ISPs lax on firewall advice for always-on internet

ISPs are offering customers faster internet connections without warning them of the dangers of greater exposure to hackers.

ISPs are offering customers faster internet connections without warning them of the dangers of greater exposure to hackers.

Cable, satellite and ADSL internet connections are being rapidly taken up by users keen for speedier downloads, but because they are connected to the internet all the time they present a potentially greater target to hackers. Of the four major ISPs only one — Xtra — explicitly advises users to install a firewall against such attacks, though Ihug is planning to launch a firewall incentive shortly.

A spokesman for the Paradise ISP, which offers an always-on service over Telstra-Saturn cable, says Paradise only provides the connection and support for its integrity. If the ISP were to recommend certain firewalls it may be counterproductive, since firewalls can be wrongly set up “unless you know what you’re doing”. A disappointed user may then blame Paradise for its recommendation.

Clear Net’s Lindsay Cowley says the company does not yet provide a residential broadband service. Its Tempest broadband service is marketed to businesses, with the aim of allowing many staff to use the internet concurrently. Clear Net may look at a domestic broadband service some time in the future, he says. “If and when we did that, the modems would be up to the market standard, which includes IP filtering and number address translation, providing a basic level of security. We would probably address the subject of firewalls with users, but it’s all hypothetical at present.

“We believe firewalls should be used [with permanent connections],” he says. Current Clear Net high-bandwidth customers, being businesses, usually have their own competent staff to look after such safeguards.

Xtra’s advice to adopt some kind of firewall appears on its website in the JetStart “frequently asked questions” section. If the user is unaware of the location of the FAQ it can be easily found by entering “firewall” into the internal search engine on the xtra.co.nz homepage.

Xtra has been considering recommendation of particular firewalls, says a spokesman, but at present favours a hands-off position. It is for hardware and software sellers to promote and sell firewalls. “We stay away from recommending [specific firewalls] but we encourage [the general principle of firewalling.]”

“We have nothing in [firewall recommendations or product offerings] for residential customers yet,” says Ihug marketing manager Tim Wood. “But we are putting a package together which will bundle a firewall with antivirus and anti-spam measures” and a permanent internet connection. Launch of this package was still a few weeks away, he said last week.

Alan Brown of smaller-scale ISP Manawatu Internet Services, which resells DSL connections, says, “I certainly advise users not to contemplate a permanent internet connection without a firewall. By the time our customers get to installing the connection, we’ll have already spoken to them a lot,” and this would include advice on firewalls, he says.

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