Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not represented as fact|
First up let me say that until my last access provider decided to get out
of the dial-up business I was spoilt. I could stay online as long as
I liked, seldom ever being disconnected unexpectedly and always having
access to technically competent people who were extremely proactive about
sorting any problems that might occur.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
The switch to XTRA was therefor something of a shock.
First-up I found that the modem I had been using with perfect reliability
didn't seem to like whatever was on the other end of the 087303030 number.
It would connect -- but within a few minutes it would simply stop talking
and I'd have to hang up and redial -- then I'd get a few more minutes of
operation before having to hang up again.
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So I hauled out my US Robotics V-everything box and things got better -- although
I still have to hang up and redial occasionally when even it stops talking
to XTRA's gear.
And then there was that help desk.
Don't get me wrong -- I've got no gripes with the actual helpdesk staff --
they are but slaves to the system.
Being a helpdesk operator has to be one of the most thankless tasks on
the face of the planet.
Imagine spending all day talking to people who are bitching and moaning because
their computer or internet connection has gone wrong. There's no way you could
pay me enough to endure endless hours of walking idiots through checklists
in a polite and courteous way.
However, XTRA's helpdesk organisation ought to (and apparently is) being
reviewed slightly so as to better handle incidents such as the one I reported
This can only be a good thing. After all, one can only wonder at how many
people might have already gone out and bought a "better" modem to try and fix
problems falsely attributed to that universal catch-all: "line noise"?
So what was the cause of yesterday's problems?
Although details remain sketchy, it appears that a small block of IP addresses
belonging to XTRA were blocked from accessing the CNet/ZDNet servers. This
explains why the problem only affected some users and not others.
One has to ask why on earth CNet/ZDNet would do such a thing.
Could it have been that some XTRA-based script-kiddy was trying to nuke the
CNet/ZDNet servers and blocking that range of IP numbers was the easiest
way to eliminate the problem?
Sounds pretty feasible to me -- after all, I've completely given up reporting
script-kiddy activity since XTRA stopped accepting emailed security and spam
reports -- forcing people instead to jump through the hoops on
I'd say that XTRA is a script-kiddy's paradise right now, since most people
like myself who can tell the difference between real malevolent activity and
spurious noise, simply regard XTRA's reporting system as a cumbersome black
hole that is not worth bothering with.
How much do XTRA care about soliciting genuine security reports?
Well, despite their claims to the contrary, I'd have to say that they are
not in the least bit interested in such things -- in fact they're actively
working to discourage people from bothering them with such trivia.
Well, months after I wrote
this column, they still haven't updated
the form (screenshot as of
this morning) to indicate that the XTRA login name and password AREN'T
mandatory at all. One can't help but come to the conclusion that, since this
is a 5-minute fixup, they've chosen to leave this form "as-is" so as to
save the cost of actually receiving reports from other sites and network
Could it be that CNet/ZDNet emailed a report to email@example.com and were
directed to that page -- only to be told that they couldn't submit a complaint
unless they were an XTRA subscriber? Is it any wonder that they may have
decided that blocking part of the XTRA network might be the only available
solution to stop attacks on their servers?
In light of such speculation, I'd say that script kiddies may have found XTRA to
be a warm, welcoming (so long as you pay your $27 a month) place from which
to molest other parts of the Net.
And the result -- other, legitimate users (who also pay their $27 a month)
might well end up being blocked from accessing their favourite websites.
Come on XTRA -- get your act together!
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