Technology

Pilfered Passwords To Adult Sites Are Hot – Too Hot

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Dear Safety Net,” the letter began, “I caught my sons, 14 and 16, sneaking into adult sites without my permission–not that I would exactly be giving it anyway. That’s bad enough, but these were pay-per-use sites, and supposedly require a password. But my kids both tell me that’s a joke, that they can get into any of them anytime they please. How is this possible? What can I do, besides enrolling them in military school?”

Remember the game show Password? Teams of contestants vied to see who could suss out the secret word first. That word might be cannibal, or maybe burlesque. The winners received a prize for their inspired guesswork.

Well, there’s another kind of password game being played on the Net today. And the people running it have taken the guesswork out and added prizes that are bawdier than burlesque ever was.

Among the thousands of adult sites on the Net, many now require a paid subscription. Once you subscribe, you receive a log-on name and a password, which enable you to enjoy the, uh, scenery. Sites that don’t charge may require an age verification, such as that provided (for a fee) by The Adult Check System [www.adultcheck.com]. Before you can click into an Adult Check-blocked site, for example, you have to fill out a form at Adult Check with your name, age, physical and e-mail addresses, and credit card info. If you’re approved, Adult Check issues you an identification number–a password, essentially–which you can flash at any of the almost 40,000 sites currently using the system.

But digital pickpockets are making passwords to hundreds of adult sites available to anyone with a modem–including, potentially, the junior members of your household. How? Many of those distributing this information have filched the passwords using stolen or faked credit card numbers; others have hacked into the adult sites themselves.

“We had up to 2,000 people sneaking into Cybererotica with stolen passwords,” says Ron Levi, president of Voice Media Inc., which runs that popular adult destination. Danni’s Hard Drive, another high-profile erotic site, had an equally tough time, says Emily Warren, director of technical operations. “One password alone was coming in from 7,000 different computers,” recalls Warren, who developed a custom fix for the problem.

Levi, too, worked up his own prophylactic software, in the form of Password Cop, which nearly 500 sites now use. Still, he notes, “if there’s ever a glitch where the shield goes down for a few minutes, 2,000, 3,000 [hackers] will try to get in.” Levi estimates that as much as 20 percent of the traffic at adult sites may involve stolen passwords.

How easy is it to find these passwords? As easy as logging on. A search for the word passwords among the newsgroups indexed by Deja News, a portal site and watering hole of sorts for Usenet participants, turned up about 250,000 postings. All I had to do was pick and choose the ones that seemed promising–an easy task in this case, given that the groups bear such names as [alt.sex.passwords] and [alt.sex.commercial-sites.password-exchange]. I also ran a search for free passwords at a popular search engine, hauling in a catch of several other sites.

Eight instantly gratified minutes later, I found four Web sites that were donating log-on names and passwords like CARE packages to the needy. I tried 10 different passwords from four sites. Of those, six worked without a hitch. Others were outdated or, I suspect, useless on purpose, meant solely to entice you into the owner’s own porn site.

Levi and Warren, at least, should feel buoyed by the news that my attempts to steal into their sites failed miserably. Miserable too, though, is how the anxious parents of Web-surfing children must feel. For the steps needed to remedy the availability problem, though clear, are not always attractive.

Limit the hours during which your children are allowed to be online.

Put the computer in a place where you can see what the kids are doing.

Use such software filters as Net Nanny and Cyber Patrolto prevent them from going to adult and/or password sites.

Filters, of course, are imperfect and sometimes arbitrary, and may reflect a political agenda you don’t share. What’s more, your kids may know how to disable them anyway. That being the case, remember that tiptoeing into adult sites eventually becomes as boring as brushing your teeth. Sooner or later, the novelty is bound to wear off.