An Online Survival Guide For Christians Who Use The Internet
Introduction: Computers and the Internet have become an everyday part of professional life but a challenge to the Christian life. Unwanted email, pornography, cult websites, commercial scams and malicious viruses are just some of the challenges to surviving the drive online. This brief guide will give you a quick guided tour and the web addresses in it will point you to where you can find more information.
“SPAM” – unwanted commercial email, chain letters etc
Spam is named after a rather inedible form of luncheon meat that was immortalized in a Monty Python skit where all the people were allowed to eat was “Spam, Spam, Spam”. So when all you seem to get in your email inbox get is “junk mail” – that’s Spam. Spam is internet junk mail. See http://spam.abuse.net/ for comprehensive information on spam
Rule 1: Don’t Generate It In The First Place!
Please do not forward chain letters, urban myths, sensational “news”, appeals for a young boy dying of cancer, “internet petitions” – there is NO SUCH THING as an email petition. Genuine online petitions will have a web page which records responses in a database. Don’t forward most virus warnings – (see later for how to pick a virus hoax). Junk email will be greatly reduced if we simply do not forward emails to large numbers of people. There is generally no good reason to forward anything to your whole address book unless you just had a baby. When you sign up for something and they have all those nice offers about “free newsletters” or “tell us your interests” you are INVITING junk mail unless you uncheck all those boxes.
Rule 2: Be Hard To Find Do not give your email address out except to people who need it. If a site asks for your email address (and you think its just for a mailing list) tell them email@example.com - the example.com domain is for testing web pages and is not a real web address. On your personal website use a feedback form rather than an email link so spammers cannot get your email from your web page. Don’t open unwanted commercial emails. If you click on it they will send more. Don’t reply to it either. Same effect. Have a private email address and a public email address. Make your public email address a webmail address, say at Yahoo. Have a separate email address for your friends, missionary contacts etc, that is with a reliable local ISP and which is not made public. Use the public address for general surfing. Let the junk go there.
Rule 3 – Strike Back! If you are horribly offended write, but not to the spammer. Write to the web host or the ISP using “abuse” plus their domain name ( the bit after the @ sign in the email address). So if you get spammed by someone using a Yahoo email address write to: firstname.lastname@example.org , or of its Hotmail write to: email@example.com, and so on. Most decent providers will pull the plug on them.
Rule 4 – Use An Email Filtering Service Yahoo has automatic filtering and a “bulk mail folder’ into which it throws suspected spam so you can delete it. Most email programs now have “filters” that you can set up to stop email with certain keywords such as XXX or “business opportunity” from reaching you. To find email filtering programs just go to www.cnet.com or www.knowledgestorm.com and type “email filtering” into the site search engine there.
Internet Pornography – can be largely stopped by filtering services such as Net Nanny or by using family friendly ISPs. However I don’t use them because the filtering can be too strict and some useful Christian sites can be banned. For instance an online course on Christian Sexuality would trigger most filters even though it is biblical and Christian. If you have kids filtering may be a good way to go. For various solutions to filtering go to: http://www.knowledgestorm.com and type in “content filtering” in their search engine and you will be given all you need to know. For a Christian article that says what is wrong with pornography go to http://www.eomtc.com/aibi/noporn.htm
Hackers – If you have notebook computer that connects to different networks or a PC that is often connected to the Internet then the simplest solution is to install a personal firewall. Apparently a free personal firewall can be downloaded from: https://www.comodo.com/home/internet-security/firewall.php
Pop-Up Windows and other minor nuisances There is plenty of ad removal software and software to kill pop-up windows. I don’t use that type of software because it installs in memory, monitors everything and clogs up the computer thus making it more prone to crashing. If you are really turned off by pop-up windows go to http://www.wikihow.com/Stop-Internet-Popups and read about how to get rid of them.
Scams, MLM’s and “Business Opportunities” – The email pitch starts “I made $100,000 in four weeks with XYZ system” and if you buy their kit for $100 then you will have the “business opportunity of a lifetime’. These people with smiling faces are smiling because they have just conned you out of $100! Worse than that some of these scams can be criminal and others can be lethal. The Australian government has a “Little Black Book of Scams” which lists many of the scams around including Internet scams: https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/the-little-black-book-of-scams
The biggest scam in the world is the Nigerian Letter Scam which has netted some 5 billion dollars and cost 72 lives and contributes significantly to the Nigerian economy. If you get a letter from “Nigerian oil executives” wanting to transfer millions of dollars in to your account as a “respected foreign businessman” and because the funds are from “over-invoicing of certain oil contracts” they have to be moved offshore as fast as possible and “you stand to gain 30% of $25 million” – or whatever. Unfortunately you need to send $50,000 to “release the funds’ – which of course you never see again. Yes people fall for it! Yes the Australian Post Office has BAGS of mail from it and 72 people who went to recover their funds have been murdered. See the following:
There is no safe and honest way to get rich quick using the Internet. See also 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Online Romances And Match-Making – A very mixed blessing! For some people it’s the only way they can find a Christian partner, for others it’s a horror story, and yet others have ended up happily married. Two good Christian services are http://www.christian.matchmaker.com and http://www.christiancafe.com - both have integrity. However online romance can proceed very rapidly and the “whoosh factor” needs to be taken into account. Go slowly, know what you want, have Christian expectations, pray fervently, be cautious, take your time, take your time, take your time. DO NOT AGREE TO SEND MONEY TO PEOPLE YOU MEET ONLINE. Never partner up with a non-Christian. If you need convincing on that read: http://globalchristians.org/articles/noway.htm
Buying Goods Online - I used to regularly buy books and sometimes computer equipment online and have had no troubles. However it is wise to take certain precautions : buy specific brand name items from known major online retailers like Amazon, that have a refund policy. Do NOT buy “generic” items from little online websites or multi-level marketers. Search the Internet for the best price on the product and always check for hidden delivery costs. Try http://shopper.cnet.com/shopping/ for price comparisons on computer parts.
Prayer Sites - For one-off prayer points try http://spiritual.crosswalk.com/prayer . Tip: Do not use prayer boards on the websites of televangelists or you will get flooded with spam asking for donations.
Cults And The Occult – The Boston Church of Christ recruits online as do many other cults. There are also a significant number of websites and chat rooms specializing in the occult. Certain online games such as MUD’s and Dungeons and Dragons have strong occultic themes. Christians should not be involved at all in these activities. See www.eomtc.com/cults for appropriate help and articles.
Network Gaming – often played in Internet cafes especially Counter-Strike. Most popular network games are quite violent and incompatible with Christian values and many contain occultic themes. In my personal opinion Christians should not play them and parents should ban them.
Online Gambling – Online gambling has become a major industry and is ruining many lives. Gambling is wrong because it causes us to place our hope for the future in “Lady Luck” and not in God. See globalchristians.org/articles/gamble.htm for an explanation of this. One way to prevent involvement in online gambling is to tightly control the use of the credit card.
Threats And Abuse – Certain people seem to like abusing evangelical Christians online and some even make violent threats. Don’t worry - it’s a long and difficult process to go from your email address to your real address to find you and kill you. To my knowledge it has never happened. If you get a violent and abusive email do not react or reply – that’s mainly what they want – to upset you. Just delete the email and pray for them
Virus Checking & Computer Security
All computers connected to the Internet should have at least two and perhaps three types of virus protection:
Programs: AVG anti-virus is free and good and does the first two jobs quite well and while it is a bit slow it is quite thorough. It can be downloaded from www.grisoft.com
Anti-virus software should be updated monthly because new viruses come out all the time. If your anti-virus software has not been updated for six months or more you should update it ASAP.
Virus Hoaxes: Do not believe the numerous emails that come around warning about “the most devastating virus yet” - most are hoaxes and one even asks you to delete an essential file from your operating system. Please do not forward such emails on unless you are sure they are from a knowledgeable source. Claims like “Microsoft/IBM/ etc just announced” are generally part of the hoax. Reliable virus warnings give a web address where you can find out about the virus and download a “patch” to fix it (a small program that fixes the problem and prevents the virus from damaging your computer). If there is no web address / information then its generally a hoax. See http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html the Symantec hoax page for more information.
Removable Disks & Viruses: School spreads both influenza viruses and computer viruses. Kids bring home their floppy disks, which are virus infected and then your home or office computer crashes. If you use removable disks such as floppy disks, CD-R’s etc then you MUST virus check them every time you use them. This is especially true of media used on public access computers such as school or college computers or Internet cafes. Even a well-maintained network is not totally immune to pranksters. Also always virus check software you buy even if it is from a generally reliable vendor.
Backing Up Data: Important data should be backed up regularly and stored in a secure location. That way if your computer is taken down by a virus or a hard-drive crash you can be up and running fairly quickly without the loss of important files. If you have a CD-ROM burner this is relatively easy and should be done at a regular time each month (but w e all forget – right?).
Physical Computer Security: Total computer security, especially Internet security is a vast and complex field that I cannot cover here but I will share a few basics. Missionaries and others may have data on their computer that must be kept from falling into the wrong hands. There are various ways of doing this. Keeping the computer in a locked room and having a lock on the computer is a good start. Use a Windows password to block access to the operating system – just click on Help, then type Password and it will give you instructions. Then encrypt essential files and directories using PGP or another encryption program. I use Cryptext which is free and offers military level encryption and fits into your Windows Explorer or file manager you should be able to get it from: http://www. pcug.org.au/~njpayne (Its Australian so bypasses US restrictions on encryption).
PERSPECTIVE: The Internet is just a reflection of what people are thinking and desiring in their hearts. It is filled with pornography because many human hearts are filled with lust. It is full of the occult because many people are in darkness. However the Internet is also full of knowledge and wisdom and good Christian material. It is also a reflection of the good side of humanity as well as the bad side. I have been online since 1991 without any major hassle whatsoever. I love it and with a bit of commonsense it is perfectly safe.
About John Edmiston - John Edmiston is an Australian missionary who is President of the Asian Internet Bible Institute. From 1991-94 he was one of the founders of Biblenet. He also founded the Prayer Page – the first Christian prayer site on the Internet. From 1995-1998 he was the full-time editor of Eternity Online Magazine, which in 1997 had one million readers per month. His current online project is the Asian Internet Bible Institute which provides free online bible and ministry training to Christian workers in Asia ( www.eomtc.com/aibi) He attends the Union Church of Manila.