news and views from michael rollins in tokyo

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Online Study Aids for Japanese

Just a few years ago, I was certain I could never get by without Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary and the venerable Nelson close at hand. Today, however, these and other weighty tomes gather dust on a nearby bookshelf, banished to obsolescence by my favorite desktop reference, the Web.

In this column I’m going to introduce various Web-based tools for learning and using Japanese. With the growth of the Internet and advances in machine translation (MT) technology, we have seen a proliferation in the number of online translators, dictionaries, study guides and related services. If you are using Japanese on a computer at work or school, here are a few of my favorites sites that can make life a bit easier.

Web-based translation systems are quite new and relatively few in number. They are built around standard Web forms that accept text in one language and generate a corresponding translation in one or more target languages. The interface makes it easy to copy text from another browser window or different application and paste it on the translation window. Best of all, these services are available at no charge.

One example is the Babel Fish site at AltaVista ( babelfish.altavista.com ). This system will translate up to 150 words of text between English and eight other languages. Driven by MT specialists Systran ( www.systran soft.com ), the AltaVista site does a fair job of translating between Japanese and English, and includes a URL form field for when you want to translate an entire Web page.

The Honyaku site at Excite Japan ( www.excite.co.jp/world ) includes simple text translation between Japanese and English, as well as Web page translation for both languages. This site also allows users to search English pages using Japanese search terms, and then gives the results in Japanese. The translation engine for this site is Amikai’s Portal product.

Lycos Japan ( translation.lycos.co.jp ) offers similar translation tools, also powered by Amikai, with an all-Japanese interface. The U.S. Lycos site doesn’t offer translation into or from Japanese (or any other Asian languages).

But while these tools have a lot to offer in terms of convenience, it’s clear that MT, particularly between English and Japanese, still has a long way to go. The technology does a fair job of translating simple material, like product information or instructions, but has a difficult time with more complex content, such as news articles, and is sometimes completely incomprehensible. Therefore, when using these sites to create Japanese, it’s best to remember that the quality of translation might be close to what you paid for it.

A slightly different spin on Web-based translation can be found at Todd David Rudick’s Rikai site ( www.rikai.com ), which employs JavaScript and Perl to create pop-up translations of words when the mouse pointer is placed over them. This site allows users to open another Web page from within the Rikai site and offers support for English, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese.

Online dictionaries are also popular tools for anyone working between English and Japanese. One of the current favorites — particularly among Japanese — is Eijiro ( member.nifty.ne.jp/eijiro ), an online dictionary that boasts more than 1.12 million entries, including an impressive collection of example sentences and colloquial expressions. Inputting the word “jinken” (human rights), for example, returns one definition and 202 sample sentences containing the words “human rights.”

Eijiro has evolved into a savvy reference system that automatically determines the language of the term to be translated. Eijiro is also available as a book and CD-ROM, which includes applications for using the dictionary on a variety of computer platforms and hand-held PDAs. You can purchase it in local bookstores or online at Amazon Japan ( www.amazon.co.jp ).

If you’re looking for resources to study and practice Japanese on the Web, you may want to start with Kantango ( www.kantango.com ), an instructional site that lets you look up words in kanji, kana or “romaji,” build word lists, create quizzes, review terms and more.

There are hundreds of sites devoted to those interested in tackling kanji online, but the best one I’ve seen must be Mayumi Ishida’s Kanji Practice site ( www.dartmouth.edu/~kanji ). The multimedia site teaches 300 kanji characters using brush-stroke images, video clips demonstrating stroke order, sample sentences with audio, print variants and English translations.

Each site offers something for students of all levels. Whether you’re just getting started with Japanese, reading and writing it already, or just looking for good online references to replace your collection of aging hardbacks, you’ll want to add Eijiro and these other sites to your collection of bookmarks.

Send questions and comments for Michael Rollins to michael@tajera.com

The Japan Times: April 10, 2003

SEO in Japan

It’s a simple matter these days to build and host a Web site. What’s less simple is getting others — potential customers, readers and other users — to find your site among the millions of others already out there. In this column I’ll discuss Japanese search engines, particularly how best to use Japanese and other search engines to promote your business, Weblog or hobby site online.

Search engine evolution

Its been nearly a decade since NTT launched the first directory-based search engine for the Japanese Internet, Nihon no Shinchaku Jouhou (What’s New in Japan). Three years later, in 1996, Yahoo Japan ( www.yahoo.co.jp ) launched its own directory service here, and before long secured the No. 1 position among Japanese Web portals.

Around the same time, foreign players such as InfoSeek ( www.infoseek.co.jp ) and Excite ( www.excite.co.jp ) joined the fray, competing with domestic newcomers such as Goo ( www.goo.ne.jp ) and Fresheye ( www.fresheye.co.jp ). None of them, however, could match the popularity of Yahoo.


Google ( www.google.com ) came along in 2000, however, and all that changed. By applying innovative technology to the process of ordering and displaying search results, Google was able to deliver much higher-quality results than any of the other search engines. The key to Google’s success was the introduction of page relevance based on PageRank.

How they work

PageRank, according to Google architects Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, is an objective measure of a page’s citation importance that corresponds well with people’s subjective idea of importance — that is, given a search word, the technology reaches the same conclusion about a Web site’s relevance in relation to that word as a person poring over the same information would.
By prioritizing the display rankings of search results based on the degree to which the page is linked (which is to say, cited) from other pages on the Web, Google is able to position the most relevant search results near the top of the list where we are most likely to find them.

Yahoo Japan caught on quickly to the value (and surging popularity) of the Google engine and in April 2001 began using Google for keyword-based Web site searches. Yahoo was soon followed by Excite, Netscape, BIGLOBE, All About (Japan) ( allabout.co.jp ), AOL and others. Today, Google is the search engine behind most of the crawler-based Japanese search engines.

Crawler-based search engines employ bots — special programs that navigate the Web collecting information from Web pages for inclusion in search engine databases. AltaVista ( www.altavista.com ), InfoSeek Japan ( www.infoseek.co.jp ), NAVER Japan ( www.naver.co.jp ) and AAA! Cafe ( www.aaacafe.ne.jp ) are other examples of crawler-based search engines, and each uses its own data-collection and indexing systems.

Directory-based search engines comprise the other half of the search engine universe and differ greatly from crawler-based engines in the way that information is collected and stored. These search engines are based on a directory of information that is maintained in a directory of hierarchical categories and subcategories. These engines rely on human intervention in the listing process to both qualify and sort Web pages and other content.

What this screening and sorting means for the user is a much higher quality of content than that found among the results of crawler-based search engines. Directory-based engines also allow users to surf among different sites within a particular category, which can be a real time-saver when you know exactly what you’re looking for and a category for it exists.

The downside to this, however, is that the same human factor that keeps the quality high in directory-based search engines also makes it difficult to keep the directory up to date with new listings. In other words, there just aren’t enough site reviewers to keep up with explosive growth of the World Wide Web.

Another problem these sites face is one of categorization. Assuming you can’t infinitely divide and subdivide directory categories, how do you address the issues of convenience and usability when the listings for a particular category number in the hundreds?

In Japan there are a handful of directory-based search engines. Yahoo Japan is the best-known and most-used among them, and maintains its own directory in addition to providing search results from Google. Goo and InfoSeek Japan also maintain similar directories, and rank third and fourth, respectively, after Yahoo and Google. Other key directories include the Open Directory Project ( www.dmoz.org ) — which provides directory listings for Google, AOL, and AAA! Cafe — as well as Looksmart, and FreshEye.

Making them work for you

Given that current landscape, how can we make the best of Japanese search engines as tools for promoting our businesses and other activities online?
One way is through a process called “search engine optimization.” This involves a number of coding and formatting practices used by Web developers and other specialists to improve rankings among search engine results and guarantee listing by crawler-based search engines.

As a Web developer and search engine optimization consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to test firsthand the effectiveness of various techniques employed over the years, and many of the early practices, though still widely used today, have lost their effectiveness as search engine technology has improved. Spamming search engines with hundreds of repeated keywords and building gateway pages today will likely get you the opposite of your intended result — you could be blacklisted.

Your chances of getting listed in the major Japanese search engines today are best if you follow a few simple guidelines:

Clean up your code. Make sure that your title and so-called META tags (particularly those for keywords and description) are optimized not for your entire site, but rather for the information presented on the page itself. Concise and accurate meta-data (information about your page that is collected by bots) will go a long way toward helping people find your site later. Also, be sure to specify the character set of any Japanese pages on your site. Some Japanese search engines are programmed to ignore pages unless they are marked as being in Japanese.

Submit your site. In Japan the lion’s share of search requests are handled by Yahoo, Google, Goo, InfoSeek and MSN. That means you can maximize your exposure in as few steps as possible by getting listed with Google, InfoSeek and Inktomi (which feeds MSN and Goo).

Get linked. One way to boost the relevance (and thus the PageRank) of your site is by getting other sites to link to yours, especially other sites with a high PageRank.

Buy a better listing. Yahoo offers a number of premium services for businesses that can help ensure that your site appears at or near the top of search results for particular keywords. Also, Google and Japan-newcomer Overture ( www.jp.overture.com ) have recently announced a per-click pricing system for listings. Overture claims to reach 77 percent of Web users through publishing agreements with the biggest engines, while Google’s AdWords service gives your ad text and URL prominent on-screen placement that you only pay for when someone clicks through. Costs vary, depending on the type of premium service you choose, but don’t be surprised to pay 50,000 yen.

Overall, the best way to help people find your Web site is by taking a dual approach — focus on both crawler-based search engines and Internet directories. And if you have a budget for it, you can always pay for prominence.

The Japan Times: March 13, 2003

Avoiding Mojibake

Just about everyone uses e-mail today, and many of us in Japan do so in English, Japanese, and other languages as well. But anyone who corresponds in Japanese via e-mail knows that we still have a long way to go in terms of ensuring that our e-mail reaches the intended recipient both intact and readable.

With English this has never been much of a problem, but “mojibake” (garbled text) continues to confound those who e-mail in Japanese even today.

To further complicate matters, we have the additional question of message formatting to consider. Should we use plain-old plain text, HTML, or rich text? These are important questions not only for individuals but also organizations of all kinds that rely on e-mail to communicate with customers, members or affiliates.

How do you best control how the e-mail you send looks when viewed by the recipient? In this column I’ll discuss the key issues related to e-mail — character encoding, e-mail formats and message encoding types — and offer some tips on composing Japanese e-mail messages.

First, let’s take a look at character sets and encoding. Initially, e-mail servers and clients were designed to send messages using an encoding system called ASCII. This system was a means for representing characters using seven bits of data, with 127 possible discrete characters (called code points) available. This was adequate for representing all of the characters used in English, as well as numbers, punctuation marks, etc.

Japanese text is encoded (represented electronically) using a variety of methods, each one designed to represent the far greater number of code points required by the Japanese language. Generally speaking, these encoding methods can be divided into two groups: seven-bit and double-byte (double byte is equal to 16-bits, as 1 byte equals 8 bits). Double-byte encoding systems are used on all Japanese-capable computing platforms, with different variants employed on different operating systems.

Microsoft and Mac operating systems use an encoding system called Shift-JIS. Shift-JIS is actually a multibyte character set (MBCS) because it uses 7 or 8 bits to represent ASCII and Extended ASCII characters (half-width katakana, Roman characters with diacritical marks, etc.) and two bytes to represent kanji, kana, and full-width Roman characters. UNIX systems use a similar system called EUC (Extended UNIX Code) to accomplish the same thing.

These encoding systems all work fine on their respective platforms. It’s when you go “off platform” that things begin to go awry, and this is particularly true of e-mail.

Many e-mail servers and other network hardware were designed to think of text data in terms of 7 bits, and when they try to process multi- or double-byte text, bad things can happen.

The most obvious and common problem is mojibake, and in many cases the text is unrecoverable because a portion of it (the eighth, or “high” bit) has been stripped off in transit.

JIS, a seven-bit encoding system, was developed to allow for the safe transmission of Japanese text over the Internet. JIS is the preferred encoding for Japanese e-mail, and using it is one of the best ways to prevent mojibake. If you use an e-mail application such as Microsoft Outlook Express, you’ll note that you are able to select from various Japanese character encodings when composing Japanese e-mail (just click on the “Format” tab and go to “Encoding”). Although Shift-JIS and EUC appear among these options, JIS is the safest choice.

You’ll also see JIS encoding referred to as ISO-2022-JP, and this is the designation used in the header portion of the e-mail that tells your e-mail software how to display the message properly.

The Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension (MIME) and UUENCODE are other systems that were developed to allow for the safe transmission of 8-bit e-mail over the Internet, but it is advisable not to use these when sending Japanese e-mail since ISO-2022-JP performs this function already. If your e-mail client provides the option for selecting between MIME and UUENCODE e-mail formats, choose MIME with no encoding (Base64 or Quoted Printable) for best results. Again, the Japanese encoding should always be set to JIS.

Now we come to the question of text formatting. Do we use HTML, plain text, or something else, such as rich text. The prevailing logic up until a year or two ago was that plain text was the way to go if you weren’t sure what e-mail client your recipients are using. This was simply because many e-mail clients didn’t support HTML. However, there has been a trend in recent months of large companies moving away from plain text toward HTML in their marketing and other e-mail correspondence.

What’s behind the policy shift?

Well, there’s recent data for one. In an extensive survey conducted earlier this year by ClickZ (www.clickz.com) and Internet.com (www.internet.com), Edward Grossman revealed some interesting facts about users’ e-mail habits and capabilities.

Surprisingly, fewer than 3 percent of respondents indicated that they were unable to read HTML-based e-mail (though another 8 percent said they weren’t sure). Also, given the choice, only 30 percent responded that they prefer to receive e-mail as plain text.

Most folks use Microsoft e-mail clients (Outlook or Outlook Express) for business and personal e-mail, with the majority of others using Web-based e-mail clients such as Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, which support HTML. Even AOL supports HTML now (as of version 7.0), meaning you really have to look hard to find people for whom HTML is problematic.

The bottom line? With the vast majority of people today using HTML-ready e-mail clients, there is little reason to cling to the notion that plain text is the safer of the two. Also, HTML just looks better. So send your marketing information and newsletters in HTML, but give people the option for plain text as well.

Finally, getting back to Japanese, you may find that there are still times when people reply to you saying your e-mail is unreadable. The only times I experience such problems these days is when sending Japanese e-mail using HTML. In such cases I simply re-send the message using plain text, and it seems to work fine.

The Japan Times: Feb. 27, 2003

Getting Real in 2ch

It was 1975 when University of North Carolina graduate student Steve Bellovin developed a handful of short programs to facilitate communication via UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy) between the University of North Carolina and Duke University. The scripts were later rewritten in the computer language “C” and extended, later becoming the basis for Usenet.

Hiroyuki Nishimura, operator of the discussion Web site 2 Channel, says the site gets some 20 million hits a day.

Usenet is a distributed conferencing system that provides for group discussions over the Internet, and includes thousands of “newsgroups” that cover thousands of topics. Usenet is alive and well today, and continues to enjoy wide popularity with millions of users familiar with configuring and using “news reader” software.

However, it was the ease and user-friendliness of Internet browsers and the World Wide Web that saw discussion groups and message boards really blossom into a cyberculture phenomenon. These systems use the same conceptual components as Usenet newsgroups — discussion topics, messages and threads — but are designed for use with a standard Web browser rather than a news reader. Popular English-language ones include Yahoo! Groups ( groups.yahoo.com ) MSN Groups ( groups.msn.com ). English-language forums specific to Japan can be found at JapanToday ( forum.japantoday.com ).

But the hands-down king of message boards (or “keijiban”) in Japan is a site called 2 Channel (pronounced “ni channeru”) at www.2ch.net .

2 Channel, or simply “2ch,” is designed and operated by 26-year-old Tokyo native Hiroyuki Nishimura, who describes himself as “forever 19, a lover of sweets, and a ‘hikikomori’ (someone who has withdrawn from society).” He started it in May 1999, he said, because “it seemed like fun.”

The sheer scale of 2ch is impressive for an independently run site. Nishimura told me he gets around 1 million posts a day and more than 20 million hits a day.

nc20030213mra.jpg At the top level, the message boards are divided into general categories such as Society and Current Events, Academics and Education, Living and Work, Culture and Hobbies, Computing, and Idle Chatter.

Below these are more than 200 subtopics covering everything from art to zoology. The list of message boards is displayed in a navigation frame to the left of the main content window, and you have to scroll for a long, long time to see the entire list.

Some examples of the topics you’ll find there, presented in a simple blue-on-white evocative of pre-1995 Web design, are: Media, SDF, Work (divided into 16 industries), Drugs and Crime, The Occult, Creative Arts, Movies, Biology, Mathematics, Psychology, Japanese History, Hangul, Philosophy, Home Appliances, Digital Cameras, Politics, Ramen, Candy, Credit, Bars, Furniture, Cosmetics, Tobacco, Convenience Stores, Student Life, Jokes, Single Men/Women, Sumo, Sportscars, Baseball, Extreme Sports, Travel, Television Shows, Gambling, Manga, Costume Play, Lost Love, Baldness and Wigs, and the list goes on and on.

The medium of discourse in 2ch message boards is Japanese, with the exception of boards that deal with English or other languages. Although this is an obvious barrier to those who read no Japanese, online dictionaries like Eijiro ( www.alc.co.jp ) can be a big help for people who can read some but need help with the occasional word.

Not surprisingly, there are also a number of adult message boards that cover a wide variety of topics including the sex trade, sex games, SMBD, and homosexuality. Users under 21 are supposedly restricted from accessing these areas, but apparently there is no enforcement mechanism is place to bar minors from participating.

Which brings us to an interesting feature of 2ch, namely that it allows anonymous viewing of and posting to the message boards. This anonymity is key to the site because it allows users to speak their minds as frankly as they wish without fear of recrimination.

As a consequence, the discussions on 2ch tend to become quite spirited, particularly when the topic is a hot-button issue such as the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea or the threat of a United States-led war against Iraq. And people do get engaged — Nishimura says the average visitor stays for 1.3 hours and views 59 pages.

The anonymity permits heated debates on all kinds of topics to rage daily on 2ch, with a breadth of opinion and unabashed frankness you almost never encounter in conventional media like television or newspapers.

Predictably, however, the anonymity can also easily lead to so-called flame wars, where the discussion degenerates into a volley of insults and vitriolic attacks. Gone in such cases are the ornamental pleasantries and attention to rank that characterize communication among Japanese under typical circumstances, replaced by “anta” or “omae” (harsher ways of saying “you”) and indelicate rebuffs, like “Die, quickly.”

Thankfully, such flaming seems to happen less frequently on 2ch than, for example, on unmoderated Internet newsgroups.

New threads appear on 2ch daily, and particularly active boards have hundreds of active threads at any given time. Each new day brings with it more news and events, meaning 2 Channel’s thousands of users never run out of things to discuss and debate.

So, if you want to get the “real” Japanese perspective on just about any topic you can imagine, have a look at 2 Channel. No matter what your particular interests may be, you’re sure to find people discussing them there.

The Japan Times: Feb. 13, 2003

Broadband in Japan: Part 3

It’s late one evening last July, and a green activity light is blinking on the front of the DSL modem next to my desk. I’m asleep in the next room, but my computer is busy working, tirelessly handling page requests from hundreds of Code Red zombies.

Each one is hoping to find the same thing: a particular file with a particular vulnerability that just might be on my system. If the zombie discovers the file, it will exploit a well-published security hole to copy some files to my computer, install a remote control “back door,” then instruct my system to begin scanning the Internet for other vulnerable systems to compromise in the same fashion.

My hapless computer will then have joined the ranks of thousands of other Windows NT and 2000 computers worldwide, “zombies” that would be used later in a failed Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on the White House Web site.

The frighteningly swift propagation of Internet “worms” like Code Red, Code Red II and Nimda was made possible primarily due to two factors — the high number of broadband-connected NT systems and the failure of their owners to properly secure them.

In the final part of this series on broadband, I’ll outline some of the risks associated with broadband Internet and also discuss some of the steps you can take to protect your systems from unwanted intrusion or attack.


The first and easiest way to assess your level of exposure is to look at your connection to the Internet. Is your computer behind a router or firewall, or is it directly connected to the Net via DSL or cable?

If the latter is the case, the IP address being used by your machine is a “public” (Internet-routable) address that was assigned to your computer by your service provider when your system connected to their network.

This address is probably dynamically assigned, meaning it might change each time you connect. But the key issue here is that, with a public IP address, your computer is sitting (ducklike, perhaps) right out there and therefore fully exposed to all of the other systems on the Internet.

Exposure in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. Indeed, all computers connected to the Internet with open, public IP addresses are equally exposed. However, these systems as a rule are “hardened,” or protected from attack using a variety of tools including software, network devices, packet filters, and more.

It is equally important for broadband users to know what the risks are, and how to protect against them.

The risks

Computers are designed to communicate with each other in a variety of ways. In a Client-Server arrangement, one computer asks another for some information, like when a Web browser asks a Web server for a particular HTML page. In peer-to-peer networking, you share files or other resources in both directions, perhaps printing to a remote computer or sharing a folder on your own hard drive.

As long as your computer has a network card or modem, it is equipped to communicate with other systems. If participating in a private office LAN or home network, this is certainly a good thing. However, the same unprotected system exposed to the Internet faces a number of threats based on common security holes.

Foremost among these are unprotected shared folders or drives, or shares.

All Windows operating systems after v3.1 provide for some form of local file sharing. In today’s systems, sharing files or local printers with remote users is as simple as right-clicking your mouse. However, without properly restrictive access policies in place these shares can easily be accessed by other users over the Internet.

Strong passwords are just as important. For example, on Windows NT Server administrative shares are created at the root level on all hard drives. They are normally hidden from view, but an experienced user can try to access them easily using a pre-defined account such as the Administrator account.

Without strong passwords in place, an intruder can gain access to the entire system drive simply by trying password combinations until finding the correct one.

Hacking tools available today make this a trivial process, particularly if the password for the account is easily guessed, or a word you might find in the dictionary.

Passwords on Internet-connected systems should always contain a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Also avoid words that are found in the dictionary and simple number combinations. Lastly, the longer the password, the more difficult is it to crack using “brute force” password cracking tools.

One easy way Windows users can prevent access to file shares from the Internet is by removing NetBIOS from all Internet-connected interfaces. NetBIOS runs on top of protocols like TCP/IP and facilitates Windows networking and the use of host names among Windows systems.

Unwanted intrusion can also come from other sources.

Prior to the outbreak of Code Red and similar worms, Windows 2000 shipped with the Internet Information Server (IIS), Microsoft’s standard Web server software, installed and running by default. This saved some headaches for less technically-adept users hoping to maintain a Web server, but also contributed significantly to the spread of malicious worms by populating the Internet with readily-exploitable Web servers.

Many owners of these systems didn’t even know a security patch was required and available, much less how to download and install one.

The best way to stay informed about the security of your systems is to frequently visit your vendor’s Web site and, where available, to subscribe to security bulletins and newsletters.

Microsoft has also made available a number of tools, including the Baseline Security Analyzer, which scans Windows NT, 2000 and XP systems for common security misconfigurations.

Compromising positions

If an intruder gains access to your system via an exposed file share or security hole, there are a variety of things they can do.
Copying or deleting data are some of the actions you might expect of unwanted intruders, but today’s hacker (or, more commonly, “cracker”) probably has bigger plans for your computer.

It is more common today for compromised systems to be surreptitiously used as agents, or zombies, in DDoS attacks. In such cases, a central system exerts control over an army of systems just like yours, using a “back door” installed during the initial attack. This agent runs quietly in the background, completely out of view, and waits for commands from headquarters.

With enough such systems, it is possible to launch a concerted attack against a Web site (or other server) and flood it with bogus requests, effectively denying access to the site by legitimate users. Worst of all, one or more of your own computers may be participating in the attack without you even knowing it.


There are a number of things you can do to minimize your risk of unwanted intrusion or attack. A good starting point is to put a router between your system(s) and the Internet.
Most routers today use a feature called Network Address Translation (NAT) to hide the address of computers behind the router. As all traffic is mediated by the router, requests from all internal systems appear to be coming from the external interface of the router. This form of “IP masquerading” is a way to put your computer on the Internet without exposing it to the Internet at large.

You should also consider the use of a firewall product for all Internet-connected systems.

Personal firewall products from venders like Symantec, McAfee, and Internet Security Systems provide features such as intrusion detection, packet filtering, and access control. Windows XP even ships with a built-in firewall.

Although no product can guarantee prevention of all attacks, a firewall can be a key component of a comprehensive security framework.

It also goes without saying that virus protection software is critical for protecting yourself from e-mail-borne and other viruses.

Also remember that the effectiveness of your antivirus solution wholly depends on the currency of your virus definition data, which should always be kept up to date.

Similarly, it is very important that you keep your operating system and Internet applications like e-mail and Web browsers up to date with the latest fixes and security patches.

New vulnerabilities are being discovered all the time, and when they are announced, you’ll end up in a race with crackers and other miscreants to see who responds to the news first: you, with a downloaded security patch, or them, with a brand new Trojan horse.

Finally, it’s a good idea to either turn your computer off or disconnect it from the network when not in use. Doing either will ensure that no one has access to it from the Internet.

Security tools on the Net
Network Security (CERT)
Coping with Home Network Security Threats (Network Magazine)

Navas Cable Modem/DSL Tuning Guide

Microsoft’s Security Site

Microsoft’s Baseline Security Analyzer

Symantec Worldwide Home Page


Internet Security Systems

The Japan Times: April 25, 2002

Broadband in Japan: Part 2

Last week we discussed the different broadband services available in Japan and how to subscribe to each. This week we’ll take a look at the steps necessary to configure your system to connect to the Internet using your new broadband service, and also consider some of the options available to users with home or office LANs for sharing that connection.

System requirements

Generally speaking, the minimum requirements for broadband Internet are a computer with a network or USB port, a DSL or cable modem, and a network cable.
With DSL you may also require a line splitter to route the telephone and data traffic to the proper devices.

First, let’s consider the hardware requirements in more detail. PCs running Windows should have Windows 95 or later installed, but ME/2000 or XP are recommended for performance and compatibility reasons.

With regard to system specifications, a Pentium II 266 MHz CPU and 64 Mbytes RAM should be considered the bare minimum for acceptable performance.

Having a faster CPU and more memory will make a big difference when enjoying streaming audio and video or other processor-intensive activities, without necessarily improving your data transfer rates.

Macintosh systems should have MacOS 9.0 or later installed (MacOS X preferred), and G3s or newer offer the convenience of integrated network support.

As with PCs, the newer the better is a good rule for realizing improved performance and compatibility.

Whichever your platform, you’ll require either a network port (for Windows and Mac) or a Universal Serial Bus port (Windows only).

Many systems today include an onboard Ethernet port, which is an RJ-45 jack that resembles an oversize telephone (RJ-11) jack. This is the same connector used, for example, to connect your office PC to the office LAN.

You should inspect your system to see if you have an Ethernet port, and if you don’t find one you’ll need to either purchase an add-on network card or choose a USB modem instead.

In some cases, USB modems provide simplified installation and configuration, but are typically limited to 1.5-Mbps DSL service only.

One other option for those not comfortable installing network cards is a USB network adapter such as IO Data’s USB-ET/TX-S (LAN-Egg Slim for Fast Ethernet) which, unusual moniker notwithstanding, provides a simple plug-and-play solution for Windows systems that support USB but have no network interface.

Finally, you should also consider the multimedia capabilities of your broadband workstation.

Rich media content is increasingly available via the Web today, and with radio stations around the world offering streaming music and news programming, you will likely benefit from having a sound card and speakers.

Networking equipment

If you choose a USB modem there are no requirements for intermediate network hardware. You will be able to connect a single computer to the modem using a standard USB connection.
However, if you plan to use your computer’s network interface to connect to the Internet, you’ll need to purchase a router-type DSL modem. And if you want to share the connection with other systems you may require other equipment as well.

But first let’s introduce the basic networking components that may exist between your computer and the Internet.

* A modem (modulator-demodulator) converts the data traveling between your computer and the Internet into a format suitable for transmission over your broadband media (cable, fiber or copper telephone line). A modem has two interfaces: one for the external broadband connection and another for the internal connection (a computer or broadband router).

* A router directs traffic among different devices and networks based on information contained in routing tables. The router decides, for example, to send your browser’s request for a Web page out over the DSL line and not to the computer in the other room. Broadband routers typically have two ports: one for the Internet (or Wide Area Network) side and one for the internal (or Local Area Network) side.

* Hubs are devices that simply connect networked devices together on a single network segment. Hubs allow you to create a LAN of computers by providing a common communications path for all connected devices.

You’ll often find two or three of these components in a single off-the-shelf product.

Some “broadband routers” include all three components in a single unit, and in some cases also include wireless networking capability.

In most cases, and unless you request otherwise, your DSL or cable provider will provide you with a modem and connect it to the cable or DSL line, as applicable. You will normally be required to connect and configure everything between the modem and your computer(s).

If you are only connecting a single computer you can connect it directly to the Ethernet (LAN) port of the modem using a standard, straight-type Category 5, twisted-pair network cable. If you are connecting more than one computer, you will also need to buy a hub and a router, or a router with an integrated hub.

In the Single Computer configuration, the computer is connected directly to the DSL (or cable) modem via either USB or Ethernet network cable. In the Home or Office LAN configuration, the WAN port of a router is connected to the modem, and the LAN port to a hub.

All of the client machines communicate with the router via the hub, and all Internet traffic between the machines and the modem is handled by the router.

Note that in the Home or Office LAN diagram the hub and router are shown separately, but can just as easily be integrated in a single network device.

Products such as the Buffalo WLAR-L11G-L 4-port router have a single WAN interface for connecting to the modem, and four LAN interfaces that can be used to connect internal PCs or other network devices. This particular unit also includes a wireless access point for connecting devices in a wireless network. This allows you to enjoy mobile, cable-free networking anywhere in your home at speeds of up to 11 Mbps. This is a particularly convenient solution in cases where connecting computers with Ethernet cable is impractical.

Configuring networking

So far, we’ve discussed the physical side of broadband connections and the network devices that make data transmission possible.
The protocols used to send and receive data over them are the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), otherwise known as TCP/IP.

TCP/IP forms the basis of all Internet communications and is built into every modern operating system. One part of preparing your systems to use broadband will involve configuring TCP/IP.

Most DSL service providers today use a protocol called PPPoE (Point-to-Point over Ethernet) that encapsulates data for transmission over the network.

This requires the installation of a PPPoE “stack” on your computer, or the use of a broadband router that supports PPPoE.

In the former case, your provider will supply you with the necessary drivers and a configuration utility when you sign up.

You will also receive log-in information that you will use to configure your computer or broadband router to log on to the Internet service provider.

Then you either initiate a connection to your provider using dialup networking or a utility provided by your provider (in the case of a single computer), or you connect to your provider using your broadband router and then the systems behind it use the router as a gateway to the Internet.

If you’re only connecting a single system to the Internet, your IP addresses will be assigned by your provider, and may change each time you connect.

For networks without a dedicated server, you can save time and headaches by selecting a broadband router that includes a DHCP server. Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol automatically assigns IP addresses and other settings to client computers.

A DHCP server automatically configures networking for multiple client machines by assigning them an IP address, default gateway, and DNS server IP addresses.

What this means in practice is that you boot up your computer and everything just works.

The IP address configuration screens are slightly different for the various Microsoft and Mac operating systems, but selecting “Obtain an IP Address Automatically” or “Use DHCP Server” for your TCP/IP settings will automatically configure your computer if a DHCP server (e.g. a broadband router with a DHCP server) is locally available.

About cables

You should also ensure that your cables are of the correct type and connected properly.
The easiest way to confirm this is to verify that the link indicator for the LAN connection is lit on your modem or router. If the cable is plugged in and your computer is running but the link indicator is not illuminated, you should ensure that the cable is of the correct type (straight or cross, as applicable), inserted properly, and not otherwise frayed or damaged.

Additionally, DSL is susceptible to interference from nearby electronic devices. Excessive noise can lead to poor connection performance and terminated connections.

The following guidelines should be used when setting up your DSL and network hardware:

* Keep cables as short as possible. Coiled, overlong cables are the leading cause of induced noise.

* Keep cables away from speakers, televisions, microwaves, and other appliances that emit electromagnetic energy.

* Don’t run DSL cables alongside computer and network cables.

Help when you need it

As daunting as some of this may seem, the good news is that most clerks in the major computer and electronics stores have a good grasp of the different hardware available and how it fits together.
Explaining your particular broadband situation and requirements will likely reward you with a polite and thorough tour of your options, ending with vendor and product recommendations you can trust. It behooves you to take advantage of their knowledge and experience.

Next week, we’ll turn our attention to Internet security and protecting your systems, and also discuss some important issues regarding broadband for business use.

The Japan Times: April 18, 2002

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