Taking a break from politics, after reading Joe’s OpenOffice thread, I thought I would write about some of the useful things I have found to make internet use a more pleasant experience. Wolverine also commented on how he has been plagued with Internet nasties, so some of this may be of use to him as well.
Get a Web Hosting Account
Email services provided by most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are very lacking in user protection. Most web hosting services also provide email services, many of which offer spam and virus protection. My email service catches on average 70-100 spam emails a week that do not make it down to my computer, and I have yet to receive an email containing a virus since I made the switch. None of the Windows computers in my house use anti-virus email scanning as I have found it no longer necessary. Cost is $60-$70 a year, and you typically get a good bit of storage that can be used for a web site, offsite backups etc.
This gem I recently discovered, and offers Domain Name Services (DNS). DNS is how human readable names get converted to machine readable numeric addresses. For example, when you type www.novatownhall.com into your browser, a DNS request is made to determine the numeric address of the computer hosting this web site. I am a typing challenged person, having sausages where most have fingers. I often mistype .com into .cmo, .cm or something similar. OpenDNS is smart enough to sort out what I want, and it takes me to the site as opposed to presenting me with a URL not found or other error screen. OpenDNS also offers anti-phishing protection and surfing protection if you have kids in the house. This also seems to provide faster lookups than what Verizon offers.
Most ISPs now use what is called dynamic addressing. What this means is that the numeric address used to identify your computer may change several times throughout the day. This makes it difficult to assign a domain name, i.e www.novatownhall.com, www.google.com, to an address which frequently changes. DynDns offers a free service where you can register a unique domain name, yourname.dyndns.org, to access your computer. As the dynamic address changes, your router or a free software utility will detect that change and send the newly assigned address to DynDns to ensure that your name always points to the correct numeric address. I use this quite frequently to access my home computer from work, or on the road, using SSH or something similar.
Squid is a proxy server, meaning that it sits between your internet browser and the Internet. More importantly, it is a caching proxy, meaning copies of frequently accessed web pages are stored locally. If you have a slow internet connection shared by multiple computers accessing many of the same web pages, this can help get around the speed limitation by saving and sharing these common pages locally. Squid also provides the ability to setup access control rules that look for and deny expressions found in URL names. I use this to keep my kids from wandering where they should not be.
Did you ever wish you could go to a web site and not worry about the website collecting your computer address ? An example is those rare (or maybe not so rare) occasions where you just want to post anonymously and flame the hell out of someone ? If so, TOR is for these occasions as it prevents site moderators from tracking the post by the originating computer. The addresses shown as the source of the post will be random, and from all over the globe.
An anti-virus utility is something no Windows user should be without. These two are free, and have frequent updates to protect against newly discovered viruses.
Ad Aware, the free version, is an anti-spyware utlity. What is spyware ? Spyware is software installed without your knowledge to monitor your usage habits to tailor ads to your interest. The worst of the worst will actually attempt to monitor your keyboard input to capture passwords and other information to access your computer, or online accounts.
[updated to fix as Wordpress ate the tail of this post.]