Eeeek! A million web pages are opening on my screen!


By Colin Gabriel Hatcher

Does this story sound familiar? One day you were using the internet and went to a website. You were moving your mouse around a web page, when suddenly for no apparent reason extra browser windows started opening, showing you websites you had no intention of going to visit. Surprised, you closed these new windows, but that made even more windows open, many without even a control bar or menus at the top. Worse still, some of these windows were showing offensive material. Worried, you took your hands off the mouse and the keyboard, wondering what on earth to do, but confidant that if you stopped doing anything the problem would at least stop. Instead, even though you did nothing, more and more windows continued to magically open, as if your computer had become possessed. Completely panicked by this sudden turn of events, you shut down your computer, the only way you could think of to stop the nightmare. Now you feel nervous about using the web again in case the problem reoccurs.

Has this ever happened to you? If it has then you have been caught in a "Javascript loop", which is a cunning technique used by website makers to trap you in their website and force you to see websites you never selected.

Javascript is a programming language, used to make websites perform many user-friendly functions, including multiple operations in a sequence (called a "script"). But on the downside, javascript can also be used to take control of YOUR web browser and make it do things without your consent. You've probably seen javascript in action many times without realizing, for example when you go to a website and a little window pops up for no apparent reason with an advert on it.

One of javascript's more annoying uses however is to trap you inside a website, so that every time you close out the window or use the back button, the same website pops back up again. Spammers (people who send you unwanted advertising) also use javascript to redirect you against your will to any other website of the spammer's choice. This can be activated by you doing nothing more than moving your mouse over a certain area of the website, clicking on a link, trying to use the back button, or trying to "x" out the window. If this happens to you the only effective way to stop it is to shut down your computer and reboot.

There is an alternative. You can if you choose turn javascript on and off as you wish, simply by altering your web browser's settings. Here below is how to turn javascript off:

If you are using Netscape 6 and up, pull down the Edit Menu and select Preferences. In the Preferences window select Advanced. Now on the right you will see a click box for "Enable Javascript for Navigator" and one for "Enable Javascript for Mail and News". Make sure these two boxes are empty (Click in them if you need to). Then click OK. That's it! Simply reverse these steps if you wish to turn javascript back on.

If you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 and up, things are slightly more complex, but you can do it - just follow these instructions! First, with MIE open, select Internet Options from the Tools menu. Then make sure you have selected the "Internet" icon at the top of the window that comes up (It's the blue and green globe icon on the left). Now click on the button at the bottom of that window that reads "Custom Level". Now scroll down to a section called "Scripting". In the three sub-sections of Scripting called "Active Scripting", "Allow paste operations via script" and "Scripting of java applets", click the "Disable" radio button in each one. Then click OK twice to close out. To re-activate javascript, repeat the initial few steps, but now after you have selected the "Internet" icon from the Security section of Internet Options. Click on the "Default Level" button at the bottom of the window, instead of the "Custom Level" button, then click on OK. That will switch javascript back on.

Bear in mind that the World Wide Web today is heavily reliant on javascript, and without javascript some websites won't view properly. If that happens you will get a message telling you that you need javascript back on. Try browsing without javascript and see how it effects where you go on the Web.

Why else is it important to know about javascript and what can be done with it? Well, one day you will find your child sitting at the computer in a state of panic, with hundreds of browser windows open, many showing offensive material. Your child will probably be desperately trying to shut down the web browser before you see what's happened. Before, you would have blamed your child for going to these websites without your permission, and perhaps suspended their internet privileges as a consequence. But now you know better: this is more than likely not your child's fault. They too have been caught in a javascript loop. But this time, you know how it happened and what to do!

Colin Gabriel Hatcher, a California attorney, and Founder, CEO and President of Safety Ed International can be reached by email at [email protected].