Readers' Forum - June 2005

from the June 2005 Actrix Newsletter

If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and answer your question by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).

Sheila writes: Hi, I seem to be having a problem. My computer keeps going off line which is extremely annoying. I have a phone line especially for the computer. It happens at various times, and intervals, ie 5mins - 10mins. It will usually go back on line again but is really frustrating having to wait for it to dial up again. Have you any suggestions? Cheers.

Jim Breen from Actrix Support responds: Hello Sheila, Internet connections rely on a number of factors for them to be reliable. The two most important things in maintaining a stable internet connection are the quality of the phone line, and the quality of the modem or connecting equipment.

Many different factors can influence the quality of a phone line - below are some of the more common problems identified by both Actrix and Telecom as contributing to internet disconnections:

Some of these factors can be corrected simply by unplugging alarm systems, Sky Digital or other devices using the phone line, reducing the number of phones in connected to the house, and/or replacing or eliminating extension leads or double adapters.

In addition to the above, the Actrix helpdesk is able to assist you with changing you computer settings to possibly improve your connection stability. We can do this by disabling call-waiting, changing the modem's connection speed and using connection strings to optimise the modem for your line conditions, or possibly even change the number your computer dials to access the internet. You can call us on 0800-228749.

It may also be worth calling Telecom faults on 123 and requesting a line noise test to ensure that the line is operating appropriately - check with Telecom if there are any charges for this service before having them performed.

Our advice is to attempt to eliminate as many of the above faults as possible such as telephone extension leads, double adapters, Sky Digital, other phones etc. Use a process of elimination to try to narrow down where the problem is coming from.

Paul asks: Is there any security issue with having files open when sending emails / surfing the net, even if I have a firewall installed? Just worried about others accessing my files while I am online. i.e. just because the files are on screen doesn't mean they are "seen" by the internet connection - true? How safe / uncrackable are the standard firewalls for Win XP?

Your firewall is alike a bouncer
A firewall is a little bit like a bouncer at your computer's door.

Whether files are open on your machine while you are on the net makes little difference. The only time this would be an issue is when the hacker had control of your machine so that his displayed whatever contents yours did, and such a person would have complete access to whatever was on your hard drive anyway, open or not. Your Internet connection doesn't see anything at all. Picture it as being like a doorway that allows programs on your machine (such as your browser) to go out and travel up and down the information superhighway. A firewall is like a "bouncer" at the door that lets your browser in and out but stops any undesirable program getting in unless the owner of the establishment (you) says they can.

Opinions really vary on how safe the standard firewalls are. Windows enthusiasts will tell you they're pretty good. The anti-Microsoft lobby will tell you that they have more holes than Swiss cheese. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Hackers will tell you, and they're probably quite right, that they can hack through anything if they have the time. The only way to keep your computer 100 percent safe is not to connect it to the Internet.

That's all pretty alarmist, though. While nothing will guarantee your Internet security, a firewall will at least mean that a hacker has to spend time fooling your "bouncer" into letting him through (or making himself invisible to your "bouncer"). Because there are so many other computers connected to the Internet that are virtually defenceless, with no firewalls at all, he's not going to bother trying to crack yours unless he thinks there is a really good reason for him (or her) to be spending so much time on you. For that reason, it's a good idea to run a simple firewall program. Either use the one that comes with XP, or download and install the free version of Zone Alarm.

I hope that makes some sense.

Tony writes: In the past week or so I have experienced a problem with my computer just hanging for no apparent reason. This may happen several times with varying times between each "hang". Alt Ctrl Del wont work and I must reboot the computer every time. We run Windows 98, with Clamwin, Spybot and Zone Alarm firewall. I have run Scandisk, Maintenance Wizard, Defrag to identify any problem but with no luck. The only other "outside" event that has occurred is we have replaced and upgraded our monitored home alarm system but we had no problems with the computer hanging prior to our alarm upgrade which was also previously monitored, not sure if this would have an affect or not. Any suggestions?

Hi Tony, This one isn't really Internet-related enough for our forum, but since we're a little light on Forum questions this month, I'll let it slide. Steve Trayhorne from Actrix Support responds: Unfortunately there can be many reasons why a computer hangs, and these can include both hardware and software faults. From your comments it sounds as if you have performed all of the usual computer maintenance tasks and taken all of the appropriate security measures. I do not believe that the replacement monitor will have any impact or will be causing the problems and if anything the monitored alarm would only cause problems like disconnection from the Internet.

I can only suggest keeping a log for a short time of what the computer is doing when it freezes, what actions the user was performing, and what programs were running. You should also keep notes of error messages and error numbers. This may assist in identifying what is causing the issue. If you have an error number, searching Google for information might provide a clue or even identify the problem.

Check to see if your anti virus is scheduled to scan on a regular basis or if you have any tasks scheduled to run that correspond with the hangs. You might also find it useful to check what programs are installed on your computer via Control Panel / Add Remove Programs. Some programs known to cause problems are file sharing programs such as Kazza, search assistants, My Search, shopping search and menu bar programs like Hotbar.

It is not good for your computer to be shut down with the reset button or the power button and this could cause serious disc damage. If you are not able to resolve the problem very soon, I suggest contacting a good computer repair company for assistance.