The Web? I Just Surf It for the Articles

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Ever been caught clumsily trying to close a smutty web page? Well, now you can blame your travels into the Internet's outer reaches on an outbreak of "page-jacking." The Federal Trade Commission reports that a group of clever hackers from Portugal and Australia is co-opting AltaVista searches and rerouting users to pornography sites. When a web user types in a search — "computer games," for example — they are zipped over to a cyber porn site, with little possibility of escape. Victims of the scam report that efforts to use their browser’s Back or Forward keys, or to close their browser altogether, are in vain. For many, the only way to extricate themselves is by turning off their computer. The FTC is ticked off in part because legitimate web commerce is suffering, as potential online consumers are unable to reach their desired destinations. And parents are enraged because despite efforts to turn the Internet into a kid-friendly Disneyland of information, this latest scandal underlines their ultimate lack of control in cyberspace.

FTC officials promise a crackdown on the practice, alleging deception and unfair trade (the page-jackers try to sell more advertising on the porn sites based on the increased number of visits). Just how this will play out remains to be seen, since understanding of the hackers’ methodology remains hazy. TIME technology columnist Josh Quittner is optimistic that the problem will be solved, but it may take a while. "It's going to be hard for the U.S. government to enforce local law internationally," says Quittner, referring to the foreign locations of the hackers. "The best solution is technical, not legal, and I'm sure someone is working on this. Sooner or later whatever loophole these jokers are exploiting will be closed." In the meantime, adds Quittner, parents should continue to keep an eye on their kids’ web habits. And maybe take some time this weekend to beef up your Net Nanny.