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Should you lose much sleep over viruses on the Internet? Well, no, and yes. Your computer can't get a virus from using electronic mail or telnetting around to other computers. If you're just transferring text files, then you shouldn't worry; they're not going to reach out and "grab" your computer and do something to it. Well, actually, there have been cases where this has happened, but it's very rare. During the Christmas season several years ago, a seemingly innocuous text-art picture of a Christmas tree was mailed to unsuspecting users on an IBM network. When the picture, which contained special codes, was printed on the screen, it also took the opportunity to spread the cheer, duplicating and sending itself to the recipient's closest friends. (This type of activity can effectively grind a network to a halt.)

Even though it's happened in the past, you don't need to spend as much time worrying about viruses or worms in text files as you do in other types of files. In order to avoid catching "the gleep," a good general rule is to be wary of all public domain and shareware software (available via anonymous FTP, Gopher, and other tools). If you remember that you have to do a binary file transfer to get this software, then be aware that you're transferring something that could possibly carry a virus. To guard against problems, there are several things you should do. First, always keep backups (copies) of all your work. Second, to guard against viruses from the Internet and elsewhere, be sure that you have the best available virus-detection software installed on your computer. And keep it updated--new viruses appear all of the time.

Where there's a problem, a solution is usually near at hand, and security advice is readily available on the Internet. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), now officially referred to as the CERT Coordination Center, focuses on the security needs of the research community. Based at Carnegie-Mellon University, CERT has an anonymous FTP archive of security advisories, tips, tools, articles, suggested references, and so on. The computer name is Start by reading the CERT FAQ, available on the CERT archive as pub/cert_faq. There's also a LISTSERV called VIRUS-L, a moderated, digested mail forum for discussing computer virus issues. The USENET newsgroup comp.virus as the same postings as VIRUS-L, only in a slightly different, non-digested format. The VIRUS-L FAQ document answers questions on how to get the latest free/shareware antivirus programs. It's available on the CERT public archive in the directory pub/virus-l, filename FAQ.virus-l. See the "Security" section in the Appendix for the CERT contact information.


The Internet has spawned a number of organizations and interest groups over the years, with many different missions and purposes. Some are special interest groups; some are task groups responsible for certain aspects of the Internet. An organization that may be of interest, and that provides direction and information for the entire Internet, is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The Electronic Frontier Foundation's concerns extend beyond the networks to cover all of the social and policy issues that arise as we integrate computers and networks into our culture.

The EFF was founded in 1990 to "help civilize the electronic frontier; to make it truly useful and beneficial to everyone, not just an elite; and to do this in a way that is in keeping with our society's highest traditions of the free and open flow of information and communication." The catalyst for EFF's founding was the heavy-handed investigation of supposed "computer crimes" by Secret Service agents who, as the stories go, hardly knew a disk drive from a discus. In addition to practically bankrupting a couple of innocent small businesses, the investigations rode roughshod over the free speech and privacy rights of electronic communications. EFF's most famous founder, Mitch Kapor, developer of Lotus 1_2_3 and current president of ON Technology, led the charge in finding funding and hiring lawyers to assist in defense. The EFF has continued to represent computer network users in debates on public policy covering privacy, law enforcement procedures for computer crime, network development, and more.

Local Groups

The latest trend is to establish local interest groups devoted to the Internet or to the WorldWideWeb. For starters, there are Internet User Groups in Austin, Texas, and in Baltimore, Maryland. Many computer user groups associated with universities and community colleges are covering Internet topics and providing training. User groups are popping up all over the world; if there isn't one in your area, start one! If you're interested in finding out what's available near you, inquire on a local USENET newsgroup (for example, ott.general, if you're in Ottawa), or post a query on, a newsgroup devoted to discussions about general Internet services.


As it was so well put in the FAQ on MUDs, "What if I'm completely confused and am casting about for a rope in a vast, churning wilderness of chaos and utter incomprehension?" If you're confused, have questions, and don't know where to turn, here are a few survival tips. First of all, realize that you're not alone, and that we all started off feeling dazed and bewildered. Everyone's digital digestive system is different; sometimes it takes a while to get the drift of all of this. Remember, even net.veterans don't know everything! (In fact, the bigger the Internet gets, the less we know.) There is no way you can ever know about or visit everything on the Internet, not even if you studied and gophered all day and night for the rest of your life. The Internet is bigger than you can imagine.

Knowing this, relax a bit and take a load off while reading this section. The biggest hurdle is figuring out exactly what your problem is. The kinds of things that stump people include figuring out what they can do from their system (what applications they can use, what levels of services are available to them, and so on); how to use the applications; how to diagnose problems once they do figure out the applications; and, after they've learned those ropes, finding the resources that will help them.

Think Globally, Ask "Locally"

If you've got a problem that needs solving or a question that needs answering, the very first thing you should do is start close to home when you look for help. Consultants who understand the applications running on your system or network will be able to give you the best assistance. The Internet's flexibility in being able to connect to so many different types of computers has been one of the reasons why the Internet has been so successful. It's also a reason why the Internet is so "difficult." Each type of computer runs different TCP/IP implementations, graphical user interfaces, and client applications, and this makes documenting or providing answers for every situation next to impossible. There are an infinite number of combinations available to be used at any one time. So your best hope is your local help desk, which is more than likely accessible by email or phone. Now, realize that "local" refers to your own Internet provider's help facility, which may not be geographically near you. Be as specific as possible when you do ask for help. Write down error messages exactly as you see them on the screen (including all numbers and punctuation), and try to recall the chain of events that got you into trouble.

If you're getting network access through work or college, there most likely is a local consulting office or help desk in the computer center that can give you information about applications and available services, such as documentation, manuals, and online help. Many help desks offer their own online Gopher systems that provide easy-to-use interfaces to steer you in the right direction, help you learn about your local network and the Internet, and provide links into other systems.

If you are getting (or planning to get) your Internet access through a commercial provider, you'll need to look to the provider for help. Ask about support before you sign up. (Chapter 6 includes information about the types of connections and applications that are available.) Commercial providers should have telephone hotlines, make documentation about their services readily available, and offer an email address to contact for more information.

Network Information Centers (NICs). NICs offer information about the Internet and their networks and services. Your network provider isn't required to have a NIC, but if it does, check out what it has to offer. NICs are springing up all around the Internet; many nationwide backbones have them, as well as most of the mid-level and regional networks. These organizations vary in size and services. Many provide online guides, newsletters, and tutorials. Others offer seminars and classes. This may be more information than you'll ever need, but it's useful to familiarize yourself with what's available.

Another Source for Help

As the Internet continues to grow and evolve into the National Information Infrastructure, user and information services have become a more important part of network operation. Recognizing this, the U.S. National Science Foundation funds a NIC to serve Internet users around the world. It's known as the InterNIC, and it offers three different types of services: Information, Registration, and Directory and Database.

One Size Fits All. If you've got a question and you're a bit overwhelmed by the information below about all three services, just call the toll-free 800 InterNIC hotline (if you're inside the United States). It's a one-interface number into everything, and the person on the other end should be able to steer you to the right group. The best way to access all three services at once online is through their Gopher server. The InterNIC tries to be as flexible as possible to reach, but there are simply too many addresses and services for a new user to wade through his or her first time around.

All of these groups provide access to information via email "hotline" (read by a human), Gopher, FTP, WAIS, and Telnet. If you're on an outernet, you can use the email servers listed below to access any of the files each group offers.


InterNIC Toll-free Phone Number: 1-800-444-4345
InterNIC Direct Telephone Number: 619-455-4600
InterNIC Email Address:
InterNIC Archive: Gopher Client: or type
telnet and login as gopher
Web Site:

Information Services (IS).As a new user, this is the service you'll probably be most interested in. The Information Services Desk is run by General Atomics, and it provides assistance with new users' common questions, such as finding an Internet provider and locating online resources. Also offered are regular training seminars geared toward new and intermediate users, reference material available via the Internet, a newsletter called NSF Network News, and a CD-ROM of useful Internet information, called NICLink, which boasts an easy-to-use hypermedia interface.


Direct Telephone Number: 619-455-4600
Email Address:
Gopher Clients: or telnet to , login as gopher
Anonymous FTP:
Email Server: ; put "send help" in the message body

Registration Services (RS). This service is run by Network Solutions, Inc., (NSI) and serves as the official Internet Registrar for IP network numbers and domain name registration, among other things. Unless you're a network administrator or Internet provider, you probably won't need to contact this group. (Chapter 6 refers you to the InterNIC Registration Services if you're connecting your organization's local-area network to the Internet.)

Directory and Database Services (DS). Run by AT&T, this resource will help you find users and online resources.

As you'll read later on, finding someone's email address is sometimes almost next to impossible on the Internet. One of the problems is the large number of separately maintained directories. The Directory and Database Services group tries to solve this problem with a front end into several different types of directory applications, but it's still very confusing and not very intuitive to new users. There are two ways to access the DS. First, and preferably, point your gopher client at, and select number 4, "InterNIC Directory and Database Services (AT&T)/".

You can also access similar services using Telnet. Type telnet, and login as guest. In the Telnet main menu there's a user tutorial, which may shed some light on the various database offerings, but probably not much. Your best and easiest bet is to select the Gopher option ("Browse the InterNIC DS Server File Space") from the Telnet menu.

asbestos longjohns n. Notional garments often donned by USENET posters just before emitting a remark they expect will elicit flamage. This is the most common of the asbestos coinages. Also asbestos underwear, asbestos overcoat, etc.

Source: The New Hacker's Dictionary, edited by Eric S. Raymond, with assistance and illustrations by Guy L. Steele, Jr. 1991 Eric S. Raymond. Published by the MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1991. Reprinted with permission.

Backward Forward Copyright © 1994 by Tracy LaQuey and Editorial Inc.

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