Actrix Newsletter October 2000

This newsletter has been produced to help you get the most out of the Internet,
and to keep you, as an Actrix customer, informed of developments and services within the company.
Past newsletters may be viewed at http://editor.actrix.co.nz/
Questions and comments about the newsletter can be emailed to editor@actrix.co.nz
Other inquiries should be emailed to support@actrix.co.nz

 

Web Searching (Part One)

This month and next, I thought it might be a good idea to present articles on searching the web. The Internet is a vast storehouse of knowledge, and that, perhaps ironically, is what makes it so difficult to use as an information source.

I am sure most of us have gone to a "search engine," typed in a key word or phrase, and then received back a list of 40,000 pages that supposedly match our search. As we start rifling through the returned links, we find that about one in every 20 looks like it might actually have some relevance to our search. Disappointingly, only about one in 20 of those (on a good day) seems actually to be helpful.

For that reason a couple of articles are probably in order. This month I thought I'd look at how search pages work (it's not really accurate to call them all search engines) in terms of how they find information in the first place and then how they store it. An understanding of this will be a good foundation for an article next month on how to approach the different search pages to get them to be more helpful in what they find.
Search Engines vs Directories

One of the most popular "search engines" is not actually a search engine at all. Yahoo is in fact a directory, and as such it relies on humans for the things it lists. People submit a short description of their site to the directory, or editors (independent or working for Yahoo) write one for sites they review. When you search at a directory such as Yahoo, the search software only looks for matches in the descriptions that have been submitted. This, of course, has its advantages and disadvantages.

True search engines, such as AltaVista or HotBot on the other hand, create their listings automatically, and often without human intervention. Search engines send out little things called robots or spiders which crawl through the world wide web, returning what they have found to the search engine's indexes where it is sorted, either by computers or by real people. The spider or robot also follows links to other pages within the site. This is what is meant when someone refers to a site as having been "spidered" or "crawled." The spider returns to the site on a regular basis, such as every month or two, to look for changes.

The index, sometimes called the catalogue, is like a giant book containing a copy of every web page that the spider finds. If a web page changes, then this book is updated with the new information, though this is usually quite a lengthy process.

Search software is the third part of a search engine. This is the program that sifts through the millions of pages recorded in the index to find matches to a search. Its second job is to rank its findings in the order of what it believes is most relevant.

All search engines have the basic parts described above, but there are differences in how these parts are tuned. That is why the same search on different search engines often produces very different results.

How Search Engines Rank Web Pages

Imagine walking up to a librarian and saying, "Dylan." A bad librarian would just scowl. A good librarian would start asking you some narrowing questions such as, "Do you mean Bob Dylan, the 20th century's greatest singer/songwriter? Do you mean the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas? Perhaps you want to know about the Dylan computer language..."

Unlike a librarian, search engines don't have the ability to ask a few questions to focus the search. They also can't rely on judgement and past experience to rank web pages, in the way humans can. To determine relevancy, search engines follow a set of rules that mainly have to do with the location and frequency of keywords on a web page. Pages with your entered keywords appearing in the title are assumed to be more relevant than others to the topic.

Search engines will also check to see if the keywords appear near the top of a web page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text. They assume that any page relevant to the topic will mention those words right from the beginning. Frequency is the other major factor. A search engine will analyse how often keywords appear in relation to other words in a web page. Those with a higher frequency are assumed by the search engine to be more relevant to your needs than other web pages, and are therefore ranked more highly in the returned search results. All the major search engines follow this location/frequency method to some degree. None do it exactly the same, however, which is another reason why the same search on different search engines produces different results.

To begin with, some search engines index more web pages than others. Some search engines also index web pages more often than others. What this means is that no search engine has the exact same collection of web pages to search through.

Search engines may also boost the ranking of a web page for reasons of its own. For example, Excite uses link popularity as part of its ranking method. It can tell which of the pages in its index have a lot of links pointing to them. These pages are deemed as being a little more important, since a page with many links to it is probably well-regarded on the Internet.

Meta tags are also important. These are tags hidden within a page's html code that contain a description of the site, or a list of the site's keywords according to the designer. Here, for example are the relevant meta tags from http://editor.actrix.co.nz.

<meta name="keywords" content="Actrix, Actrix Networks, Newsletters, Actrix Newsletters, New Zealand ISP, Rob Zorn, Norrie the Nerd, Norrie, Editor">

<meta name="description" content="Actrix Newsletters are written and published in an effort to keep Actrix customers informed about the Internet. We aim to make the newsletters reasonably short and easy to read with a good balance of material including ideas and tips on how you get the most out of the Internet, news about technical developments and information about our services.">

These tags are put there specifically for the robots or spiders to find. The keywords are designed to alert a search engine's attention to what keywords our site might be relevant to. The description is what we'd like to appear for a "searcher" in the summary when their search engine has listed our site.
Many web designers mistakenly assume that meta tags are the real secret to boosting their web pages rankings. HotBot and Infoseek do give a slight boost to pages with keywords in their meta tags, but some search engines, such as Lycos, don't read them at all, and there are plenty of examples where pages without meta tags still get highly ranked.

Search engines may also penalise pages or exclude them altogether if they detect search engine spamming. An example is when a word is repeated hundreds of times on a page (usually hidden in the html), to increase the frequency and propel the page higher in the listings. Search engines watch for common spamming methods such as these, and no longer fall for them. I've included a short article below which includes a few tips for designers that would like their pages to rank better.

Admittedly, so far we haven't covered much in the way of improving search page search effectiveness. I will save that for next month. Hopefully, though I've provided some background knowledge on which to build, and that can only be a good thing.

In the meantime, here are some links to the more popular search pages.
Ask Jeeves AltaVista Excite Go
Google HotBot Lycos Metacrawler
Northern Light      WebCrawler      Yahoo
Hacking 101.2 by Dean Moor

Ok, Last month I briefly covered how an Internet bad guy finds computers to break into. I am about to go into a bit more depth on this process. Please feel free to refer to the information covered last month if you need to, as I shall endeavour to add to it, not cover it again.

I am grateful to Dean Moor for the third article in his series on hacking. To many it is a fascinating topic. It really would be a good idea for those interested but new to computers or the net to read over Dean's previous articles at:
http://editor.actrix.co.nz/0008.htm and
http://editor.actrix.co.nz/0009.htm.     -Ed
Anyway, remember I mentioned the domain scan and port probe? Well, just what exactly can a hacker see when these tools are run?

Firstly, the domain scans: This is when the attacker scans all IP addresses in a certain range to determine just who is online. In this example I have chosen to scan my own network, mainly because running these programs on computers you do not own is considered offensive and can carry SERIOUS consequences. My network runs with IP Addresses of 192.168.2.255. One thing I forgot to mention is that at present the IP Address Scheme allows for numbers up 254. E.g. 254.254.254.254 is a legal address, 265.265.265.265 is not. A number of 255 generally means all numbers from 0-254. Therefore, I am scanning all IP Addresses from 192.168.2.1 through to 192.168.2.254. (If you're not quite following, read on, and you should at least get my general drift.)

Innocent looking hacking program

I open up my scanner (you may notice I have removed the name of this program. That is because I am not encouraging nor teaching you how to hack. I am simply trying to educate you as to the ease of hacking) and enter the address range as in the diagram. I also enter the port I wish to probe. Now, if I were looking to attack a computer running Windows, I would look for port 139 as this is the NetBios port, the one most often overlooked by security programs. If I were looking for a Linux Computer, port 113 would be my target. Anyway, I will be going into these particulars next time. However, I shall be scanning for port 80 (the Http or world wide web access port) for this demonstration.

Once the information has been entered I simply run the scan (and go make a cup of coffee depending on the size of the range I am scanning). When I return I have a list looking very similar to that below.

This is a complete list of all computers in my network running a web server. Should this have been the Internet there would have most likely been a greater gap between IP Addresses. Either way, this scan took approximately one second to complete. That's One Second to scan 255 IP Addresses!
Imagine how easy it would be to scan say 1000 or even 100,000 online computers. Let's put it this way, to scan all computers in the range of 192.168.1.1 through to 192.168.254.254 took only 3 minutes! Now times may vary due to Internet Usage and Bandwidth, but I am sure you get the idea, and I am starting to digress.

I now have a list of all computers online within my selected range of IP addresses. Let's say I pick the first one to attempt a port scan on. I go back to my scanner and re-enter the information, this time just a single address rather than a Domain range, and I enter a selected port range rather that just one. I simply choose any IP Address from the above list and scan away. The process is shown below.

Step One: Enter Information.
Notice I am scanning ports 1 through to 5000. This is so I can see most common services and the temporary ports (ports the computer has opened temporarily to connect to something).

Step Two: Examine the Scan Results:

 

You can see here what this machine is running:
Ftp Server (Port 21)
Email server (Ports 25,110,143)
Microsoft Windows (Port 139)
Microsoft SQL Server (Port 1433)
And is also online using several applications due to the open temporary ports (1024-5000) and the possibility of another server running on port 443.

Now, assuming I have favourable results (by this I mean ports I know how to exploit) I can decide to attack this machine or move on. To attack this machine I pick a particular port which indicates a service with a known exploit, and attack it by either using another program, or by sending custom designed packets to that port to carry out my chosen attack.
I'll go into more details on exploits and attack types next time, but until then I strongly suggest that you take some simple steps to protect yourself now. A default install of Windows 98 Second Edition has approximately 40 - 100 possible vulnerabilities (ways attackers can exploit a machine) and a Default Install of Windows NT4.0 running IIS3 has around 200-400. These range from Internet based attacks to local, and DO NOT include Trojan Viruses or Backdoors in programs and games. Yes even some games can be possible entry points. A good way to protect yourself is to use the Microsoft Windows Update Page. For more details on this please refer to my first article here.

Now, I am aware that I may have lost a few of you with some of the terms I have used, but as this series progresses I aim to cover as many of these terms as possible. Until next time, enjoy safe surfing.

Dean Moor
StarTech
www.startech.co.nz
Interesting  and Sometimes Useful Links
Library Spot LibrarySpot is the library and reference information portal of the Web. Find top dictionaries, encyclopaedias, newspapers, maps, genealogy tools and much more in one user-friendly spot.
How To Law HowToLaw.co.nz is New Zealand's leading self help legal site. The information within this site is presented using a HowTo... format. Here you will find various legal issues explained in plain language. You may seek advice from participating lawyers or accountants throughout New Zealand by e-mail.
Halloween Online Those of you who are into Halloween will dig this site. Halloween Online is like the giant cyberhub for a digital Halloween universe. Its vast assortment of links features everything from costumes and decorations to fog machines and tombstones.
Gobler Toys "Gobler Toys is an hilarious parody of a toy company complete with an online catalog, company history, and animated commercials..." or so their meta tag claims. Toys include play dead coffins and whipped cream powered cars. All in all pretty bizarre stuff.
www.familydoctor.co.nz www.familydoctor.co.nz
"You have come to the right place for reliable medical information. The site is written for you by practising doctors and other health professionals. Enjoy the site and we trust you will find what you are looking for.
We value your feedback." - Dr J.Dion.Martley
Net Radio This site contains links to various sites playing radio stations. Pick your genre and then pick your site. The site also contains many links to other music and radio sites.
New Zealand Music Almost all New Zealand music, this site is a great one for enthusiasts for homegrown rock and roll. It includes commercial and behind the scenes videos, free downloads and a whole lot of other neat stuff.
Random Tips on Registering with Search Engines

1. Make your web page (or your entire site) closely focused on a topic that can be summed up in a single keyword or two. The title of the page (the name that appears in the little box at the top of your browser), the meta information and the words on your page should all talk about your subject. When a search engine indexes your site it will then have no problem figuring out whether your site really is about what you say.

2. Different search engines focus on different aspects of your site, but most place a heavy emphasis on your title - that line in the box on your browser. Be sure to include your most important key word. Some people like to include it twice if they can use it in a logical sentence, but don't lay this on too thick.

3. Several search engines put heavy emphasis on your meta information. That's a line in your page's HTML code that gives the engine additional information on the topic of the site and keywords that correspond with what's in the text. Don't get too carried away with using one keyword. Keep it down to seven times at most (otherwise the search engine will disregard the keyword).

Some search engine experts are now advising NOT to repeat a keyword in any form or fashion. Engines are starting to penalise for that. Many top sites now simply list seven or so keywords and leave it at that.

3. Search engines can't yet read pictures, so provide lots of copy that talks about your main theme and keywords. In other words, make your site about what your title and meta info claim it's about.

All this makes it harder for web designers to trick search engines. In a way, that's good for those of us who are too busy doing other things to become experts in search engine registration. There's a simple formula for success: Design a site that is full of good information on a particular topic, and give the site a name that clearly and accurately describes it. That's good marketing, too.

Eighty percent of the people using search engines go straight to one of the six biggest: Alta Vista, Excite, InfoSeek, Lycos, WebCrawler or Yahoo! (see above for links).

While Yahoo is hard to get listed on, they use the same database as Hotbot. so if you can get on Hotbot and you will automatically be on Yahoo.

Right now you can register with the the most popular search pages with one click at http://www.all4one.com

Individually, you can go to each engine and look for the link that says "add URL." For Yahoo, you must first go to the listings of sites like yours, and look for the "suggest a site" link on that page.

Granted, I've tried to explain search engine registration in simple terms. There are many more insights and nuances you can explore (a whole industry has grown up around search engine manipulation). But following these simple guidelines will ensure that your web site is search engine friendly. You will be much more likely to receive a favourable listing that will attract more visitors to your web site.

 

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
---- Bill Gates, 1981

Norrie's Nerd Words

Okay, I've been a tad busy this month, generally answering fan mail, so I haven't updated my memoirs. Congratulations to the ten winners of a Norrie the Nerd choccy bar last month. They were Michael Williamson, Margaret Sandham, Myrna Corson, Mary Leydon, Joanne Sanderson, Brett Richardson, Colin Lundy, Maria Satterfield, Trevor Adair and Yvonne Kerr. These were the first ten to correctly answer that the title of my doctoral thesis was "Building and maintaining Your PC with Paperclips."

If you'd like to win a Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar free from Actrix, go to my homepage at www.actrix.gen.nz/users/norrie, and click the My Life link. Then, be among the first ten to email me with the answer to this question: What play did I star in at school? My email address is norrie@actrix.co.nz.

On a more serious note...

Some of you who also have Xtra accounts may be wondering just what has been going on with their email lately, especially if you've been trying to check Xtra addresses while connected through Actrix.

It appears that Xtra have blocked access to their email accounts if you are connected through any ISP other than themselves. Now, most ISPs block relaying, that is, the sending of email from an IP address other than themselves. For example, if you're connected through Actrix, and want to send email from an Xtra email address, we generally won't let you. Most ISPs are the same; it is, among other things, an anti spam practice. But we will let you check your Actrix mailbox and download your email, no matter who you are connected to the net with at that particular time.

Xtra have decided not to allow that now. Instead they are encouraging their customers who are connected through another ISP to get their Xtra email from their web mail service. As a result, their web mail service has become overloaded. If you're also an Xtra customer and you've experiencing these sorts of problems, I suggest you call the Xtra help desk.

Actrix Games Tournament


Actrix will be launching its Games Network with an Action Quake Tournament. This will be a teams tournament consisting of two members per team, two teams per match.

The plan is to run a 'pool play' type set up first, eliminating most teams and leaving us eventually with four final teams to play a knock-out type set up to decide the winners.

Action Quake is a realism mod (modification) for Quake2. In team play mode it is very similar in scoring to a Doubles game of Tennis (best example I can think of). Both teams, consisting of two players, start at the same time.

The idea is reasonably violent, yet highly enjoyable. Both members of each team start in the same spot as their teammate. The idea is to then move around the map and kill all members of the opposing team.

Once all members of the other team are dead, the team with members left alive is awarded 1 point for the round. The first team to 10 points (10 round wins) gets awarded victory for that map. The team who wins a best out of 3 maps is awarded the victor for the game.

The Tournament kicks off Tuesday night (24th October 8pm). Late entries will be accepted up until the 31st of October and we hope to have pool play finished within a month of that date. All games will be held between the hours of 7pm and 10pm. Games will consist of three maps, with a best to 10 on each map. The team who wins the most maps is awarded victory. Details about the format are yet to be decided.

Currently we have 25 teams entered, but would like to see more. If anyone is interested they can email gamesmaster@actrix.co.nz expressing interest, or alternately fill in an entry form on the Website http://games.actrix.co.nz.

The aforementioned site also has all the rules of the tournament, and a list of current teams.

We are currently looking for people to help us with Refereeing of matches. If anyone is interested please feel free to email gamesmaster@actrix.co.nz.

Actrix will use discretion as to who will referee matches.

Communications Solutions for Business
from



And a chance to win for Actrix customers!

Success Stories

Maximizer CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software from Multiactive Software Inc (www.maximizer.com) has always helped people to manage customer information to their best advantage.

Force Technology Ltd has a communications solution for your business. Maximizer is the complete customer information manager and is customised to meet company requirements from multinationals with many departments and sections right down to just one single sales person.

Have you ever heard the cry "We've invested our resources in computers, information and people but our computerised sales management tools aren't up to what we want to do? Too much information about our clients depends on the memories of our sales people"?

How about "We need to have a national database of our clients that would allow for greater co-operation between our regional offices - especially when dealing with national client accounts. We need a solution that can use the Internet for communication"?

The most common requirement is that the new software has to be easy to use, stable, and integrate with Microsoft Outlook and Office.

Maximizer is so user friendly and it is easy to:

  • Track every detail about your customers, prospects and vendors
  • Stay in contact by mail, telephone, fax, e-mail and the web
  • Manage your time and schedule effectively

Maximizer's main features and benefits are:

  • Easy Data Access by searching any part of the database including text, notes, user defined fields, first or last names, and many more
  • Communication Convenience through "schedule to-do's", "make a call", "write a letter", "send an e-mail" features in the Maximizer Feature Menu. Most common tasks can be done by dragging and dropping. Maximizer will prepare and send personalised letters, faxes and e-mails - even print labels for the envelopes!
  • Word Processing built in to create correspondence that can be attached to an Address Book entry or used as a Template for mail and fax merges with spelling and thesaurus included for reference
  • Handy Time Scheduling by viewing appointments and tasks by day, week, month and 2-month options. This scheduled information can be printed to many standard organisers such as DayTimer, DayRunner, Filofax, Franklin and others
  • Customising and Personalising your copy of Maximizer with favourite workspaces and column set-ups. You may change fonts and colours in a selected window and add fully searchable "User Defined Fields" easily and quickly
  • Company/Personal Journal to create Journal entries to keep track of work related expenses, personal matters and so forth
  • Data Reports to give you reports using your customer database. You can design customised reports using ReportSmith.

Maximizer has additional features that include:

  • E-commerce to accept and process inquiries and orders Online! All information is automatically entered into your Maximizer database so that you will never miss an order
  • Custom Report Writer to analyse contact information quickly and easily
  • Enhanced E-mail Centre to manage all your electronic correspondence
  • Related Entries to link contacts for efficient project management
  • Marketing Library to centralise sales and marketing information
  • Personal Window to store non-related information

Maximizer has other add-on modules such as:

  • MaxExchange to seamlessly synchronize a single distributed database that is accessed by remote users anywhere in the world
  • Sales Team to develop & coordinate strategy to pursue sales opportunities
  • Integrator's Tool kit to link with other Windows applications

For further information contact Force Technology on Tel 0800 536 723, or Fax 0800 836 723 or E-mail support@forcetech.co.nz

Force Technology Ltd will enter all Actrix Customers who request further information about Maximizer into a draw for a Digital Camera worth $225.00. Details and information about the camera and the draw can be seen here.

The winner will be published on Force's web site www.forcetech.co.nz after the draw at the end of the month.

Not just a pretty face... Bringing It All Back Home
Thanks again if you've read this far. I hope you found something here that was useful or interesting to you. I am always interested in your feedback, so please write to me at editor@actrix.co.nz if you have something to say, ask, or share with others in the Actrix community.

Rob Zorn
(Editor)

"The computer allows you to make mistakes faster than any other invention, with the possible exception of handguns and tequila." — Mitch Ratcliffe.