The software supplied by SBC for its DSL customers makes me angry. I’ve described some of the reasons on this page – the sole purpose of the software seems to be to ensure that DSL subscribers will be bombarded with popups and toolbars and solicitations for unwanted services.

SBC sells “PPPOE” DSL service, which is not “always on,” despite SBC’s advertising to the contrary. Instead your computer initiates the connection and transmits a login name and password to SBC – similar in concept to dialing up an ISP with a modem, but much faster when it works right.

Part of the purported purpose of the SBC software is to install a program to make the connection to the SBC DSL circuit. Windows XP has the built-in ability to make a PPPOE connection, but SBC’s software suite bypasses that and installs a much more elaborate program for making the connection and holding it open. Perhaps there’s some useful reason for that, although it eludes me.

But I discovered last week that SBC’s software does not automatically turn on Windows XP’s built-in firewall. I had to clean a badly compromised computer because the owner had ordered DSL service from SBC, installed its software and followed its instructions – and had no idea that his computer was wide open to attack from outside.

If your computer is directly connected to a DSL line and does not network with any other computers, please make sure you have a firewall! At least turn on the Windows XP firewall by clicking on Start / Control Panel / Network Connections. Right-click on “Local Area Connection,” click on Properties, and click on the Advanced tab.

If your DSL line goes through a router – even the cheapest Linksys router – then you are behind a rudimentary firewall. It’s possible to have additional software firewalls that do fascinating, complex things, but I’m reasonably comfortable about the security of computer users behind a router. The Windows XP firewall doesn’t add much in that case.

And if your computer is networked with another computer, then the Windows XP firewall will probably break the networking. That will be fixed this summer when Windows XP Service Pack 2 is released, but today a networked WinXP computer probably can’t turn on WinXP’s firewall.

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