DSL: Making the Right Connection
By Stephen Lawton
The promise of high-speed Internet access finally is becoming real. After
tempting users for years with demonstrations of Web sites that pop off
the screen and always-on access, the telephone companies and ISPs finally
have a service that anybody can afford. Anybody, that is, who potentially
can afford several hundreds of dollars for installation, another $150
for the xDSL router, and monthly fees that can run in excess of $100 a
In my case, I was lucky. Being the editor-in-chief
of MicroTimes, vendors were all too happy to show me just how well
their services worked. I opted for services from Flashcom Inc. of Westminster,
CA, because my local cable company still has not completed the installation
of the new cable infrastructure that will wire my community. Scheduled
completion date is 1998. Oh, well, its a municipal service
so deadlines are flexible.
Flashcom, however, with its partner Covad Communications Inc., was able
to get a phone number assigned to my home and IDSL service installed at
my home in just three weeks. Because I live roughly 17,000 feet
from the phone companys central office, the best performance I could
get is just 144Kbps. Considering that this is almost three
times better that the theoretical maximum of a 56Kbps modem (which actually
operates at closer to 53Kbps in an ideal world and more like 44Kbps to
46Kbps in my neighborhood), Im still looking at a 300 percent increase
in performance. For example, Web sites that normally can take up to two
minutes to load on my dial-up connection to NetWizards Inc. of Burlingame,
CA, takes far less than a minute over DSL.
The installation was relatively painless. A Covad
technician quickly found a working pair of dangling wires from a morass
of old lines left over by a former tenant, spliced on a new cable, and
ran a new line to my home office. He was in and out in less than 90 minutes.
Next up: Configure the network. Because the connection
is always on, the technician, working with Flashcoms technical support
staff, did all the necessary configuration work on the router. All
I had to do was configure Windows 95. Considering that all my previous
Internet connections required a dial-up connection, I was at a loss as
to how to configure Windows. The answer, it turned out, is very simple.
Rather than configuring TCP/IP for a dialup adapter,
I configured it for my 3Com network interface card. It is still the same
basic information DNS addresses, IP addresses, and default gateway
address. Once it was set, I was ready to browse at blazing speed.
The installation and configuration worked just
as planned. My connection now was always on and I was ready to enjoy
all the benefits of the Web ... or was I? There seems to be some debate
as to whether or not a DSL-connected site is fully secure. The Flashcom
technician cautioned me to not use programs such as Traveling Softwares
PC Anywhere, since some unknown deviant might access my system, guess
my clever password, and take control of the system. Traveling Softwares
Troy Tovey, quality assurance manager, says products such as PC Anywhere
are not likely candidates for hacking, since the person would not only
need to know your login and username, but also the fact that you use the
software in the first place.
Since my DSL router was configured as a bridge
(a bridge connects two or more network subnets) and not a router (a router
connects two or more networks), it did not have a firewall in place. (A
firewall software upgrade is available from FlowPoint for $200.) Bridges
do have some security capabilities, but are significantly less secure
than a routed network with a firewall front end.
A Flashcom technician checked my system over
the Net to help me determine if my local LAN was at risk. As it turned
out, it was. When troubleshooting security problems, the first question
you should ask yourself is whether you are running a NetBIOS-based LAN.
If so, you too could be at risk. NetBIOS enables Ports 137-139 on a system;
Port 139 is used by NetBEUI to announce itself to the network, or in my
case, the Internet.
In a bridged transport connection, this
information is broadcast on the Net, says Flashcom chief technology
officer Michael Jones. While a router should take care of most of these
problems, many other potential security holes (exist) unless you
are using a firewall.
To best protect your network, disable Microsofts
networking client and use TCP/IP over your LAN. This will disable Port
139 and immediately make your network more secure.
My recommendation is simple: Compute with security
in mind. A firewall is suggested as a first, significant line of defense
against attacks. Of course, when youre away from your PC for an
extended period of time, power down, or at least turn off or disconnect
from your DSL router. No connection means no potential damage.
I have been very happy with both the speed and
the service. However, on occasion, my router loses itself
it cannot make a connection to the Internet. I dont know
what the problem is, but simply rebooting the router turning it
off and then turning it back on solves the problem. Flashcom currently
is investigating the problem to determine if it is a hardware or software
My thanks to Flashcom and its tech support team
for help working through these DSL problems. But for another opinion of
DSL, read about Craig Johnsons experience on getting DSL on Page
129 of this issue.