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155. Safe Sex on the Internet

By Andrew D. Wright

It shouldn't come as a surprise that you can find sexually provocative material on the Internet if you go looking for it. It should be even less of a surprise that people do indeed go looking for it.

Without getting into questions of morality or legality, there are parallels between safe sex in real life and safe sex online. You don't have to approve of the sexual behavior in either case to recognize that making sure people know the facts and act upon them is in everyone's best interest.

In the online world, surfing for porn can bring you into the equivalent of the bad part of town. Porn websites are commercial enterprises - they can make money by selling access to their sites to the paying public or they can do the equivalent of slipping someone a mickey and stealing their wallet by taking over the user computer with malware.

Some sites are run by honest business people selling a product or service, but others are not. Sites telling you that you need to download a special file to play their videos for instance are trying to trick you into running their malware program. Other sites will directly host malware and install it using flaws in your Internet programs to infect your computer without you knowing.

There are two main concerns for Internet porn viewing - security and privacy. Surfing for porn on a shared computer can have unintended consequences in both respects.

For safe porn surfing, nothing beats doing it on a virtual machine. A virtual machine is like running a computer within a computer. It is independent of the host operating system and can be set with the option of deleting all changes after an online session. In other words, a clean slate with no files saved and nothing that can be found by accident by any third parties unless they're doing a forensic examination of the computer.

The virtual machine can become infected but those changes can be completely deleted like they never happened. It's still a good idea to use a secure up-to-date web browser and an updated antivirus program on the virtual machine in case the malware is very, very clever but the vast majority of malware won't be.

On a personal computer that isn't shared, using the Linux operating system to surf porn is one way to dodge most malware, since almost all malware is written for the Windows operating system. This doesn't prevent anyone with access to the computer from finding what you've been doing, but "private" material can be stored in encrypted folders with password protected access readily enough and you can delete the web browser's cache when you're done.

Linux can be run on pretty much any computer right from a CD drive using a Linux bootable CD.

For people not worried about others using their computer and who don't want to set up a virtual machine or use Linux, the best advice is to make sure Windows is updated, have an updated anti-virus and anti-malware program, and use Mozilla Firefox or Opera as your web browser since unlike Internet Explorer they are not integrated into the Windows operating system. Firefox supports Private Browsing (under the Tools menu) where no details of the online session are saved to the computer when the session ends.

Be careful what you click on or say yes to. If the bad guys can't break into your computer, they can still trick you into doing it for them.

There's an Internet meme called Rule 34, which says that if something exists, then somewhere on the Internet there is porn of it. I'll add that whatever it is you're looking for, you can find it available for free, but remember to play safe and respect the law.


Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 (free):


Mousepad on setting up Virtual PC:


Ubuntu Linux (free):


TrueCrypt encryption software (free):


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Originally published 17 July 2009


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