Identity and Internet Security

by Hugh Greenup

On October 29, 1969, student computer programmer Charley Kline transmitted a message to a laboratory at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California.

Shortly thereafter, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANet) became the world's first operational computer network and the core network of a set that eventually comprised the global Internet. The network was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States Department of Defense for use by its project personnel at universities and research laboratories throughout the country.

Throughout the 43 years since, breaches of security within small networks and across the World Wide Web continue to instill fear and panic in individual computer users and businesses across the globe—and for good reason.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example, Wikileaks exposed amazingly poor protection of sensitive material. Predator drone wireless command and control software was overridden by unfriendly fire.

At Osama bin Laden's Pakistani compound, our intense wireless monitoring overheard dead silence, suggesting that bin Laden may be inside.

Another example is the Iranian fission material centrifuges that were sabotaged by a widely circulated worm. And, shortly after September 11, 2001, some downloaded music left behind malicious software in our operating systems. In addition, old Enron emails continue to find their way to senders in Texas courtrooms.

Fast forward to August 2012! Our Blinded Veterans Association now has the capability to distribute the BVA Bulletin in several formats, one of which is a Portable Document Format, or PDF. I find that this is a great benefit to veterans who have at least some remaining useful vision.

Although I enjoy downloading the Bulletin, the process comes with some risk. I certainly wish to avoid the third-party meddling that is always a possibility. For me, the safest means for downloading the file is through the Linux Operating System with a Mozilla Firefox browser. Both Apple and Firefox work well also. A Personal Computer that runs Windows 7 Service Pack #1 would fit into the "Okay" category. Please call Microsoft to obtain a Service Pack (SP1) Windows update by mail for about $10. It is recommended that we do not download this software.

To help minimize these types of security problems, I suggest that computer users turn off their computers and modems when they are not in use. They should turn off JavaScript and not allow any automatic updating.

Be aware also that mobile, wireless, and satellite text, as well as voicemail and email, are all vulnerable even with the existence of passwords and encryptions.

It was much safer to communicate during previous generations. For instance, Carrier Pigeons were used in World Wars I and II. Simple telephone service was also a solid source for communications. My dad used the telephone in the Army Signal Corps in Germany's Black Forest while spotting for artillery fire during World War I. The Navy Air Corps used numbers transmitted in Morse Code to my own Torpedo Bomber in order to provide World War II Pacific in-flight orders. During the Vietnam era, we began developing frequency hopping to confuse surveillance. From Iraq onward, the Internet became much more dangerous, much like the game Dungeons and Dragons.

Now, nearing the end of operations in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn), our Internet purchases are more problematic than Saturday morning shopping in a Mogadishu street market. Online banking is much more risky than kayaking off the shore of Somalia.

Please be skeptical of the endless frontiers that can be explored when using the Internet. To me, Wikipedia is one of the good guys. I also trust Costco and Wal-Mart for both truth in advertising and online financial security. I trust Amazon when buying with the Amazon Store card. I have direct deposit into my credit union account but I do not do ATMs. I have no debit card activity and, heaven forbid, no authorized direct withdrawals!

There is a VA BRC near you. If you are not yet comfortable with computers, the Internet, and/or the software packages that come with them, please inquire about VA computer training and residential rehabilitation programs. Near me in Los Angeles is Dr. Jane Merrill. She heads up a successful VIST program, which to me makes everything else worthwhile. The VIST provided me with brush-up touch typing, JAWS, and Zoom Text training at a nice facility where lunches are delicious and free. My access is the Los Angeles low-cost para-transit provider, which hauls my wheelchair and me to regular support group meetings and outings.

My Internet computer is not connected to my everyday work computer. There is no wiring and no wireless connection. Transferring a file to or from the Internet can be done via a 4-gigabyte flash card that costs just $5. I have preferred Yahoo spam filtering since an upgrade in the Autumn of 2011. Verizon provides me with 768 kilobits per second of DSL and unlimited local area phone use for a very inexpensive price. VA, it appeared to me, was badly spooked at about the time Wikileaks first received big headlines. Suddenly, I could not get an online printout of my medical appointments or prescription list.

About three years ago, I stopped even clicking on emails that I was not expecting. I regularly download with near total security the podcasts to which I can listen at my leisure on a portable mp3 player. I am pleased to report that, despite the potential pitfalls and dangers in the areas of identity and security, there are plenty of us pre-computer era veterans out here in the trenches who are enjoying and profiting from the grand opportunities offered by the Internet age. The benefits to us outweigh the risks.

Hugh Greenup is a World War II veteran and a member of the BVA Southern California Regional Group.