I believe that ordinary people have the power and the responsibility to make the Internet safe. When I graduated in 1989 with a degree in Computer Science I had already been working a few years with computers, but suddenly people were bringing their most challenging computer problems to me. This was before the days of the World Wide Web, but working at a University, I still had Internet access. I saw students with tears running down their faces because months of writing had been destroyed by a computer virus. I watched as strangers from the Internet logged in to our computers and read our secrets, and harassed our employees. I looked around for someone to help them, and at this time, before the creation of Firewalls, or anti-virus companies, I realized that we had to help ourselves. It became an obsession with me, causing me to work late nights studying every aspect of the Internet and looking for better ways to protect it. One day my boss, thinking to relieve my stress, said “Gary, you can’t carry this load. It’s not your responsibility. It’s not your Internet!”
I still remember that moment. Without hesitation I replied, “The hell it’s not!”
Today, I still feel the same way. It is my privilege now to be the Director of Research in Computer Forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As an instructor in Computer Science and Justice Science, I choose students to help with the research who not only understand the technology and the legal issues, but who have the passion. I love to see their eyes when they realize that they hold the key information to stopping a Cyber Criminal. I find like-minded people all around. As an InfraGard member, I join 20,000 security professionals who have stepped forward to help protect our nation’s Infrastructures by sharing what we know about security with the government and each other. As a volunteer at the CastleCops project, I join hundreds of volunteers who spend their nights and weekends taking reports of CyberCrime in many forms — Phishing, Viruses, Spyware, and Spam — and helping the victims of those crimes recover their computers while we document what has happened and share the information with law enforcement. We’ve identified tens of thousands of fraudulent bank websites, also called “phishing” sites, because criminals are “phishing” for your personal financial information and passwords to your online banking accounts. The data we unveil has stopped millions of dollars in losses, and helped thousands of home computer users remove spyware, keyloggers, and other malware from their computers.
We need help. When I lecture in public, I ask “what do you do when you receive a spam message, or an email with a virus attached?” The audience responds “Hit the delete key!” I tell them “You’ve just destroyed the evidence of a crime.” Ordinary people can get involved in investigating those crimes and identifying those criminals. After all, it is our Internet!
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.