Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You see 'http://' and 'ftp://' in Web page addresses. What are these 'protocols'? How do they affect me?

A 'protocol' is a set of invisible computer rules that govern how an Internet document gets transmitted to your screen. These dozens of programmatic rules work in the background in the same way a bank employs staff procedures to keep your money safe.

A document's Internet protocol is described by the the first several letters in your browser's address bar, ending in the three characters '://'. The most common protocol you will see is http:// for a regular hypertext page. The second most common protocol you will see is https://, for hypertext pages that are secured against hackers. Examples of Internet computer protocols:

  • http Hypertext Transfer Protocol
  • https Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secured
  • TCP/IP Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol
  • ftp File Transfer Protocol
  • IMAP Internet Message Access Protocol
  • POP Post Office Protocol
  • SMTP Simple Mail Transfer Protocol
  • telnet Terminal Network protocol
  • UDP User Datagram Protocol
  • nntp Network News Transfer Protocol
  • MAC Media Access Control protocol
  • DNS Domain Name System protocol
  • DHCP Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol

How Do Computer Protocols Affect My Web Surfing?

While computer protocols can be very cryptic and technical for programmers and administrators, protocols are really just FYI knowledge for most users. As long as you are aware of the 'http' and 'https' at the beginning of the address, and can type the correct address after the ://, then computer protocols should be nothing more than a curiousity of daily life.
Definition: A network protocol defines rules and conventions for communication between network devices. Protocols for computer networking all generally use packet switching techniques to send and receive messages in the form of packets

Network protocols include mechanisms for devices to identify and make connections with each other, as well as formatting rules that specify how data is packaged into messages sent and received. Some protocols also support message acknowledgement and data compression designed for reliable and/or high-performance network communication. Hundreds of different computer network protocols have been developed each designed for specific purposes and environments.

Internet Protocols

The Internet Protocol family contains a set of related (and among the most widely used network protocols. Besides Internet Protocol (IP) itself, higher-level protocols like TCP, UDP, HTTP, and FTP all integrate with IP to provide additional capabilities. Similarly, lower-level Internet Protocols like ARP and ICMP also co-exist with IP. These higher level protocols interact more closely with applications like Web browsers while lower-level protocols interact with network adapters and other computer hardware.

Routing Protocols

Routing protocols are special-purpose protocols designed specifically for use by network routers on the Internet. Common routing protocols include EIGRP, OSPF and BGP.

How Network Protocols Are Implemented

Modern operating systems like Microsoft Windows contain built-in services or daemons that implement support for some network protocols. Applications like Web browsers contain software libraries that support the high level protocols necessary for that application to function. For some lower level TCP/IP and routing protocols, support is implemented in directly hardware (silicon chipsets) for improved performance.
Did your grandmother just post a Facebook link to "Hot Shocking Sexy Pics of Britney Spears"? Maybe that's how your grandma rolls, but chances are it's probably the hacker who just "pwned" her Facebook account. Here are some tips to help you tell the difference between Facebook friend or foe.

1. Is the post out of character for the person posting it?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that grandmothers typically have no desire to send porn links to their closest friends and family members. This post is obviously way out of character for her, making it highly likely that someone else is using her account. The link that was sent from her account will likely send you to a phishing site or prompt you to install a rogue Facebook application that might pillage your personal information.

2. Is the the language used in the post normal for the region?
My grandmother was many things, but a bad speller with a poor command of the English language wasn't one of them. Given the global reach of the Internet, a Facebook account can be hacked from anywhere in the world. Hackers will try to impersonate the user of the hacked account as best they can. The problem is that if the hacker isn't a native of the country of their victim, then they might be unable to accurately imitate the colloquial expressions or local slang used in the country of their victim's hacked account.
Let's imagine an example:

Actual post from grandma: "Good luck with your tests next week honey. I'm sure they will be a piece of cake."

Hacker trying to impersonate grandma from her hacked account: "May luck be with you for your examinations. It will be a piece of pizza."
This should be a dead giveaway that grandma's account was hacked or at least that someone needs to check and make sure she's taking all her proper medications.
3. Does the post ask for money or phish for personal information?

There is a popular scam on Facebook where a hacker using a compromised account impersonates someone and posts that they need money because they are lost in a foreign country or stuck somewhere without their passport, wallet, etc. Eager to help a friend in need, their Facebook friend wires them money only to find out later that they were duped by a hacker.
What if your friend is really lost and in need? You would hate to leave them stranded, right? Call your friend or check with their family to see if the story holds true. If you can't verify the story by phone or other means, ask your friend (or the hacker) questions that only your friend should know the answers to (and not stuff that they could find on your Facebook profile page).
4. Does the link in the post look strange or use a link shortening service like

People love using link shortening services because they can take a huge web address and shorten it to just a few characters, making it easier to remember and short enough to fit into a Twitter post. The problem is that link shortening services like are often used by hackers to mask the true destination web addresses of phishing sites or other harmful web-based malware.
To verify the true destination of a shortened link you should check the link with a link lengthening site like Untiny. The lengthening site will show you the destination redirect link without having to visit it yourself. This lets you check to see if it's safe before going there.

5. Was the post placed on the walls of all of the poster's Facebook friends?
If you see an odd post on your wall, check to see if it's also on the walls of some of your mutual friends.
Many hackers and rogue Facebook apps will attempt to spread their links like a virus by abusing the "Allow Friends to Post on My Wall" Facebook permission that many of us have enabled. The hacker and/or rogue app will usually post the same scam or phishing link to the wall of every friend on the victim's friends list. This allows them to rapidly spread the link or app to as many people as possible. Additionally, the posts are spread even further because wall posts show up in the live feed and many people will share something without even visiting it first.