--Alan Zisman

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 your computer.

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.*

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan