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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

Usenet (The World of Newsgroups)
What it Is, What it Isn't, and How to Use It.....

I would like to start by thanking Lloyd Humphries for his letter asking about newsgroups. Just when I was thinking about the lead article for this month's newsletter, he asked some good and interesting questions about what newsgroups are and how to use them.

So, here we go.

The term "Usenet" refers to the network of machines around the world that exchange newsgroup articles. "Newsgroups" are the various groups dedicated to exchanging information about any given topic. There are thousands upon thousands of newsgroups, and more are being added every day. Personally I frequent the newsgroup "rec.music.dylan" most often, so pardon me for using it as the main model in this article.

What Usenet Is

Each ISP (Internet Service Provider, such as Actrix) in New Zealand and around the world is connected to Usenet. Each has a news server that connects to one or more other central news servers in New Zealand. These, in turn, are connected to other news servers around the world. These servers co-operate and exchange newsgroup postings on a very regular basis. So, when I post a message to rec.music.dylan, it goes from my home machine to the Actrix news server using "nntp" (Network News Transfer protocol) where it is given a unique identifying number. The Actrix news server periodically connects to other Usenet servers. When it does, it transfers my message (and any others it has received) setting it aside for the rec.music.dylan newsgroup.

Actrix Management and Staff would like to take this opportunity to thank all customers for their loyalty and business during 2000. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all!

Nerdy-O Ho Ho!

At the same time, it transfers to itself any new newsgroup messages, sorting them into their relevant newsgroups. My machine then periodically connects to the Actrix news server (as often as I have set it to) and downloads to my machine any messages for rec.music.dylan. I can then read them, delete them, or reply to them, depending on what I want to do.

The various servers around the world that are connected to form "Usenet" interact with each other at different times, and some connect more frequently than others. It is conceivable therefore, that someone in France may post to my newsgroup. His or her post may have been read by someone in Istanbul, who replies to it.  Weirdly, I may receive the reply to the original message before I receive the original message itself, depending on which servers I am closest to, and how often these servers interact. Interaction times between Usenet news servers will vary from every few minutes to every few hours depending on settings. Normally, you will see your own postings appearing in the newsgroup pretty much right away, but they may not appear for others overseas for a couple of days.

What Usenet Isn't

Usenet is not an organisation. It has no central authority. In fact it has very little central anything. As a result, you can expect to come across anything and everything. There is very little you can do to stop someone who is behaving in an irritating or offensive way, especially if that person is far away from you geographically. Therefore, you may want to be careful about allowing your children unrestricted access to newsgroups. Even a mild and worthy newsgroup such as rec.music.dylan will contain posts with, shall we say, colourful language, innuendo and creatively suggestive insults. There are idiots the world over who seem to delight in offending. Some have nothing better to do that post to newsgroups dedicated to subjects that they hate. Newsgroups are free to anyone, so you may just have to "suffer such fools gladly."

This is not to say that participation in Usenet can't be a rewarding, enriching and informative experience. It certainly is. Besides being a great source of information, Usenet is a fine way to meet people from around the world with similar interests, and, with New Zealand being such a small country, this can be a real advantage.

Usenet, obviously then, is not fair. There is little in the way of moderation, and you participate at your own risk. If you choose to join even a reasonably innocent newsgroup, you can expect that before long someone will make an annoying ass of themselves. They may even reply insultingly to something you posted, for no apparent or discernible reason. So what can you do?

Firstly, approach newsgroups with a thick skin. It is usually best to ignore the "serial insulters." Such people are called trolls because they delight in hurting others, or they deliberately drag bait through a newsgroup to see who they can hook. There is an unofficial newsgroup saying, "Don't feed the trolls." What this means is that people who troll will grow bored if no one reacts to them. Such people will move on if they find no reactive joy in your newsgroup.

Generally, complaining to an ISP (yours or theirs) will probably achieve little. An ISP is going to be very reluctant to try and curb one of their customer's "freedom of speech" even if they agree with you that the person is a pain in the neck. Once an ISP tries to do this, they open themselves up to a quagmire of difficulties with consistency and fairness.  You can complain if you like, usually to an address such as abuse@actrix.co.nz, but don't expect too much help unless the offender is being really and repetitively bad. It takes all sorts to make a world, and this is a sad fact.

Is there any control? Of course there is some. Unfortunately there are newsgroups dedicated to subjects that most of us would find offensive or downright criminal. Actrix exercises its right not to carry or download messages for such newsgroups, and you probably don't need to fear too much that venturing onto Usenet will expose you to the sick or degrading. It's up to you which groups you subscribe to. Most, but not all, newsgroups can only be posted to in text, so you don't generally need to fear that offensive pictures will turn up, unless you have subscribed to a "binary" newsgroup.  Such newsgroups are dedicated to the exchange of pictures, so it is unlikely you will join such a group by mistake.

You will also have the ability to control what is downloaded to your machine to some extent. Most news-reading programs will include a facility for blocking senders that annoy you. This is popularly referred to as a "killfile" and it is one way that you can filter out unwanted or offensive material. Currently on rec.music.dylan, for example, there is more discussion of the American election than there is on Bob Dylan. A killfile could be used, therefore, to filter out any posts with the word "election" in the title. If someone continually posts what you consider to be mindless dribble, you can filter out posts from that person's email address. Generally, the more you know about Usenet and your "newsreader" the better your control will be. And there's only one way to learn.

Now, all that sounds pretty terrible, but please, don't be put off. I am describing worst case scenarios above. Most Internet users are familiar with and use Usenet in one form or another without great problems. You can almost bet, too, that, no matter what your interest, there will be a newsgroup dedicated to its discussion, whether that be roses, artists, computer programs, games or 17th Century bellybutton lint brushes.

So How Do I Subscribe?

Subscribing to newsgroups is a piece of cake, and it is a free. There are a variety of free downloadable newsreaders on the Internet, and each has its advantages, disadvantages, detractors and advocates. Many people simply use the newsreader function of Outlook Express, and this is more than adequate, especially for the Usenet beginner. I will detail the steps below. If you have problems, please give our help desk a call. They can talk you through the nitty-gritty if needed.

Subscribing with Outlook Express

Step One

1. With Outlook Express open, click the Tools menu, then click Accounts.
2. In the Internet Accounts box which comes up, there are a number of tabs, including Mail, News and Directory Service. Click the News tab.
3. On the right hand side, click the Add button, and then the News button in the small grey box that appears.
4. Work through the frames, adding your name and email address. When you come to the dialogue box requesting the name of your news (NNTP) server, type in news.actrix.co.nz (no full-stop at the end). Don't tick the "My news server requires me to log on" box.
5. Click Finish and your news account now exists on your computer. 

Step Two

6. On the right hand side of their Outlook Express program, most people have a list of folders. You should now see news.actrix.co.nz appearing near the bottom of the folder list. If you click this, your Outlook Express will turn into a newsreader.
7. A box should come up asking you whether you would like to view the list of available newsgroups. Click Yes. If this box doesn't come up, click on the Newsgroups button that appears near the top of the Outlook Express newsreader. A box called Newsgroup Subscriptions should appear as will a connection box if you are not already online.
8.Connect to the Internet if you aren't already connected. Outlook Express will automatically begin downloading a list of available newsgroups from the Actrix news server (news.actrix.co.nz). This may take a few minutes, but it only has to be done once.
9. Once you have the list of newsgroups down, you can use the search box ("Display newsgroups which contain") to locate newsgroups that suit you. Wait until all the newsgroups have been downloaded before you search. If you know the specific name of the newsgroup you want (e.g. rec.music.dylan) enter the whole thing in the search field.
10. Click on one you might like to subscribe to and then click the Subscribe button to the right and then click OK. Voila! You're subscribed!! You will notice that your chosen newsgroup now appears below news.actrix.co.nz in your list of folders.
11. Click on your chosen newsgroup in your folder list. Outlook Express will change to look pretty much the way it does for you as an email program.
12. Outlook Express may start downloading newsgroup messages on its own. If it doesn't, or you'd like it to download more, click the Tools menu and then click Get Next 300 headers. The number of headers to download at a given time can be set under Tools/Options.
13. Click the little cross beside main messages to expand them and see submessages. Altogether these messages and sub-messages are called threads.
14. That's pretty much it. From here you can use Outlook Express to select messages, reply to them in the newsgroup or reply to the sender privately (try right-clicking on the message header and choosing "Reply to Group" or "Reply to Sender") . Because the Internet is a wonderful vehicle of discovery, I will leave the rest to you for now. Experiment with a few settings and with the various tools to see what you can do.

Unsubscribing

Should you find that newsgroup is not quite what you expected, or if you'd like to unsubscribe for whatever reason, simply right-click on the newsgroup in your folder list. Then left-click on Unsubscribe. Outlook Express will unsubscribe you and automatically delete any headers it has already downloaded to your machine.

Usenet Etiquette

Stay tuned for next month when I'll write a little more on what is expected of Usenet participants. For now, though, remember your Ps and Qs. Most newsgroups have a few regular "high profile" participants who seem to be self-appointed leaders. It is usually best to just read the newsgroup for a few days or weeks until you're familiar with who they are and how others behave (this is called "lurking"). There is nothing more annoying than a newsgroup newbie bursting on the scene and pontificating about everything when he or she has little idea about what is currently being discussed or what has been posted in the recent past. Look before you leap, and get the feel of the water before you take the plunge. Remember, too, that everyone in the world has access to whatever you post to a newsgroup. Beware. Your sins will often find you out. Mine have.

     

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that Actrix have teamed up with Digital Mobile to bring you the following great deal on Vodafone prepay mobile phones - exclusive to Actrix customers! Purchase any one of these six prepay phones using the Actrix online order form and you will receive a hands-free headset free of charge.

Nokia 5110
Nokia 3210
Ericsson T10s
Alcatel DB
Motorola v2288
Sagem RC912

Here's how it works:

Check out the offer at www.actrix.co.nz/DigitalMobile where you can learn all about the phones, their benefits and features, and about the offer itself in more detail. Go to the online order form, fill it out and click submit. Your phone will be shipped to you within 48 hours by overnight courier, and you will be billed through your Actrix account. It's that simple!

Please see the terms and conditions at the web site, and be advised that we will not process orders from customers who are more than a month behind in their Actrix payments.

Actrix Help Desk Now Open 24/7

That's right, our help desk is now open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. You can call them on 0800 ACTRIX (228749) or email them at support@actrix.co.nz. They are there to help you with whenever you have trouble with your Actrix service, or whenever you need to know more about it. You pay their wages with your subscription fees, so please feel free to use them.

Actrix News Page

Actrix publishes a news page which is updated most days. This page will contain news about important things that may be happening on the Internet such as the latest virus alerts. It will also contain information about interruptions to service that may be coming, or that may have just happened. Reasons will also usually be given. To access the news page, click the News button on our home page (www.actrix.co.nz) or surf straight over to www.actrix.co.nz/news.html.

A Couple of Virus Warnings  

The following is an announcement from McAfee.com Dispatch:

- - - - - - - - - -

W32/ProLin@MM is an Internet worm that spreads via email. McAfee AVERT has given it a risk assessment of MEDIUM TO HIGH-RISK. The email comes with an attachment named CREATIVE.EXE, which carries the icon of a Shockwave Media Player application. You may receive the email in this format:

Subject = A great Shockwave flash movie
Body = Check out this new flash movie that I downloaded just now ... It's Great
Bye
Attachment = creative.exe

If you run CREATIVE.EXE, it finds and alters all .JPG and .ZIP files on your system and forwards a copy of itself to everyone in your email address book. Please do not run the attachment.

- - - - - - - - - -

Besides the above, the Win32 Hybris virus is presently pretty active in New Zealand. This one comes to you as an email from a fake email address - hahaha@sexyfun.com and gives you a paragraph of a story about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The paragraph is designed to entice you to click the attachment to the email. This attachment can come with a variety of names including (but not limited to) dwarf4you.exe, dwarf4you.scr, sexyvirgin.scr and so forth. It is extremely important that you do not run this attachment. It is a virus that will infect your machine and send itself on to everyone you email. I was receiving a number each day, though we have now implemented a deletion filter for emails carrying this virus.

Once again, it would be timely to remind customers not to click attachments they are unsure of, and to familiarise themselves with their anti-virus programs, updating them regularly.

Congratulations
are in order for our salesperson David Harding-Shaw who won the CityLink trip for two to Rarotonga next year as a result of his corporate sales efforts. David has since been promoted from account executive to product manager within Actrix.

CityLink is about the fastest type of connection around offering fibre-optic data transfer at either 10 or 100 megabit speeds. If you'd like to know more about CityLink, visit their website at www.citylink.co.nz or come and talk to us!

Hacking 101.3

I am again grateful to Dean Moor for this next 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,
http://editor.actrix.co.nz/0009.htm
,
http://editor.actrix.co.nz/0010.htm and
http://editor.actrix.co.nz/0011.htm
   -Ed

 

Hi Folks,

Wow, what a month! I don’t know about you, but I sure have been flat out with getting ready for Christmas. I hope you haven’t forgotten to update your virus definitions, there are always a few nasty surprises in some of these Christmas e-mails. Just a quick reminder and please beware of suspicious e-mails.

Anyway, getting back on track! What can a hacker do to your computer? Phew, where to start. Ok, for now I will just list a few of the most common attacks that I have come across, and attempt to explain each one in a little detail.

Firstly, there is the DDoS (Denial of Service) attacks. This is where the "Attacker" just wants to annoy you and prevent you from using the Internet. This can be done in a variety of ways, but the most common is to connect to you and then send a large amount of information to your computer – flooding. Generally with 56K (or slower) modems, this is easy to do because the bandwidth is so low, so the attacker hardly has to try to successfully block you from using the Internet. I mean, your information can’t get out of the driveway if someone else is parked in the way. Another method to accomplish this attack type is to crash your computer. This is a lot more complicated, and most "Attackers" wouldn’t know how to do this. Briefly, the attacker creates a specially worked piece of information to send to your computer. This information is designed for only one purpose and that is to exploit or utilise a vulnerability on your computer. (If you have been keeping up with your Microsoft Updates you should be protected from most of these Exploits and Vulnerabilities). Vulnerabilities are security weaknesses in your computer's software (usually Windows) that were not fully discovered or realised at the time of release. That's why Microsoft regularly publish security updates that you really should download from http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.

The next basic type of attack is what I call the Trojan Attack. This appears to be the most common of all attacks that I have seen and works in much the same way that a large wooden horse was used to breach the security of Troy . A Trojan program or virus must first be installed on your computer. This can be done in several ways, but the most common two are via email, and download (Set-up Files). This attack is one that I personally consider a VERY HIGH risk! Why? Simply because the attacker, when successful, has got COMPLETE Control of your system! When I say complete, I mean more control than you probably have over your own computer. Just take a look at this partial list of features one popular Trojan has;

  • Telnet support. Access your PC’s MS-DOS-prompt with just a Telnet program.
  • HTTP support. Access your files, including download and upload support, with just a web-browser.
  • Host list integration with network neighbourhood.
  • General system information and cached passwords.
  • Window manager (full control over all windows).
  • Registry manager (list keys, fields and values, create keys and delete keys, change values among others).
  • Sound system (raise and lower volumes).
  • Port redirect (simple proxy support).
  • Application redirect (e.g. allows you to interact with MS-DOS prompts remotely, which gives you powerful access to the computer).
  • File actions (execute executable files, show image files, play audio files, open document files and print document files).
  • Spy functions (includes listen keyboard, get screen capture, record audio from microphone and get web camera image).
  • File manager (explorer, upload and download files, delete files and folders, create folders and share folders).
  • Exit Windows (reboot system, shutdown system or power down system).
  • Cool functions (Client chat, open and close CD-ROM, disable keys, key click, swap mouse buttons, Go to URL, Send text).
  • Host scheduler, predefine time to run scripts at hosts.

Netbus Interface

Simple Point and Click hacking

Did you notice the Port Redirect? With this, the attacker can use your machine to attack someone else! Imagine if that was the FBI, IRD, or even Police! How about the Spy Functions? Believe me when I say that these work very well! Some Trojans even have the ability to record Keystrokes while you are off line, and when you reconnect, the logs are sent to the person who installed the Trojan. I am not trying to scare you here, this is simple truth. What about the System Information? Well, This is a very detailed list, ranging from Swap File size, Logged on user, to amount of ram, windows directory, and even the amount of Hard Drive room you have left. Passwords? well, let’s finish up when I say, none of thepasswords stored on your machine are safe from this feature!

Now, the last basic category of attacks is very similar to the exploits. In these "Attacks" the attacker sends specific information to your computer to determine your operating system, firewall type, location etc. This information can prove to be very helpful to an attacker who may be planning to break into your machine. Why? Well, if he knows what Operating System you have, the Version and Brand of your firewall, Available Bandwidth and Location in the world he knows this;

  • What exploits to attempt
  • How to disable your Firewall
  • Whether its worth while regarding speed of attack
  • And the Local Laws Governing Hacking

Now, I assume when I say this that our "attacker" is a smart one who knows what they are doing, and thankfully there aren’t really too many of those around!

Well, I hope I didn’t scare you too badly. While these situations are VERY REAL, the chances of someone doing this to you are relatively low, depending on your bandwidth and whether you have a static IP address or a dynamic one. However, without any security at all, you may as well do the damage yourself! I firmly believe that it is not a case of IF, but WHEN, and I myself would much rather lock the doors and windows, than leave them open. What do you do when you leave home?

To find out just how secure you are, try clicking the Steve Gibson and Sygate links below. You may be surprised!

Thanks, and until next time, safe surfing and Merry Christmas.

Dean Moor
StarTech
www.startech.co.nz

Steve Gibson's Shields Up
Steve Gibsons Shields Up

Sygate's Advanced Scan Utility <http://scan.sygatetech.com/>
Sygate's Advanced Scan Utility

SubSeven v.2.1.4 hacker's interface

Click for Norrie's Home Page Competition Winners!! (with Norrie the Nerd)

Last month I asked readers to write in submitting their favourite sites so that they could be shared with everyone. In judging which ten were winners, I looked for the best sites under 5 different categories: Weird/Intriguing, Amusing, Useful, Stimulating and Popular. Each winner received a Norrie the Nerd Christmas chocolate bar. See below for this month's competition.

www.dhmo.org www.dhmo.org was certainly one of the most amusing of this month's entries. It was submitted by Donald Gordon. One of the most amusing things about the site is that the joke is not at all immediately apparent until you think a bit. Quite a goodie, thanks Don.
www.darwinawards.cjb.net has got to be one of the classic all time funny sites. It was submitted this month by Brenda McNamara. This site features a collection of stories gleaned from around the world, and bestows the "Darwin Award" on people who have thankfully removed themselves from the human gene pool through their own stupidity. I wouldn't necessarily believe everything you read here, but if you've ever felt a bit stupid, this site will probably make you feel a little less hard on yourself.
Jonathon Sharpe submitted the site www.soulbath.com. This  has got to be one of the most intriguing, clever and mystifying sites I have ever visited. Navigating it provides an experience similar to what I imagine an alien on valium would feel. Have a wander and a ponder. As far as we can tell, it's an anti-banner advertising site. Here's a hint. Click lots of stuff, and run your mouse around the screen, especially when you come to all the white squares. Make sure your sound is on too.
I R Nowell submitted the site http://julianjaynessociety.tripod.com/. While I can't say I know or understand enough to endorse any of his work or ideas, I did find some of the reading there stimulating, to say the least. According to the site: "At the heart of [Julian Jaynes'] book is the revolutionary idea that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but is a learned process brought into being out of an earlier hallucinatory mentality by cataclysm and catastrophe only 3000 years ago and still developing."
Lyndsay McMillan sent in the site www.familysearch.org. This is a genealogy site that seems to be run by the Mormon church. If you've been thinking about using the web for having a look at your genealogy, this might be the ideal place to start. I entered the word Nerd into the database and got quite distracted for a while there looking at my family tree.
Thank you, Brian Scholes for sending in the URL www.nstorm.com. This is a neat little site full of small animations and games for you to download and play with. They're mostly free, though you could end up spending a fair bit on things like Elf-bowling T shirts at the Nstorm store. If you've never gone Elf-bowling before, you may want to give it a go!
Elizabeth Passuello, who must be an expert on Norrie chocolate by now, is also a Coronation Street fan. I have decided to award this site a prize under the Popular category. I know there are a lot of Coronation Street fans out there. This is the site for you! www.corrie.net. I understand it's way ahead of New Zealand in terms of Corrie news.
Lisa submitted the dating site for singles in New Zealand - www.nzdating.co.nz.   It's free and private and there seems to be a reasonably extensive database of advertisements. I would imagine this qualifies as quite a useful site for some.
Richard and Kathryn Norton submitted the site www.yenz.com. There is some pretty freaky and amazing graphical work at this site. I wasn't able to figure out what it was all about on my brief visit, but I enjoyed the
graphics and art work. I am including this under the "Intriguing" category.
Lastly, this site really is a useful one, though it may be mentioned here too late to be of all that much use for readers this year. www.xmas.co.nz is a site full of Christmas shopping and celebration ideas and resources. I included this site in the December 1999 issue. Next year I really must remember to include it in the November issue.
Norrie's Home Page This Month's Choccy Competition!

Seeing as I have a stack of Christmas Norrie chocolate bars that should be given out at this time of year (way more than ten) I think what I'll do is send one to every child (14 and under) who writes in to tell me what sort of things they have learned from using the Internet. You need to include your name and age, and give me an address to send your choccy bar to. You also need to tell me whether I am allowed to publish what you write in the next newsletter (no addresses or e-mail addresses will be published). Someone in your family has to be an Actrix customer, too. Every child who writes in with something decent gets a bar until I run out of them. Be quick!

If you want to learn about Norrie the Nerd, visit my homepage at http://www.actrix.gen.nz/users/norrie.

Here's a Decent Download!

Split Files Shell Extension v3.1

This is a neat little program for splitting up files of a large size so that they can be saved onto a series of floppy disks, and taken elsewhere (to another computer) for loading.

The program is easy to use. Once installed, it adds a line to the "right-click menu" of your machine. If you would like to split a file, let's take a 3.5 megabyte mp3, for example, all you need to do is right-click on the file, and then left click on "Split this file." This calls up the Split Files program which splits the file up into three or more smaller files that can be fit onto floppies. The brilliant thing is that the program makes one of these smaller files an ".exe" file (executable program file). You can download this free program at

http://space.dolphin.free.fr/.

Click the "Windows Freeware" icon at the bottom of the page to be taken to a small list of free programs where you should easily find it.

It's not a large program, and shouldn't take long to download.

The program is also reasonably easy to figure out how to use, and there is a good page of instructional material available at the site. You see this page when you click the Split File link. The only thing to be sure of is that it is set to make the ".exe" file.

To make sure it is:

1. Right-click on the large file you want to split.
2. Left-click on "Split this file."
3. In the File Splitting box that comes up, click the Options button.
4. Untick the box  next the the words "No header."
5. Tick the box next to the words "Automatic Merging (make .exe file).
6. Click OK. The Options box will disappear.
7. Click the Start button to split the large file.
8. Copy the files onto floppies and take them wherever you want to go.

When you get to your destination computer you can simply copy the smaller files into the same directory of your choice. Double click on the smaller file that ends with the ".exe" extension, and it will re-assemble all the smaller files together and recreate the original file.

I've tried it, and it works!

Actrix - http://www.actrix.co.nz
Norrie the Nerd - http://www.actrix.gen.nz/users/norrie
Newsletter Archive - http://editor.actrix.co.nz
Actrix Support - support@actrix.co.nz (0800-228749)

Did you know that "gen" and "co" are interchangeable in your email address or that our help desk is now open 24 hours per day, seven days per week?  It will be closed on Christmas Day and New Years Day, however.

Have a good Christmas and New year,

Rob Zorn
editor@actrix.co.nz