editor's Corner

Internet Censorship: Is it Inevitable?

The Internet has been called the last frontier of free speech, where you can say what you think without fear of repercussions. Of course, we all know that's no longer completely true - if it ever was. Most of us are aware that some countries exert heavy-handed government control over the Internet access of their citizens. The Chinese communist party (PRC) blocks web sites that express political opinions critical of the party, and even monitors what individuals do on the Internet. Dissidents have been imprisoned for signing petitions or speaking out against the government. Even such web sites as CNN, NBC and BBC News have been blocked, along with the Chinese version of Wikipedia.

Chinese search engine results are filtered, as well. If you search on a key word that is on the censored list, you get no results. Search providers must abide by the regulations to operate in China. Some of the blocked words and phrases include the Chinese forms of: democracy, dictatorship, genocide, oppression and evil. References to certain groups, events and politicians are also blocked.

A recent hacking attack on Google and other companies that was reported to have originated in China brought the censorship issue into the news. The attacks occurred in December, and in early January, Google announced that they were going to stop censoring search results on Google.cn and might even pull out of China entirely if they couldn't operate an unfiltered search service within Chinese law. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got involved.

However, it's been a month since Google's initial announcement, and AP reports that the "Great Firewall of China" is still up and Google is still there, with their search results still being filtered. The company is apparently in negotiations with the Chinese government. Of course, all this is complicated further by the fact that China has the world's largest online population and its online advertising market is predicted to be up to $20 billion per year by 2014:

Of course, China isn't the only country that censors the Internet; it's just the biggest. Iran uses what is called "one of the most extensive technical filtering systems in the world" to block web sites that run counter to the government's purposes - including not just the sites of political dissenters but also social networking sites such as Facebook and Flickr and many foreign blogs. Since all Internet traffic that comes into or out of Iran goes through one gateway, the Telecommunications Company of Iran, it's easy for them to monitor and block traffic, and the filtering got much more intense there after last summer's elections:

Although we might think of Internet censorship as something associated only with totalitarian regimes, that's not the case. Australian citizens are currently up in arms (well, figuratively) over the government's efforts to control Internet content there. The party in power reportedly is getting ready to introduce legislation to force ISPs in Australia to block web sites on a list compiled by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Google is part of this controversy, too, having said it would not "voluntarily" comply with the government's request.

Of course, in a democracy like Australia - or the U.S. - censorship is carefully presented as something that must be done to protect the citizenry, most often the children. Even though the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, even here some speech is deemed to be more free than other speech. Child pornography is the most glaring example of a case where the mere act of looking at pictures can get a person thrown in prison for a long, long time - even if no real children were used in the making of those pictures. In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld a 2003 law that makes it a federal offense to obtain or provide sexually explicit images of children, regardless of whether the images are computer-generated. In fact, just requesting or offering such images is illegal even if no images exist.

Now we all know that pedophiles do tremendous harm to children and who can argue with curbing their rights to free speech? But does it become a slippery slope when you start making one type of speech illegal? There's another law in the making that's also designed to protect children, called the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. It would impose penalties of up to two years in prison for "coercing, intimidating, harassing or causing substantial emotion distress to a person" via electronic means (email, web boards, or other network technologies).

In most states, harassment is already a crime, but to rise to that level requires more than just "causing distress." After all, it doesn't take much for some people to become distressed. What if you get into a political discussion in an email group and post opinions (or even facts) that reflect negatively on a candidate or cause that another group member believes in? If what you say causes that person to feel emotionally distressed, will the feds should up at your door to carry you away? It may sound silly, but when it comes to the law, wording is very important and the wording of this one is very troubling.

I don't think anyone advocates completely free and unfettered speech on the Internet. Obviously the concept of free speech shouldn't be a defense for plagiarism or copyright infringement or libel. But those things traditionally have been considered matters for the civil courts, not the criminal justice system. If you post something I created (writing, a picture, a song) without my permission, I could sue you and get an injunction forcing you to take it down and/or get a monetary judgment against you. If you posted false statements about me that damaged my reputation, caused me to lose my job or broke up my marriage, likewise I could take you to court and get compensation for my pain and suffering.

The trend today is to make every possible undesirable behavior a crime. Because the Internet is a venue that brings together many different people from many different places, cultures, social classes and belief systems, there is the potential for a lot of undesirable behaviors. Are we to make them all criminal offenses? Aside from the obvious practical drawbacks (even greater overcrowding of jails and prisons and the high costs of processing so many criminal actions), there are sociological implications. If everything is a crime, then everyone becomes a de facto criminal. And if we turn a whole society of generally law abiding people into criminals, what does that do to respect for the law in general? And who will enforce all these new federal Internet crimes? And just how far away are we from being just like the totalitarian regimes whose censorship of thought and speech we abhor?

We may be closer than you think. Legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate last year that would give the White House unprecedented control over the Internet, with the power to declare a "cybersecurity emergency relating to "non-governmental computers networks" (yours and mine?) and "do what's necessary" to deal with the alleged threat.

That bill hasn't passed into law, but it's not dead, either. Just last week, the House passed its own cybersecurity bill, and it could be joined with the Senate bill (SB 773).

It's something to think about. Tell us what you think about it. Is freedom of speech on the Internet (and indeed, everywhere else) long gone? Was it ever a viable concept, or just a utopian ideal that couldn't work in practice? Is it worth giving up freedom of speech to see that pedophiles and other criminals get punished? Are we creating a nation of weak children by outlawing the bullying behaviors that were once a normal part of growing up? Or is making those behaviors illegal a step in the right direction toward a more civilized society? What online behaviors should (or shouldn't) be crimes? We invite you to discuss these topics in our forum at

Follow-up: Gone Phishing

In last week's editorial, we talked about the ongoing threat of Internet phishing attacks, including new developments and trends that show phishing is on the rise. Several of our readers shared their own experiences with would-be phishers - and what sometimes appears to be phishing but isn't. Grfxguy recounted how he'd gotten a suspicious email from his credit card company that turned out to be legit even though it showed all the signs of a phishing attempt. I've had a similar experience, where real companies send messages that contain links that don't look right or misspelled words or other characteristics that you don't expect in legitimate business correspondence.

One reader mentioned PayPal. That is a service that I will never use. I'm sure I'll be inundated with messages from PayPal fans who have used it for years and never had a problem, but our experience with them was not a good one. They were very rude and less than helpful a few years ago when someone set up a fraudulent PayPal account in my husband's name with his credit card. Luckily, the credit card company was more cooperative and removed the charges and agreed not to accept any charges from PayPal in the future. It was the attitude, more than anything, that lost them our business forever. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Ken F. made an excellent point regarding scam emails that purport to notify you about your credit card: they will often reference the firstI four numbers of your card - which are part of the issuer identification number (IIN). In other words, those numbers tell you what institution issued the card, so there will be many different people who have credit cards with those same first four numbers. But if you didn't know any better, you might look at your card and say "yep, that's my card they're talking about." The bigger the card issuer, the larger the range of the IIN numbers. For example, all Visa cards begin with the digit 4 and Mastercards with the digit 5. The rest of the IIN identifies the bank. For more info about the anatomy of credit card numbers, see

As always, thanks to all of you who participated in the discussion of this topic!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

"Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself." - Potter Stewart (1915 - 1985)

"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." - John Gilmore (co-founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

"We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amidst dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship." - E. M. Forster (1879 - 1970)

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

7 Reasons to Stick with Windows XP (or not)

Over on ZDNet, bloggers have been having a bit of a debate this past week. First Adrian Kingsley-Hughes wrote about 7 Reasons to Stick with XP. Then Zack Whittaker responded with 7 Reasons to Move On from Ageing [sic], Tired Windows XP. Aside from the fact that Adrian is obviously the better speller of the two, who has the most valid arguments? Read them and decide for yourself:


Unauthorized copies of XP sold on refurbished computers

If you've bought a refurbished computer from a company called PacificGeek.com in southern Nevada, beware - it may have come preloaded with an unauthorized copy of Windows XP. Microsoft is suing the company for doing just that. Apparently they sold such systems to investigators both in November 2009 and again in January 2010. You can read more here:

New Xbox game releases announced at Microsoft X10 conference

If you're into gaming, you might be interested in this video from Microsoft's X10 conference in San Francisco last week, where they showed off new Xbox 360 games and announced release dates. Check it out here:

Cool new Bing Maps features

Microsoft keeps making Bing's Maps feature better; they are adding new features that include integration with Flickr photos in the Streetside view and you can even view historical photos to see what an area looked like in the past. Another neat idea is Indoor Panoramas, which lets you see the interiors of public places. And more goodness is coming: there are plans to incorporate constellation viewing from Worldwide Telescope. Find out more here:

 How To: Using XP Features

How to change the XP Logon screen background color

If you don't have logon screen wallpaper set, Windows will display a solid colored background at the logon screen. If you don't like the color, you can change it. Here's how:
  1. Open your favorite registry editor.
  2. Navigate to the following key:
    HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Colors
  3. Before you make changes, back up the registry key by exporting it to a REG file
  4. In the right pane, double click Background.
  5. In the Edit String dialog box, type the color code you want in RGB format.
  6. Click OK.
Here is a chart showing the RGB codes for different colors:

For example, if you want to set the background color to black, you would type in the color code 0,0,0. If you wanted to set it to white, you would enter 255,255,255. NOTE: If this doesn't work, it may be because the color value is set in the Winlogon registry key, which takes precedence. This key is located at: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows NT \ CurrentVersion \ Winlogon

 XP Security News

February Security Patch blamed for XP Blue Screens of Death

Microsoft issued thirteen security bulletins for the month of February on Patch Tuesday (February 8) but one of those seems to be causing the dread "BSOD" (Blue Screen of Death) on some Windows XP systems. The problem has been widespread enough that Microsoft decided to pull the patch, which means Auto Update will no longer install it. For those it hits, this is a particularly nasty side effect that shuts down the system and prevents it from rebooting. The patch at issue is MS10-015 and the solution is to boot from the XP installation disc, start the recovery console and uninstall the patch. Find out more here:

But why does it affect some XP computers and not others? The continuing investigation by the Microsoft Security Response Center into the cause of the problems seems to indicate that certain malware installed on the system can interact with the patch and result in the BSOD.

 XP Question Corner

Get rid of black background for icon text

I have two XP computers. One has the text under the icons on the desktop displayed normally. The other one has the white text in a little black box under the icons. I don't like this and I'm sure there is a way to get it back to normal. It happened after my friend had been using the second computer. Thanks! - Will G.

You just need to set the icon background color to be transparent, and that's easy to do (as long as you know the secret - it's not particularly intuitive). Click Start and Control Panel, then open the System applet. Now click on the Advanced tab. Under the "Performance" section, click the Settings button. That opens up a dialog box that gives you four choices. Click the Custom option button. Down near the bottom, check the checkbox that says "Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop." Click OK.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Windows Logo + BREAK shortcut doesn't display System Properties

The Windows Logo + BREAK key combo is the way some folks prefer to open the System Properties dialog box, but you might find that it doesn't work with your new keyboard. That's because some keyboards have separate keys for PAUSE and BREAK - in this case, you need to use the Windows Logo + PAUSE combination instead. For more information, see KB article 839573 at

Administrator Logon dialog box is hidden under the Welcome Screen

On your XP Pro computer, you might find that sometimes the Administrator Logon dialog box gets hidden under the Welcome screen. This happens when the AutoAdminLogon feature is enabled and the user account is deleted or missing. In other instances, the Log On to Windows dialog box might be displayed with incorrect credentials after Autologon was unsuccessful, and an error message is displayed. To read more about this problem and find out how to work around it, see KB article 300433 at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

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 About WXPnews

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This newsletter and website and may contain links to other websites with whom we have a business relationship. Sunbelt Software does not review or screen these sites, and we are not responsible or liable for their privacy or data security practices, or the content of these sites. Additionally, if you register with any of these sites, any information that you provide in the process of registration, such as your email address, credit card number or other personally identifiable information, will be transferred to these sites. For these reasons, you should be careful to review any privacy and data security policies posted on any of these sites before providing information to them.

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