04.3–Understanding the Internet to safely surf the Web-2015-04-15

Many people use the Internet daily but few understand what it is and what happens when they click the “Enter” key. This article presents, in non-technical terms, what the Internet is so that you can understand what goes on when you navigate the Web, where the weak points you should care about are and what steps you should take to protect yourself. Therefore, after reading this article, you should understand the Internet key components and what to do to use the Internet safely and productively.

The key Internet components are: the Internet infrastructure, Internet Access Providers, Internet Services and Applications Providers, servers, modems, routers, browsers …

The Internet Network and the World Wide Web (the “Web”)

Below you will find a simplified diagram that presents the major components of the Internet and the World Wide Web. From our point of view, they are:

  1. The End-User Environment – What an End-User needs to safely and productively communicate over the Internet and surf the Web.
  2. The Internet Access Providers – Services Providers that link the End-Users to their Internet Infrastructure to allow them to surf the Web.
  3. The Internet Infrastructure – The Internet Infrastructure provides Internet communications throughout the world.
  4. The Internet Services and Applications Providers – Businesses that offer valuable Internet services and Apps, for free or at a fee, to End-Users connected to the Internet. 

NOTE: Please consult the diagram below that graphically represents the major components we will refer to throughout this article.

Internet-Engl

DEFINITIONS

Before we introduce our simplified definitions of what the Internet and the Web are, let’s present the scientific definitions found in the Wikipedia dictionary to get the full picture.

What is the Internet?

Wikipedia dictionary: “The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link several billion devices worldwide. It is a network of networks[1] that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies. The Internet carries an extensive range of information resources and services, such as the inter-linked hypertext documents and applications of the World Wide Web (WWW), the infrastructure to support email, and peer-to-peer networks for file sharing and telephony.”

Our simplistic definition: the Internet is a very large communication COMMUTATION (switching) network that direct each communication to its proper destination. So, when you transmit a communication over the Internet, this network routes it to its destination.

A simple analogy: the telephone

The simplest analogy to understand the Internet is the telephone. When you make a phone call, you dial a UNIQUE phone number to reach someone. The telephone infrastructure uses this unique phone number to ring the proper phone and establishes communication with the person that has this unique phone number. Once answered, it maintains the communications between these entities until someone hangs up. We can therefore say that the telephone is a big communication SWITCHING network similar to our definition of the Internet. The Internet operates basically the same way.

The World Wide Web (www.) often referred to as the “Web”

Wikipedia dictionary: “The World Wide Web (www.) is an information system of interlinked hypertext documents that are accessed via the Internet. It has also commonly become known simply as the Web. Individual document pages on the World Wide Web are called web pages and are accessed with a software application running on the user’s computer, commonly called a web browser. Web pages may contain text, images, videos, and other multimedia components, as well as web navigation features consisting of hyperlinks.”

Our simplistic definition: the Web is an application of the Internet that provides quick and  easy access to documents stored wherever on Internet servers (See definition below). 

Henceforth in this article, when we use the term Internet we include in this expression the Web and the other applications of the Internet that allow us to find the desired information on the Internet. 

What is a server?

Wikipedia dictionary: “A server is a running instance of an application (software) capable of accepting requests from the client and giving responses accordingly. Servers can run on any computer including dedicated computers, which individually are also often referred to as “the server”. 

Servers operate within a client-server architecture. Servers are computer programs running to serve the requests of other programs, the clients. Thus, the server performs some tasks on behalf of clients. It facilitates the clients to share data, information or any hardware and software resources. The clients typically connect to the server through the network but may run the same computer. In the context of Internet Protocol (IP) networking, a server is a program that operates as a socket listener.[1] 

Servers often provide essential services across a network, either to private users inside a large organization or to public users via the Internet. Typical computing servers are database server, file server, mail server, print server, web server, gaming server, and application server.[2]”

Our simplistic definition: an Internet Server is typically an application running on an Internet Services Provider hardware to address an Internet user request. Basically, when an Internet user sends a request for something over the Internet, a server somewhere will address this request and reply to the end user.

Companies all over the world offer an unlimited quantity and variety of Internet services and applications, free or at a fee, to gain the end user business. Since, many of these companies monitor and sell end users’ Internet activity, in addition to selling advertisement, most of their valuable services and Apps are offered free. Prime examples of such companies are: Google, Facebook, Twitter … 

The End-User environment

To access the Internet you need a user device (PC, tablet, smartphone,…) and an Internet connection. There are different types of Internet connections:

  1. Using a traditional wired (cable, telephone line or fiber optic) Internet Access Provider (IAP) such as Comcast in the USA, Vidéotron in eastern Canada, Orange in Europe,…
  2. Using a wireless Internet Access Provider (IAP) such as T-Mobile data services in the USA, Rogers data services in Canada, Orange data services in Europe,…
  3. Connecting to a Wi-Fi network available in different locations.

Using a traditional wired Internet Access Provider (IAP) you will need a modem (generally supplied by the IAP) and a router that you generally purchase.

NOTE: the IAP wired connection plugs into the modem. The router is connected to the modem via an Ethernet cable. The users devices (PC, tablet and/or smartphone) connect to the router via Ethernet cables or Wi-Fi.

  1. The modem converts the IAP wire signal into an internet protocol, so that your PC, tablet or smartphone can use it.
  2. The router provides various additional services including:
    1. Provide a protected private network to your household, limiting Internet access to the individuals to whom you have provided your router Internet access password.
    2. Provide personal Wi-Fi access to authorized household occupants.
    3. Provide security and limit access to your Internet services only to the persons that know your Internet access password.
    4. Provide a firewall to block unwanted access to your private network.

Once you modem and router have been properly installed and configured to protect you from unwanted accesses you are ready to safely use the Internet. 

NOTE: proper installation and configuration of your modem and router is paramount to protect your household from unwanted accesses that could expose users info while working on the Internet. If you are not familiar in installing and configuring such devices, please use the services of a specialist to satisfy yourself that your Internet communications are not exposed to unwanted threats. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Once you are assured that it is properly installed you can rest in peace knowing that you are not opened to unwanted threats. 

Once your Internet access to your Internet Access Provider (IAP) is properly configured, you can use your Internet enabled devices (PC, tablet, smartphone,…) to access the Internet. Each of your devices also needs to be properly configured and have anti viruses and others security Apps to safely surf the Internet. You can find valuable information on these topics at: 15.1 – Implementing computer and mobile device security-2014-10-02 , 15.2 – Protecting your privacy -2014-10-02 , 15.3 – Implementing 1Password as your secure Password Magager-2015-02-28 and 11.6 – Installing & Configuring Windows 8.1-2013-12-15 .

NOTE: remember that YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE to ensure that the proper security measures required to safely surf the Internet have been implemented on each of your computing devices. Therefore, if you are not proficient with the above referenced measures, when you acquire a new device, have a specialist configure your device so that you feel safe using it over the Internet. This will assure you peace of mind and safe Internet surfing. 

Web Browser

A web browser is the basic software App that you need to surf the Web.

Wikipedia dictionary: “A web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web. An information resource is identified by a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI/URL) and may be a web page, image, video or other piece of content.[1] Hyperlinks present in resources enable users easily to navigate their browsers to related resources. 

Although browsers are primarily intended to use the World Wide Web, they can also be used to access information provided by web servers in private networks or files in file systems. 

The major web browsers are Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Opera, and Safari.[2][3][4]”

Choosing a Web Browser

Even though a default web browser comes pre-installed on each of your devices, it is a good idea to select the web browser that best suits your needs and is fast. Personally, I have found that the Google Chrome web browser is best suited to a multi devices (PC, tablet, smartphone …) and multi operating systems (Windows, Android, Chromebook …) environment. To learn more about Google Chrome, please read the following article: 07.4-Google’s recent Gmail, Contacts and Calendars updates offer unsurpassed functionality and ease of use for multi device users.-2015-04-02 .

Safely surfing the Internet

Once you feel confident that your own End-User Environment has been installed and configured properly and that the proper reasonable safety measures have been implemented, you can surf the Internet with confidence. Your End-User Environment will not expose you to outside threats.

The next type of potential exposure will come from the Web sites you visit. If you don’t want bad surprises, limit yourself to well recognized Web sites from reliable sources.

What to watch for

Over the centuries wicked individuals have always exploited human weaknesses to rip them off. They use the same tactics on the Internet. Any Web site that exploits human weaknesses is a potential threat: sites exploiting sex, sites offering easy ways to make money, gambling sites, and the like. The same applies to emails offering easy money. The same applies to social networks. When you receive offers from attractive people, that you don’t know, to become their friend, beware. Don’t kid yourself! Why would an attractive young person be attracted to an old fart like you?  NEVER FORGET: when it looks too good to be true, it’s generally not true! 

Password Security

The one thing that makes End-Users most vulnerable is the passwords they use. Please read What 10 million passwords reveal about the people who choose them and you will realize how human beings are predictable. Most people will realize that many of the passwords they use are also used by many people and therefore are well known to hackers. Please read article 15.3 – Implementing 1Password as your secure Password Magager-2015-02-28 that covers this topic very well.

You can surf the Internet with confidence

If you follow the above stated measures, you don’t have to be worry about surfing the Internet and conducting business involving money transfers and the like. Hackers don’t target you if you are careful. Ask yourself, why would they pick you over someone else? No reason, unless you are statically unlucky. It is the same type of statistics that apply to your chances of dying in a car or a plane crash. Are you going to stop traveling? The same type of reasoning should be applied to using the Internet. Your chances of being hacked are minimal. Most of the issues come from careless people. These same people that get into all other sorts of trouble. We all know such people. Remember, the Internet is safe for careful users! 

Internet Social Services

Internet Social Services regroup all the services that facilitate communications between different End-Users. Google offers a good number of such services including Gmail, Calendar, Google+… Plus you have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SMS & MMS and the like that facilitate inter personal exchanges.

One element all these services have in common is that they gather and maintain a lot of your personal information. The opportunity for people to share info, thoughts, experiences, photos and videos, and the like is very pleasant and addictive, but also opens you to potential threats. For example, posting that you are going on vacation away from home for a specific period of time is an open invitation to thieves. Your post may often expose your personal weaknesses that can easily be exploited by unscrupulous individuals. And so on…

Most of these services offer settings that can restrict access to your private info. But I have noticed that they are often not trivial to find. To help you configure such services to minimize your exposure, I suggest you use some specialized Apps such as AVG Privacy Fix. Please read article 15.2 – Protecting your privacy -2014-10-02 that covers this topic.

Cloud Services

One of the greatest new service offering over that past few years is Cloud Services. Using Cloud Services, an End-User can store the latest version of its files on the Cloud for easy access on which ever computing device he uses at any one time. Cloud Services are well covered in the following articles: 06.01–Cloud services: to only way to go!-2012-01/13 , 06.02 – Dropbox Folder Sharing – 2012-12-24 and 06.03 – Cloud services – Dropbox, SkyDrive and Google Drive – 2012-12-25. A reminder, Microsoft has renamed SkyDrive as OneDrive.

Conclusion

I hope you now have a better understanding of what the Internet is and how to safely take advantage of what it has to offer. For a majority of people, the Internet has become an integral part of their daily life: read their favorite electronic newspaper and lookup the daily weather, in the morning; search for information on whatever subject throughout the day; play games while waiting; send and receive SMS and/or emails throughout the day; download and watch movies or listen to music; … The possibilities are endless! By following the above recommendations you can safely enjoy all these benefits day in and day out well into the future.

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