Connecting Your Linux Box to the Internet
Ever wonder what it would be like to have your Linux box connected to the backbone of the Internet? Well, maybe not the backbone—but how about a direct connection to one of the many Internet service providers? Lightning-fast response time. You could set up your very own ftp site, or perhaps a gopher or World Wide Web server. Wouldn't it be nice to have Mosaic draw heavily graphical World Wide Web pages in seconds instead of minutes at 14.4 kbps?
What does all this cost? You'd better sit down first. Comfy? Good. Assuming you already have a Linux box, startup costs are in the range of $3,000-$5,000. Monthly costs range anywhere from $500-$1,000. This generally places such a connection out of reach for most people.
However, there is currently a rapidly-expanding market for small Internet service providers, who need a faster connection to the Internet than 14.4 kbps to be competitive—and some of whom are using Linux. There are also more and more businesses becoming interested in having a presence on the Internet, and many are using Linux boxes to provide this.
In this article, I'll take you on a tour of what's required to get a direct connection to the Internet. First, I'll touch on the various software packages you'll need to understand how to manage an Internet-connected machine. Next, I'll introduce the concepts behind a direct Internet connection; I'll describe the hardware required and the different configurations available. Finally, I'll discuss how to select an Internet service provider.
You've got a lot to learn. No, seriously. And, with the cost of a direct Internet connection, the last place you want to learn this stuff is online. If you have the time to do it right, I'd suggest connecting in several stages, learning in pieces as you go along.
Let's assume you are fairly skilled at managing a Linux box. This is a skill you can learn even if your machine has no connections to the outside world. In fact, having no connections makes learning easier; it will allow you to focus on the tasks needed to maintain a Linux box. Once you are comfortable doing this, take one small step towards the Internet: Obtain a UUCP connection to your machine.
A UUCP connection is a good way to get your feet wet connecting to the outside world—it will teach you how to manage a news and mail feed. Most of the Linux distributions come with all the news and mail tools you'll need. The Mail-HOWTO guide and the News-HOWTO guide will help you configure things correctly. News and mail are the two most common services on both directly connected and indirectly connected Internet machines. These are important services that people using your machine will expect to work. Spend the time to learn how each package works. Make sure you understand how news and mail are configured. Learn what log files are produced and where they are located. When you connect your machine to the Internet, it is inevitable that you will encounter problems with news and mail. You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by learning how these work now, rather than later.
The next step above a UUCP connection is a dial-up IP connection. Dial-up IP places your machine on the Internet like a dedicated connection, whenever you dial in. This will give you some experience running TCP/IP. You can also try running your very own ftp site, a gopher server, or even an HTTP server for WWW clients. If you expect to be running any of these services when you get your dedicated connection, start experimenting with them now. Learn how to configure them. Learn what log files are produced and where to find them. Check out the comp.info-systems.www newsgroup.
Security becomes a very important issue once you place your machine on the Internet. Any data residing on an Internet-connected machine can potentially be read by anyone on the Internet, unless your security prevents it. Now, even if you think you don't have anything on your machine that you don't mind others reading, don't think you can just brush security concerns aside. There are many documented bugs in Unix packages that allow hackers to gain access to an existing account, or even root access.
To get up to speed on security, start by reading the comp.security .unix newsgroup. It has an excellent FAQ on what to watch out for. Also check the newsgroup comp.os.linux.announce. You will find Linux-specific security holes posted here. The best method to determine just how secure your machine is, is to have someone try and break in. If you know someone who is very knowledgeable about Unix, that person would be an excellent candidate for the job. If you don't know or trust someone enough to do this, just get a few average computer people to try to break in. You'd be surprised at how many holes even the average user can discover.
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