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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Microsoft Patch Management for Home Users

With easy access to Broadband and DSL the number of people using the Internet has skyrocket in recent years. Email, instant messaging and file sharing with other Internet users has also provided a platform for faster spreading of viruses, Trojans and Spyware. Being on the Internet without proper protection is like walking in the rain with no umbrella - you're gonna get wet no matter how fast you run.

With so many computers installed in home offices it becomes critical that home users install the latest Microsoft patches when they become available. Older operating systems like Windows 98, Windows Millennium, Windows 2000, or Windows XP prior to Service Pack require the user to initiate the process of checking for security patches. Windows XP Service Pack 2 has changed this and the default settings are now notifying the user of available updates automatically. This has increased the level of security in some areas, but there is a very large number of users and computers that do not install security patches or hot fixes provided by Microsoft.

How should home users actually handle the task of patching their computers? As businesses home users should do some research about the patches that are being installed. Just installing them and walking away will work for a while, but sooner or later home users will run into an issue that a patch breaks something and eventually renders the system useless. So, what should home users do when new Microsoft patches become available? First of all - patches are usually released the second Tuesday of every month. Often these events are commented in the news and other media. Users should also signup for email alerts or MSN Messenger alerts at Microsoft's security website at to be aware about updates.

Once patches are available Microsoft recommends installing them immediately. Depending on the confidence level of the user this should be done fairly soon after the patch release. If a user has several systems available it is recommended to test the patches on the least critical system first before updating all machines. Only one machine at a time is recommended to keep track of things and to be able to fix problems. In Windows XP it is also recommended to create a restore point first so that the system can revert back to the existing state before patching. Home users should closely follow the media about virus outbreaks and updates. Waiting a few days with patching a machine can make sense if some critical work is done on the computer an important deadline needs to be kept. Nothing is more annoying than having to fight computer problems with limited time at hand. Speaking of time - never install patches without having enough time at hand. Users should allocate 60 minutes of time just in case. If something goes wrong time pressure is the last thing you want to face when troubleshooting a machine that is down.

What’s with all this fraud and theft on the Internet?

My friends in the web hosting business have recently informed me that the big problem this year (2004) is security and fraud. I have read that currently the F.B.I. receives over 9,000 complaints per month pertaining to bogus email and websites. Why is this happening? Are just a few ‘bad apples’ doing it, or is it the result of a lopsided world economy where the underprivileged are finally striking back like the infamous Robin Hood? Whatever your moral view, I’ve got the strange feeling it stems from a growing unconscious greed in the social consciousness of modern society. People worship money, not spirituality or love. Am I wrong?

Technically, the main problems at the moment are ‘phishing’ or ‘spoofing’ scams. This is where the use of Spam or junk-email is used to lure computer users to look-alike websites where they are deceived into giving out personal information and financial data. Often these emails are coming from trusted sources where hackers have altered links to send you straight into their ‘pockets’. The Internet user is duped into thinking that they are visiting a trusted website page, when actually it is an excellent copy of the original. There might be only one tiny change in the web address that is often not easily recognizable.

Identity theft is where multiple tricks are employed to make you fill out fake forms on fake sites to get all sorts of information that can then be used by thieves to steal money or get free Internet access. Anything from credit card numbers to account information, passwords, billing data and personal phone numbers and addresses have been stolen and used for criminal purposes.

These tricksters, few or many, are wizards at finding loopholes in mail systems of legitimate sites. Just go to the site entitled and read some articles about a few of the more famous scams that have been busted or that are still in circulation. There’s a story about a 17-year-old boy who was arrested with over a million dollars in misappropriated funds hidden in a Costa Rican casino account! Smart kid, but how smart is he really if he got caught? On the site above there are also tips for consumers generally focusing on how not to give your information away to anyone at any time. Check them out.

It worries me a little, this huge amount of illegal activity. I know that a lot of people feel that currently the world is very imbalanced in terms of wealth and spirituality and that this new epidemic is just a karmic reaction of the oppressed masses. The United States earns 50 percent of the world’s economy, of course some of the other 95% of Earth’s population is going to be keen for a piece of the pie, right? Steal from the rich and feed the poor like that guy in the green tights.

The funny thing is I think that a lot of these thieves are living in America and unbeknownst to themselves be already part of the top 5% of wealthy humans. The problem is that they always want more. Money can become addictive in a consumerist society whose advertising and marketing schemes are constantly bombarding us with stimulus relating to the next new product that we ‘need’ in our lives. We are never satisfied with what we’ve got. The next purchase’s momentary injection of adrenalin becomes more of an imperative than any concept of lasting spiritual happiness.

Feel sorry for these people that have to go through all the rigmarole of sorting all these frauds from the real sites out there. I doubt there is a religion on Earth that teaches that theft is a balanced respectful action. I do know that when the country of Australia was founded it was done so on the backs of convicts, many of who had only stolen bread to survive. That’s a kind of theft that will question your moral value system. I’ll leave you with one last question: If the ‘first world’ has nearly all the money on our planet, are we the biggest thieves of all?

How To Choose A Good Web Host (When They All Look Alike)

Choosing a web host is never easy. There are just so many unknowns when it comes to finding a host. It's hardly ever possible to walk into a web host's office, look around, meet the owners, and get a feel for whether or not you'd like to do business with these people.

It's important, though, that you bend over backwards to establish whether your prospective web host is a credible provider - or a fly by night artist.

The webmaster industry is awash with horror stories about signing up with a web hosting company, onlty to find out later that this 'business' is run by a 14 year old who lives at home.

For the most part, you'll make your decision using whatever information you can find online.

Start out with the website of the web host you are considering.

Is it professionally designed and written? Typo's and spelling errors may signal that this is a company ran by kids or amateurs.

Is the website easy to use? Is it designed with a view towards helping people? Are help materials available online? This should give you a flavor for whether the company is client oriented.

Where is the company located? Is there an address? Can you email them?

Look at the Terms of Service. Does your prospective web host clearly spell out what may be expected of them and what is expected of you? Every deal is different, but both parties should clearly know what the deal is.

Next, do a search for the company on Google. Are you finding any negative statements? Try different searching techniques, like typing the company name followed by the word "scam", or by the words "poor support".

Now, try emailing their customer support department. Do you get a fast reply? What about their sales department? Do they answer enquiries quickly? Let's face it...if they won't pay any attention to you when they're trying to get your business, how much more will you be neglected after you sign up?

If you follow these simple suggestions, your chances of signing up with an excellent web host increase substantially.

The 10 Most Important Questions To Ask Your Web Host NOW!

So, you’re looking to build a web site or so fed up with your current web host that you are desperate to transfer your site elsewhere? You may not even be aware of your current host’s vulnerabilities in an industry where each week there is news about a host going down for one reason or another. Your first problem is narrowing the thousands of choices down to a few that you can research further. Seek friends or associates that have a web site and ask for their advice. Visit one of the many forums about web hosting, ask the members for advice or search threads from those that have asked before you. Once you’ve located a few hosts to research, the ten questions below will take you a long way towards making an informed decision. You may be able to find many of the answers to these questions on the hosts’ web sites, but always feel free to call the host and quiz them about their operations. The quality of the answers and degree of professionalism you get from a potential host often transfers to the type of support you’ll receive once you become a customer. Without further ado, the ten question to ask your web host:

1. How long has the web host been in business?
2. Does the web host own its data center?
3. How many upstream Internet providers does the web host have?
4. Does the web host monitor its customers’ sites twenty-four hours per day? How?
5. Does the web host provide 24/7/365 phone and email support?
6. What levels of redundancy does the web host’s architecture provide?
7. Does the web host automatically backup customer web sites in case of data loss? How often?
8. What is the web host’s billing policy?
9. Does the web host provide the features that you need for your web site?
10. Does the web host have the products and services to handle your growth?

1. How long has the web host been in business?
The length of time that a host has been in business can be related to their ability to provide a quality, reliable product. If your host can satisfy its customers, then those customers are likely to stick with the host’s service. Therefore, stay in business. There are, of course, situations where this is not applicable or becomes a bit hazy. Be sure to also inquire about whether a host has recently been involved in a merger, acquired what was once a well-known brand name, or launched a new brand. If any of these apply, then delve deeper into the story behind what has happened and determine whether quality resources are still with the company.
• Complete a domain name “whois” lookup on the web host: Type in the web host’s domain name and determine what year the domain was registered. If only registered in the recent past, ask the host about it. If the domain name was recently registered this is not necessarily a red flag. Simply inquire with the host about it. They may have recently launched an affinity-based brand to cater to your market.
• Type the host’s name into a search engine and check out the results that you get, other than those from the host itself. You may run across reviews, interviews, or industry articles about the host.

2. Does the web host own its data center?
A data center is the foundation from which all products and services are built upon. If your host owns its own data center, then they are likely quite entrenched in the hosting business. They also have an experienced staff and knowledge base from which to draw from when supporting your web site and building new products. In other words, if a host owns its own facility, then it controls more of the variables that can make or break your web presence.

3. How many upstream Internet providers does the web host have?
Your web site performance is not just a measure of your web server's speed. The ability of your web host to route traffic through the cleanest Internet connections is also of great importance. It is crucial that your provider have multiple connections to the Internet. Accidental fiber cuts in construction or telecom work and data center equipment failure can cause your site to go offline for an extended amount of time. This can be avoided if your web host has other connections to the Internet that will reroute traffic that would have normally been carried on the failed circuit. Yes, this means your host must also have extra capacity on hand to handle normal traffic levels when one connection is lost; which is another area where a host can attempt to cut cost. This is much like when driving your car, there are several streets that you can take to get to your desired destination. Sometimes you will encounter construction or an accident that will require you to take an alternative street. Well, the Internet works the same way. There are several routes that traffic can take to a destination. Your host should be able to choose the cleanest, or most efficient, route to your web site visitor. In fact, your host should be able to continually tune these routes to find the best path to your visitors. Another way to achieve this is by minimizing the number of different networks traffic will pass through before reaching its destination. It is extremely important for your host to have direct connections to networks that have lots of eyeballs. In other words, your web site will be served better if your web host is using connections with networks that facilitate Internet access to large volumes of subscribers.

4. Does the web host monitor its customers’ sites twenty-four hours per day? How?
There are a couple of factors that can influence the answer to this question. Does the host own its own data center? If not, then they are physically removed from their servers and likely paying a co-location company to provide monitoring for them. When another company controls the environmental systems that provide the home for the host, one can argue that you’ve created another potential point of failure; that being the communication of an issue from the data center to the web host. That point of failure can increase the latency between an issue and its resolution, resulting in increased downtime for your web site. Second, if your web host has an issue with its own infrastructure, then there may be travel time associated with their engineers getting to the data center to resolve it or, once again, increased latency by trying to remotely resolve an issue.

5. Does the web host provide 24/7/365 toll free phone and email support?
You might be surprised at how many web hosts don’t provide 24/7/365 support. The industry’s hosts run the gamut from only email support to providing phone and email support 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. The best way to eliminate not having support when you need it, is to choose a host that can assist you whenever you need it. When an idea wakes you from a slumber at 3 A.M., it’s nice to have your host on the other end of the phone to discuss it. When your site malfunctions due to a programming glitch the night before your store is to open, it’s wonderful to have your web host on the phone to decipher the issue with you. When your cat accidentally deletes some important files, know that your host is there to help recover them. Also make sure that your host is providing support over the major holidays. Many web hosts will close their support center, decrease their support to only email, or send their support team home with a pager to be called in case of emergency. All of these decreases can create latency if your web site goes offline. And, holidays are often days which persons will spend time on the Internet after they’ve completed all of their social plans. Matter of fact, word-of-mouth business is one of the most effective means to customer acquisition. When people get together, they exchange ideas.

6. What levels of redundancy does the web host provide?
Failures that cause your site to lose connection can happen. Therefore, it's crucial to find a provider whose hosting architecture provides the least-risk of failure. Redundancy is necessary. Single points of failure are very bad, but many hosts attempt to cut costs by risking single points of failure. Ask your web host about their redundancy in server architecture (web, email, and DNS servers), load-balancing, and file storage.
A web server is the hardware and software combination that serves requested web pages, files, or other information. Servers answer requests from web browsers to provide information from web sites, email, and databases. They then send that information to the requesting browser. Load balancing divides the amount of work that a server has to do between multiple servers, which also adds redundancy, so that more work gets done in the same amount of time and, in general, all web sites requests within the network get served faster. The load balancers stay in constant contact with the servers to determine how busy they are and/or if one of them has failed. It may sound like a no-brainer, but having your site connected to the Internet is the whole reason for having a web site and a load-balanced, redundant network is vital to that endeavor.

Has your email server ever been down? Redundancy is also vital for email and DNS servers. A Domain Name System (DNS) server translates requests to locate a web site. As you can imagine, keeping email and DNS servers online is a mission-critical task for a web host. For file storage, seek a host that uses a reliable storage solution with multiple auto-fail over and hot-swappable drives to ensure continuous delivery of your web site.

7. Does the web host automatically backup customer web sites in case of data loss? How often?
Backing up web sites should be a routine part of your web host’s operation. Backup is the activity of copying files or databases so that they will be preserved in case of equipment failure or any other catastrophe.

8. What is the web host’s billing policy?
Look for a web host that provides a money-back guarantee. This will allow you to try out the host’s service. Should you find that the service is sub-par in site performance, reliability, or lacking the features that you seek, the ability to request your money back, within the parameters of the guarantee, is priceless and liable to save you from later trouble. It is always a good to idea to inquire about the web host’s cancellation procedures. There are many out there who require you to send them an email or make a phone call to cancel, which can extend the time frame to cancellation. A host who is confident in their service will have a cancellation form or online avenue within their control panel. Now, they will likely also have a retention program, so don’t be surprised when they call or email you to ask why you are leaving. After all, your feedback helps them to evaluate their service.

9. Does the web host provide the features that you need for your web site?
Sometimes people choose a host because it has the exact feature set that they need, but later find that feature set means nothing when access to those features is unreliable. Make sure that a host has your desired features and is also reliable. To make sure that the host you are evaluating has everything you need, use the following list:
• A domain name, but be sure to look for hidden registration fees or renewal fees
• An ample amount of versatile email accounts including web-based, POP3, and IMAP
• Email spam filtering and virus protection are a must these days, unless you are providing this on your own
• Enough disk space to meet your site’s needs
• Monthly bandwidth allotments that will cover your traffic and the ability to increase that allotment based on your site’s success
• Site building tools such as extensions for FrontPage or other online/downloadable site building programs
• Ease of upload to your site via FTP or other means
• Access to a robust traffic analysis program or the raw logs for you to process yourself
• Programming languages, including CGI, PHP, MIVA (if needed)
• Ecommerce shopping cart alternatives
• Database capability, dependant upon your application preference

10. Does the web host have the products and services to handle your growth?
You might be surprised how many sites that once started for fun or as a hobby have grown into some of the most popular sites on the Internet. Hence, you never know when you’ll outgrow your current product or service and need to move up the ladder to the next rung. Make sure that your web host can meet your anticipated growth, not only within the product range of shared hosting, but should you ever need a dedicated server or co-location solution, your host is there to discuss and provide the best solution.

Do your homework by using the above questions as a template and you will likely save yourself some major headaches down the road. If you’ve gathered information about multiple hosts, you can now compare apples to apples and decide on the best host for your needs. Hopefully, the work that you’ve done will avoid forcing you to use your gut, but rather make an informed decision based on the facts. Perhaps, the best piece advice that you will find in any article or forum about choosing a host is, if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Steps to becoming a web host reseller

You’ve decided to get a reseller web hosting account to resell web space. What now? Here’s a step-by-step guide.

1. Choose the platform you want to use.

More open source software programs are available for Linux than for Windows, which makes Linux less expensive. While most programs (Perl, PHP, Flash, etc.) run on both platforms, a few run on only Windows or Linux. A site that requires ASP or MS Access, for example, requires a Windows platform.

2. Choose the control panel you want to use.

Control panels for websites range from very basic to loaded with features. As a reseller, you’ll also have a control panel for you to set up and control hosting accounts.

In Choosing Your Hosting Automation Software, we compare several control panels, all of which offer good features for web host resellers.

3. Choose your web host.

The web host company that you choose for your reseller account is a key decision — your business success depends on the quality of your host. Factors to consider when choosing a web host for a reseller account:

The platform and control panel

Account features

The company’s reputation — search for online reviews by clients

The record of server uptime

The level of support — how fast does tech support respond to support requests, especially time-sensitive ones?

Flexibility — does the web host have packages that allow you to upgrade when your needs increase? Will they customize plans if necessary?

How long the web host has been in business — while a new web host may be very good, many web hosting businesses fail within the first year

Price — consider what is included in the price

Get Started with reseller hosting.

4. Set up your hosting plans and prices

Divide your bandwidth by your disk space to find out the ratio of bandwidth to disk space that you can offer. Take into account any ratios that differ if you upgrade to a larger package, and then base your packages on that ratio.

For pricing, consider what competitors charge, but also factor in any additional services you’ll be offering.

5. Develop a business website

You have three main choices for website development:

Create a website using an existing website template

Hire a designer or a design company to design your site for you

If you have web design skills, design your site yourself

Include all the information that clients will want to know about your services and company.

6. Make your site e-commerce ready

To be able to accept payments for hosting accounts, you’ll to set up:

An SSL certificate

A merchant account

A payment gateway

7. Set up a helpdesk

A helpdesk allows clients to contact you with support requests and you to track and respond to those requests.

8. Set up billing

With an automated billing system, clients are billed and payments are registered with little effort on your part. Most billing software licenses are priced per month or per year, with some billing software companies offering prices for lifetime licenses.

Some popular billing and payment processing systems:





When you choose a billing software program, check if it’s compatible with your server platform and if support is included.

9. Create a welcome email

After you set up hosting accounts for your clients, you’ll need to send them a welcome email. Include in this email:

A confirmation of the plan details

The nameserver names

A username and temporary password

A link to the control panel

Links to your knowledge base / FAQ and to your helpdesk

10. Market your website

Submit your site to search engines. Tell your family, friends, and business acquaintances about your website. Include a link to it in your signature line in outgoing emails. But don’t stop there — market your website via incoming links, advertising, newsletters, and special offers.

Elements of Web Hosting

When you first start out trying to get a site on the Internet everything seems so confusing. Obtuse acronyms flow freely through the 'Beginner Friendly' information sites and definitions can be hard to come across. The main reason for this is that the Internet and the process of getting a website online is really very simple, and once people get past the first stumbling steps they rarely remember the difficulty they once had, which leads to them being unable to understand the next wave of dot com newbies.

So let's begin with defining some of the basic terms that are commonly thrown around when looking for a web host. You'll quickly realize that computer geeks like using big words for simple concepts. What do you expect from a group of people that decided to call half a Byte a Nibble?

Web Host: These are the people that supply your website with somewhere to sit and be accessed from. They're often a wealth of information, so when you're trying to find your feet it will often be worthwhile to contact their tech support and get your questions answered. Because of this, it's important to contact them BEFORE you sign up for any packages to ensure that you'll receive a timely response. Just fire an email their way and see what happens.

Disk Space: This is the same as the space on your own PC's hard drive. Web Hosts will allocate a certain amount of space to your website, usually in Megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB). This determines how much you can store on your site.

Bandwidth: Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be retrieved from your site within the bandwidth period. The bandwidth period is the length of time before your bandwidth gets reset once again, usually about a month. Bandwidth is measured in MB and GB, like disk space. Always find out the consequences of exceeding your allocated bandwidth before you purchase a hosting package.

Domain Name: The domain name is your personal identifier on the Internet. This is what gets typed into a web browser's address bar to reach your site. Some hosting companies will offer a domain for free, while others will have the facilities to provide one for a minimal cost.

SQL (MySQL, SQL Server etc.): Structured Query Language. This is the language used to interact with databases. Chances are that if you don't know about it when you start looking for web hosting, you're not going to need to know about it for at least a little while longer.

HTTP: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. Basically, how the Internet works. It is the protocol governing the transfer of web pages from one place to another.

HTML: Hyper Text Markup Language. This is (usually) what you'll be using to make your website, whether directly or indirectly. Don't be scared by the name, the 'language' is very easy to learn.

FTP: File Transfer Protocol. This is a method for sending pages and files from your home PC to a server. It is quite simple to use and your host will provide login information if this is the method that they use for file access. Typing "FTP://[server details]" into My Computer on a windows box allows you to use FTP as if your server were a regular windows folder.

POP3: This is a common email 'post box' system. It is use to store emails for retrieval.

SMTP: Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. A common protocol used to send emails.

The beginner will not really need to know too much about the above two email technologies. If they're listed, good. It means you have email accounts with your website (i.e. the email will reach you, somehow)

There are many 'languages' used to enhance websites, such as Java, Perl, ASP, .NET, PHP, etc. If you're just starting out you should try to learn simple HTML first before you worry too much about these more advanced languages. In general they're not too difficult to learn, but you'll want a solid grounding before you tackle them.

The Internet is a wonderful source of knowledge, so whenever you want information just fire up your favourite search engine and type in your problem. The Internet is full of sites about the Internet, so the information you want shouldn't be too hard to find.

Building professional websites takes a lot of time and skill, so many companies hire people to do it for them. If this is the situation that you're in, talk to the designer you're hiring about hosting, as they may have struck a deal with a webhost to provide clients with cheaper hosting packages. Also, the professional designer will know what features you're going to need in a hosting plan.

The world of web hosting is not as complicated as people would like to make out. Just make sure you do a little bit of research before diving in and you'll be less likely to get burned by a shifty 'here today, gone tomorrow' company. Check out the host's rankings on a few Web Hosting Directories, do a search for reviews of the company, contact the support staff before signing up and enjoy the world opened by having your own online presence.