Mike's recommendations for all serious Internet users
Posted : 29 Jun 2001 (updated 12 Apr 2002)
1) Why you need two Internet accounts?
ISP's can go down, often with no warning and for extended periods. As email in particular is such an essential part of business, it makes sense to me to have a second ISP - and completely independent from the first one. This account will be as cheap as possible, preferably a time only account. Only use it when required. As most Internet accounts include an email address this second account will also give you the ability to send and receive email. Know how to change your settings to access this 2nd account and how to return them to the original configuration. I have been using this system for several years and it has worked very well for me.
2) What use is web based email?
This is best used when travelling or as a third level of backup when all else fails. Many employees at my clients businesses also use this for personal email when at work (the boss doesn't have access to it). Get your ISP to divert your normal email to this account when interstate or overseas and you can then get your mail anywhere in the world. Then get it undiverted when you get back.
3) Why should I have to understand all
this technical stuff?
Sometimes you are the only person available to do it ! You dont have to be an Internet guru, but you do need to know enough to change minor settings. Even if you have to follow some notes that you took 2 years ago. The important thing is to take the notes in the first place ...
4) What is this DNS thing and why does
my new (or transferred) domain take forever to appear on the Internet.
DNS is what makes the Internet work. And by far the most complicated thing to set up. At a basic level though it is reasonablty straight forward thing to understand. The domain name system is a distributed database. Programs called name servers contain information about the database and resolve internet addresses into IP numbers. Each IP number is unique all over the world. The address for the horizen website is www.horizen.com.au - and the IP number for my site is 188.8.131.52, and you can use either to get to this site. This is also the IP address of all Internet services running on my server. Web servers, email servers, domain name servers, ftp servers, etc. All run on different port numbers from the same IP address.
People tend to remember words better than long strings of numbers though. When you type in a web site address or access one of your bookmarks/favorites the DNS system resolves the text into numbers and then shoots off to get the information for you from the correct web site (or email address).
Now when you get a brand, new shiny domain name (or transfer your existing one to a new ISP), your new IP number and name has to be sent to every domain name server in the world via the DNS system so that anyone in the world can find you. This process can take 1 hour or 3 days depending on the level of change. Murphy's law being what it is, it always take longer rather than shorter. This takes as long as it takes and cant be hurried (or slowed) once initiated. DNS updates are occurring all the time all over the world continuously. It is called DNS propagation and the DNS changes cascade up to the top level DNS servers from your ISP and local regulating DNS organisation and then down to every DNS server in the world. This takes time. Sigh.
5) Help ! Where is my password?
I have lost count of all the times all my clients have lost the records of their passwords, email and Internet settings. Or filed them away somewhere so carefully they cant find them ! This is an important document. In this day of multiple pin numbers and passwords you need some way of keeping them secure but readily accessible. I will leave the system up to you, I'm just advising you that you need one.
6) How secure is the Internet?
How long is a piece of string? The Internet can be horribly insecure or very secure. You just have to use common sense. An understanding of the Internet helps a lot in being able to assess what you should and shouldn't do. Here are some basic facts.
a) Everything you do on the Internet is recorded by your ISP. Everything. Really. Not necessarily stored (although that is possible too), but the record and date stamp of every bit of information is kept. And backed up for posterity. And available for the police or security agencies to peek at upon the presentation of the appropriate court order or intimidation tactic. Every web site you look at, every email you send, how long you were on the Internet, what IP address you were allocated. Frightening isn't it... Various governments throughout the world (including our own) want to know what you are doing. Sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. If you have some time, read up on the echelon project. And yes, Australia is a particpant.
b) Hackers are out there. A few are very good. Most are just kids who need to be stomped on and get some proper parental supervision. But various countries are actively hacking against other countries. Yes this really does happen. The German govenrment recently (May 2001) cancelled a contract with an American company for a video conferencing system that linked up all their regional politicians. Why? Because they traced the satellite linkup for the system was fed through the vicinity of the CIA in the US. So much for national security. This caused a review of computer security throughout Germany and the subsequent banning of use of all Microsoft software in government. Makes you wonder doesn't it. When you do that on line computer software update directly to Microsoft they swear that nothing is being transferred to them. Yeah sure ! If you believe that the NSA, CIA, DEA, etc. have no back doors into Microsoft via that facility then I have a really cool bridge in Sydney that I could perhaps interest you in buying. The typical military mind is paranoid. It is their duty to assess the risk to national security and take steps to ensure that security isn't breached. Intelligence and counter intelligence is still going on out there. Events since Sep 11 have just reinforced this paranoia.
c) Credit card transactions should only be done via secure servers. Realistically, you can be swindled by the guy down the street, just as you can on the Internet. Just be careful in both cases.
d) Never sign up for anything on the Internet. Ever (well ok, sometimes, but only to reputable sites). Have a junk email that you dont care if it gets trashed if it gets compromised by the spam bots. A yahoo or hotmail account is perfect for this. But don't use your real one. Always uncheck the box that says do you mind if we send you promotional information in the future. I had to change emails for several people because they were getting bombarded by spam from porn sites. Embarassing, but true. Never reply to any spam email via the return address saying that if you just send email to this address we will remove you from our mailing list. All you do is confirm that they sent their spam to a valid email and then they can sell your email address to another 1,000 spammers.
e) Macs are the most secure Internet servers. Unix the next and PC's come a lloooonnnnngggggg way last. The US military recently did a survey of security of Internet servers and subsequently changed most of their web servers over to Macs. Successful hacking attempts since then : zero.
f) Use of Microsoft products opens you up to the most common forms of hacking and viruses. Microsoft products are renowned for being full of security holes. I kid you not. Use of alternative products will lessen the risk of viruses and hacking. This may not be important to you, but if it is then perhaps you should consider alternatives. I use Netscape for web and Eudora for email and always on the Mac. The Microsoft products are great products, no doubt about that, but I have never had a virus pass through undetected or passed one on to anyone else.
Hope all this helps. Feel free to ask me any questions that you may have if you want to know anything else.