Issue #190, March 3, 1999  

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 month. 
     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, it’s 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 company’s 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), I’m 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 Flashcom’s 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 Software’s PC Anywhere, since some unknown deviant might access my system, guess my clever password, and take control of the system. Traveling Software’s 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 Microsoft’s 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 you’re 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 don’t 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 problem. 
     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 Johnson’s experience on getting DSL on Page 129 of this issue.


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