ISSUE 437: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE
Internet surfers using the high-speed Wave
should safeguard themselves from prying eyes - March 10 1998
In their quest to use the Internet without
falling prey to the World Wide Wait, many home users have looked to the
Wave cable modem system, offered in most of the Lower Mainland and
across Canada by Rogers and other TV cable providers.
For a home office user who makes heavy use of the Net,
there are many reasons to recommend it. For starters, the $55 - $65
monthly cost offers access speeds that, while varying, tend to be 10 -
15 times faster than typical modem speeds. And the cable modem means
you don't have to rent a separate phone line for the computer -- or
risk tying up your existing one while surfing the Web.
Because users are always connected, there's no waiting
to dial in and log on, as with a traditional Internet service. But this
convenience brings with it a potential danger.
The Wave treats the Internet as an extended network,
with users arranged in local, neighbourhood-based nodes. That makes
sense, since the Internet is, in fact, a huge network, with millions of
computers providing you with access to data stored on their drives.
But depending how you've set up your computer, if you
subscribe to the Wave you may, unwittingly, be providing strangers with
equal access to the data on your hard drive.
Don't panic. The Wave installers do a good job of
making sure your computer isn't open to perusal by strangers. For most
Wave users, this should ensure that there is no security problem.
But some users, knowingly or not, have undone these
settings. They've done this by turning on file sharing, perhaps to
connect their computers together in a small office or home network, or
perhaps simply to temporarily shuttle files from a desktop to a
notebook using Windows 95's Direct Cable Connection.
Windows 95 users can easily check if file sharing is
turned on. From the Start Menu's Settings item, open
the Control Panel and double-click on the Network icon.
Click on the File and Print Sharing button -- if any items are
clicked, sharing is turned on.
No gloating, Mac users. Your systems are equally at
risk, if you use the Wave and have file sharing turned on for that
easy-to-use Apple Talk network.
If you access the Net the slow, old-fashioned modem
way, you're safe. Even with file sharing enabled, no one can get onto
Here's an interesting experiment for a Wave user: turn
on file sharing, but don't actually set any of your files, folders or
drives as shared. That way, there's nothing for an outsider to access.
Then, if you're a Win95/NT user, open the Network
Neighborhood icon on your computer Desktop. You should see two
icons -- one for your machine, the other labelled Entire Network.
Double-click on it and you'll see icons for other computers with
sharing turned on that are connected to your local section of the Wave.
(Perhaps you can find your friends and neighbours here.)
When I did just that, moments ago, there were 56
computers listed. Most of them are not accessible, however -- either
they have nothing actually shared or they require a password before
letting anyone view the contents of their shared drives.
If your local node is like mine, however, a few
computers will be wide open for inspection, allowing anyone to read
their files, write to their drives, delete their files and, in some
cases, even print to their printers.
In passing on this information, I'm assuming that the BIV
readership won't take advantage of this knowledge to
destroy other people's data. But I'm hoping that if any of you with
Wave access are leaving your computers and, most importantly, your data
at risk in this way, that you'll fix the situation right now.
Doing so is easy. Check whether you've got file
sharing turned on. If it is, think about whether you need to have it
like that. You probably do if your machine is connected to an internal
network and needs to share files. If that's the case, and you need to
be connected to the Wave as well, password-protect your drives.
(Win95 users: find your shared resources -- the icons
have an arm underneath them. Right-click and choose Sharing from
the pop-up menu. Go to the Sharing tab of the dialogue box and
add passwords. But don't forget them!)
If you don't need file sharing, turn it off. With a
single click, your computer is safe from outside intrusion.*