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One starting point for solving home computer security problems is being aware of how the Internet and some of its technologies work. If you know how they work, you can evaluate solutions to the problems that come up. You can also use the Internet more safely and responsibly. In this section, we’ll talk about two topics: trust and information in the clear as it crosses the Internet. This week’s topic being “Information in the clear”.

Information in the Clear

When you have a conversation with someone in your living space, everybody within earshot can hear the words and probably understand them. If your conversation is especially loud and your windows open, even passersby can hear. If you want privacy, you and your conversation partner need to go to another room and close the doors and windows.

The Internet works much the same way, except the room is much, much bigger. When you send email, browse a web site, or chat online with someone, the conversation between you and that person does not go directly from your computer to his or her computer. Instead, it goes from your computer to another computer to still another computer and so on, eventually reaching his or her computer. Think of all of these computers as an Internet “room.”

Anyone, or, more accurately, any program, in that Internet room that can hear that conversation can also probably understand it. Why? Because just like the conversation at home, most Internet conversations are in the clear, meaning that the information exchanged between computer systems is not concealed or hidden in any way.

Again, this is how the Internet works. You need to know that the information sent across the Internet may be at risk of others listening in, capturing what you send, and using it for their own benefit.


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