I've been watching to get an Internet phone for a long time. The logic and behavior of the market and telephone companies tell me that cable communication is the way to go. All the DSL stuff is just a way for the phone companies to try to head off the inevitable. Eventually everything will be carried over digital fiber cable.
Anyway, Cox, my local Cable and ISP provider just couldn't seem to get telephone service up in California and Virginia. I suspect the telephone companies got the state regulatory agencies or legislatures to protect them. But, I stumbled into something else: Vonage.
The best deal was at Amazon.com, three months free, free long distance anywhere in the country, any time, unlimited, just $40 / month.
That was just the beginning of the saga. First the shipment was delayed. Then I couldn't get it to work. I found that my firewall was blocking it. The ports it uses were not documented. Several round trips to customer service didn't help. They apparently don't know much about the equipment they are using either. The Cisco web site was no help. They make the connection box, but it is programmed by Vonage remotely. I'm still waiting for an inventory of ports that I have to open up. In the meantime, I had to handle security another way.
I upgraded the software on the LinkSys firewall / router. Then I installed some great stuff called Kiwi Syslog . It gets log information from the LinkSys showing every exchange of information through the router from any machine on my LAN. Once that was installed, I could see all the mischief that was in my systems. Wow! there was stuff all over the place.
First I had to understand it. The phone was doing some things that were interesting. Like every half hour the Cisco / Vonage box checks in with a TFTP (trivial FTP) server to see if there is software to be uploaded. There's a whole lot of other strange and interesting stuff going on there.
Another thread is that I found Vonage flames in another forum. It seems that they have been slamming their customers. They are forcing some people to upgrade to commercial service, for another $20 per month, just because the people have "use patterns" indicating that they are not residential customers. That's BS. Anyway one of the people in the thread said that if it happened to him he would simply switch to Packet8. Packet8 offers the same type of deal, with a different box, and their rates are slightly lower. If I had known that, I might have started with them instead.
Back to the technical stuff. I started looking at what was going on between my machine and the Internet. It turned out that my machine was just filled with spyware, not just one thing but literally hundreds of things. My Norton Antivirus software didn't catch it. It seems to be looking for an entirely different class of problems. I tried one free spyware cleaner, Spybot. It found about 50 things. But when I watched the internet logs going through the Kiwi capture mechanism, it was clear there was more there. I decided to try to find another product.
I found a second product, Ad-Aware. It is good! I downloaded the free version and ran it. It found about 150 things. Then it asked for an update of its template file. I did that, ran it again, and turned up another 150 things. I put it on another machine. The same thing happened. There was lots of junk, mostly associated with Internet browsers. Some things are done by Microsoft and Netscape, others just sneak into the system while I am surfing.
The techniques change rapidly. I suspect that the template file increases by 50 or 100 new items every day. Companies like AOL and Microsoft seem to be extremely inventive about finding new ways to gather information about Internet use and sell it to "partners". But, I think just about everybody does it. It's astounding and scary. Think about all the junk mail you get. You get about the same proportion of personal intrusions into your system through browsing that you do not see.
Now I'm looking for a real internet firewall that will allow me to block specific IP's specific URL's and give me some fine control over what information can pass through which ports. So far I haven't found it. I may have to break down and pay for something.
The Internet phone works great. I got a pair of Uniden 5.8 ghz spread spectrum wireless phones. Even though my wireless access connection is probably statistically distant from just about every other device on that frequency, I figured it can't hurt to have the phone on an entirely different frequency.
by Jim Knock Comments