Wednesday, July 9, 2008

AT&T DSL Installation

I decided to try using AT&T's DSL as my Internet service provider (ISP). Based on what the AT&T representative said, it sounded like I would want their Pro service, at $30 per month, for a connection speed of "up to" 3.0 Mbps, if I wanted speed comparable to cable. There was also the Elite service, for $35, for a 6.0 Mbps connection. Less expensively, AT&T offered Basic ($20) and Express ($25) services, with connection speeds of "up to" 768 Kbps and 1.5 Mbps, respectively. She said I could change at any time, with just a phone call, so I decided to see what the Express service would give me for $25 per month. (For reference purposes, that 1.5 Mbps service, at 7 AM on a weekday, looked like it would give me a 700MB Ubuntu ISO download in about 105 minutes, when I was not doing heavy browsing or otherwise taxing my machine, for an average of about 6.7MB per minute, or about 110KB per second. I say it "looked like" it would do that, because in fact it did not complete the job. After a half-dozen abortive tries, I gave up and went over to the university with its very fast connection, where I downloaded the same ISO in about five minutes.) The representative didn't tell me that I could get the $50 modem or $80 gateway for free if I ordered Pro or Elite service online. I would have done my shopping online, but unfortunately I could not go online -- not at home, anyway. At this writing, I was thinking I probably should call AT&T and suggest that their introductory recording should notify callers that they will get a better deal by ordering online -- which I would have done, at a public computer if necessary. When I called to follow up on my order, the automated voice system for DSL service (877-722-3755) told me that my service was to be installed by 8 PM. But 8 PM came and went and there were no fireworks, no bells ringing, no amazing flashing lights on the Internet switch that I had been using to connect two computers to the single incoming line in my previous Ethernet-wired building. I called their voice response system again and got the same recording as before. This time, I insisted on speaking to someone, and that got me through to a nice woman -- in India, I guessed, from her accent. She walked me through the process. This was necessary because the installation CD that came via UPS with my new Motorola gateway modem was strongly convinced that I did not have an Ethernet adapter in my computer, and I was not able to persuade it otherwise. The installation CD balked and would go no further, so I carefully placed it into that special zone that I reserve for CDs that disagree with me. I didn't take good notes while talking to the lady, so you'll probably have to call her for yourself, if you want to relive my own experience in that tech support call. One thing that happened was that she steered me to a webpage that asked all kinds of goofy verification questions (e.g., what was the color of my third least favorite cat -- to exaggerate slightly), and eventually I finished the registration experience and had my own AT&T e-mail account and login page (att.yahoo.com), as well as the address of a page for further tech support (helpme.att.net). Everything was good, and I was up and running. Next day, however, when I turned on the computer, I found that neither Internet Explorer nor Firefox would connect to any webpages. I called back to the 800 number (or, I guess, the 877 number) and was privileged to work with another Indian person, although this one was male and not nearly as nice or communicative as the young lady who had kindly assisted me the previous evening. He was OK, and we did OK; I just didn't find that he was really having his best day. He kept referring to screens and options that did not exist until I worked out for myself what he was trying to say. What emerged from that conversation was that AT&T DSL was incompatible with the ZoneAlarm firewall unless I cared to figure out, on my own, how to configure Zone Alarm so that it would be compatible. The man did not know why I was able to browse without any problem on the previous evening. But my tinkering did verify that, specifically, I could browse online only if (a) I right-clicked on the ZoneAlarm icon in the Windows XP system tray and selected the "Shutdown ZoneAlarm" option or (b) I opened up the ZoneAlarm Control Center and, within the Firewall tab, set Internet Security to medium rather than high. I was not entirely comfortable with the medium setting because ZoneAlarm said that this meant my computer would be visible to hackers. I preferred the "stealth" posture afforded by the high security setting. To achieve high security, I tried going into ZoneAlarm's Firewall > Zones option, where I added my modem's IP address. I wouldn't have known what this was, but the somewhat nice Indian gentlemen had let slip that 192.168.1.254 was the IP address of my modem, and later I noticed it was actually printed on a sticker on the back of the modem. (That number is apparently the default for a lot of modems.) So that's the IP address that I typed into the ZoneAlarm IP Address box on the Zones tab. But apparently that's wasn't good enough, because I still wasn't able to browse until I went back to the Firewall > Main tab and set the sucker back to medium. (We're talking about the slider for the security level for ZoneAlarm's Internet Zone, not for its Trusted Zone.) I thought maybe someone else would have superior expertise in this area, so I tried a customized Google search. A posting by La Luna at Broadband Reports made me think that possibly I was having this problem because of some Microsoft updates I had just installed the previous evening, during my browsing. (Later, while waiting on hold with another tech support call to AT&T, I heard a recording that said Microsoft had indeed released an update that had the effect of restricting access for some Windows users. "Some" may have included me. But meanwhile, events continued to unfold, and ultimately appeared to render the point moot for the time being.) Having downloaded some but not all of the available updates on this new WinXP installation, I was thinking that more updates could be the solution for me. I saw, from Zone Alarm > Overview > Product Info, that I was using version 7.0.470.000. I downloaded the latest version of Zone Alarm, but was not sure what version that might be. The website wasn't saying and it wasn't in the filename. It seemed I would have to install the version to see what version it was. But we didn't get there. I started scouting around for others who might have insights of value. It looked like MistyEyes on the ZoneAlarm forum was having exactly the same problem. In response to his/her question, the advice from Oldsod was as follows:

Make sure your DNS and DHCP server IP's are in your Firewall's Trusted zone. Finding DNS and DCHP servers, etc.:
1. Go to Run type in command , hit 'ok', and type ipconfig /all then press enter. In the returned data list will be a line DNS and DHCP Servers with the IP address(s) listed out to the side. 2. In ZA on your machine on the Firewall>Zones tab click Add and then select IP Address. Make sure the Zone is set to Trusted. 3. Click OK and then Apply and see if that works to fix it. 4. The localhost (127.0.0.1) must be listed as Trusted. 5. The Generic Host Process (svchost.exe) must have server rights for the Trusted Zone. Plus it must have both Trusted and Internet Access. http://zonealarm.donhoover.net/dnsdhcp.html
But I didn't get to that point either, because now my virus scanner informed me that, after a mere two hours of screwing around online, I had already contracted a Trojan virus. That gave me pause. I had been computing for two years without a virus. Now, in a couple of hours, I had one, apparently because I had lowered my firewall because the AT&T DSL modem wouldn't work otherwise. Further scouting around online led to the understanding that people who use cable or DSL modems are advised to use both hardware and software firewalls. ZoneAlarm would be an example of a software firewall. I wasn't sure if a purchased copy of ZoneAlarm (I was using the free download version) would get along better with my DSL modem; some posts online made me think that it might not make any difference. It seemed that the reason I had had no viruses during the previous year, at least, was that my roommate had been using a wireless router and this had served as a hardware firewall. So if I wasn't going to be computing in a place (e.g., a corporate office or university) where they had a dedicated tech support staff and equipment to trim out the riffraff, and if I wasn't going to have a roommate with a wireless router, it appeared that I would have to buy one for myself. I priced one at Newegg for about $55 with shipping. I was just about to buy that router, and then I paused to think. We were talking about a router for $55, plus a delay of maybe five days (including a weekend) before Newegg would have it to me; and then the possibility that I would have to buy a more professional software firewall or other security program. I also discovered, along about this time, that my existing Symantec Antivirus was not even detecting the Trojan, and that the other freebie program that detected it was not going to remove it unless I bought a copy of their full program. (I might have suspected that they were just inventing the virus in order to persuade me to buy their product, but I had been using the freebie version for a year or more without any virus alarms until now.) So $55 for the router, maybe $40 or more for the security program, and downtime for the merchandise delivery. And the prospect of future downtime if it turned out that I still didn't have the virus formula quite right, and got another one. Plus the risk of lost files or information. It was enough to provoke some serious thinking. The computer on which I was trying to install the DSL modem, and was having all these hassles, was the second of my two computers. Some time previously, I had worked through the issues involved with getting a KVM switch, so that I could use one Keyboard, Video screen, and Mouse (KVM) for both computers. I had also been thinking, for quite some time, about installing Ubuntu Linux, but had previously decided that it was not quite ready for prime time. Now, however, as I saw that Linux continued to have a reputation of being relatively free of viruses and spyware, and as I reflected on how it had felt to worry that a hacker might be able to get his/her hands on my private data (having also read that financial motives are behind much of the hacking that takes place nowadays), it seemed to me that I could try this DSL thing again with Ubuntu. If that worked, I would not have to buy the router and all that Windows-oriented firewall software etc. -- at least not yet. So now the scenario was that, quite possibly, I would have only one of my two computers connected to the Internet. This would be an Ubuntu computer, my second (i.e., backup) computer. If I needed to look up something or download something, I would do that on the second machine. The main machine would still be a Windows XP machine; it just wouldn't have Internet privileges anymore -- or at least not until I invested in the router etc., or until I moved the computer to a different place with a safer Internet connection. To try this idea, the main challenge was to get the alternate computer set up with Ubuntu. I had a spare hard drive lying around, a small old one, but Linux doesn't generally take much space, so that was good enough. I unplugged the Windows drive (and just left it sit in the computer) and plugged in, instead, this other old drive. I used the downloaded Ubuntu ISO to burn a CD, and I used the CD to install Ubuntu on the old, spare drive. Installation was painless. It was really quite easy. Ubuntu 08.04 (meaning the April 2008 version) had continued to improve over its predecessors. The harder part was getting connected to the Internet. A very nice lady at AT&T tech support in India tried to help me, but really had no idea what I needed to do, and she said it would be a fee-based service if I wanted one of their Linux-trained techies to walk me through an installation. Reserving that option, I tried calling a tech support guy at the university. He was a little bit amused, but he also did seem to have some familiarity with Ubuntu or at least with Linux generally, and between the two of us, we were able to figure it out. Again, I did not take precise notes, but the following is a reconstruction of what I think we did. First, at the top right-hand corner of the default, unmodified Ubuntu screen, I left-clicked on the monitor-like icon whose yellow tooltip pop-up says "Manual network configuration." That gave me exactly one option, "Manual configuration." Being the kind of person who is very practical when there is no alternative, I selected that option. This took me to a Network Settings dialog with four tabs, of which I would need only the default Connections tab. There, I had two options, both of which were greyed out. Down at the bottom right corner, I chose the Unlock button, and that wiped away the grey. Now I chose Wired Connection, clicked on Properties, unselected Enable Roaming Mode, and chose Automatic Configuration (DHCP). I then clicked OK and Close. Then I went back to Firefox, which comes pre-installed with Ubuntu. I cleaned out the Address bar and typed in just the IP address of my modem again, with nothing else -- the same 192.168.1.254 number as above -- and hit Enter. That gave me a confirmation screen that I had seen the previous evening, when the Windows setup had been working OK with DSL. The tech support guy suggested I try a regular webpage, so I tried CNN.com. It worked! It was really that simple. I am typing the final paragraphs of this message on Firefox in Ubuntu, less than a half-hour after making that tech support call. It remains to be seen what all I can or cannot do in Ubuntu now, but at least the preliminary plan is to keep it running as my Internet gateway, and pick up whatever other Linux knowledge that may come my way as I go along. So, see, let it not be said that I hesitate to take a risk on something new. It has been less than nine years since I first became a Linux newbie, and already I'm at the point of being able to use Ubuntu to go online. I know, it's like -- whoa, slow down -- but that's the naked truth of the matter.

3 comments:

Anonymous

You could use Windows, and you wouldn't have any of those issues. Oh, sorry, Windows is a dirty word to Linux guys.

raywood

I suspect Anonymous won't check back. But just in case: I've been using Windows since around 1994. That's why I'm becoming a Linux guy. If you've used Windows much, you know it has *many* issues.

Jason Givens

wow that first guy basically said windows is better than linux. well, all i have to say is "stupid is as stupid does" haha. and yes, windows is a dirty word, just like virus and spyware are dirty words. mr. ray woodcock, i just wanted to let you know that thanks to your advice, my internet is up and running. i will NEVER go back to windows after using Linux Ubuntu. i was on the phone with 3 different tech people yesterday before someone finally informed me that they're not up to date enough to be compatible with Linux. nevertheless, i did exactly as you instructed and hocus pocus, like magic, working perfectly now. i absolutely cannot thank you enough for your informative website!!!!