With the amazing adoption of broadband Internet all over the world, a fantastic technology has emerged, which is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Apart from the obvious benefits of broadband that allows users to be online all the time and enjoy very fast downloads, VoIP enables those same users to benefit from free telephone calls made via their computers.
Virtually every modern computer has audio capability, so to get set up for VoIP, all that needs to be done is to download the VoIP software and have either a headset and microphone combination hooked up to the computer, or obtain a dedicated VoIP handset that looks just like a telephone. The quality of the audio on VoIP calls is often far better than that of regular landlines.
There are a number of VoIP programs available, the most popular being Skype. This remarkable and totally free software not only is extremely easy to set up, but also has a number of very useful features, such as instant messaging, similar to MSN Messenger. It also allows users to ring normal telephones anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost of normal calls, currently under 3 cents per minute. The latest version also has video capability, although a very fast broadband connection is recommended at both ends to run unbroken video and audio links.
But the best part is that calls to others with Skype installed are absolutely free. Finding contacts is easy, as Skype has an on-line global directory, or users can simply invite others to place themselves on their contact list, like a personal telephone book. So for people with access to broadband, the days of expensive international and interstate telephone calls are over, now that VoIP is coming of age.
The Internet had already been in existence for 30 years when Tim Berners-Lee developed Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTTP). The World Wide Web (WWW) was born and public acceptance of the Internet became a reality, with simple point and click graphic web browsing instead of arcane Unix commands. However the delivery of the connection to this amazing form of communications still depended on telephone lines and very slow modems. For many years, broadband connection to the Internet was priced totally out of the reach of everybody but large businesses and the very wealthy.
In recent times, the advent of fibre optic cable and Asymmetric Data Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology has made broadband connection to the Internet financially feasible to the average citizen. Broadband has three main advantages over a dial-up service. It is always connected and therefore accessible at all times, it is much faster for downloading data and it does not tie up a telephone line exclusively for data at the expense of using it for voice communications.
In many cases, it is actually cheaper to be connected to broadband than maintain a dial-up connection. An exclusive telephone line for Internet dial-up can be discarded, as ADSL is layered onto an existing voice service and both are used simultaneously without interference. There are no dialling charges, as the broadband service is permanently connected, therefore the only actual cost of broadband is the monthly ISP fee.
For instance, a dial-up account may only cost around $10 per month these days, but if a user needs to access the Internet four times a day, that will cost around 80 cents per day. In one month, the total cost of this very slow Internet access will cost around $34 and tie up the phone line for the duration of that access. On the other hand, there are plenty of ADSL deals for around $30 to $35 that will deliver continuous Internet access and leave the phone line free for voice calls.
Like everything, there are pitfalls that should be avoided. People contemplating connecting to broadband should be very wary of ISPs offering cheap deals that have serious financial consequences for the unwary. For instance, virtually every cheap broadband connection has a download data limit, with additional data costing extra per megabyte. Every item received by the websurfer is data, being every web page and every email. Some ISPs even charge for upload traffic, which is outrageous in this day and age. With broadband being so fast compared to dial-up, most users are tempted to download bigger files, often exceeding the included data allowances of the cheap broadband plans.
For instance, people who signed up for amazing sounding cheap $19.99 per month broadband deals that included a measly 200MB of downloads plus upload metering have received accounts over $100 per month because of their unwitting downloading of excess data, so the cheap deals were very expensive in the long run. In actual fact, the best deals are generally those that offer broadband with no download limitations or speed throttling. They may sound expensive initially, but they do not generate nasty surprises when ISP bills are received and dedicated websurfers do not have to curb their monthly download amounts to retain a financially viable connection.
With increasing amounts of commerce and communications now being conducted on the Internet, having an easily identifiable domain name or URL (Universal Resource Locator) is vital for any business. When choosing a domain name, it is wise to make it easy to remember and keep it short because domain names with less than seven or eight letters in the prefix will greatly lessen the chance of typing errors. Non-letter characters should be avoided, as they increase the likelihood of mistyped URLs.
Generally when Internet users set themselves up with ISPs, the first thing they do is establish email accounts. This is fine, right up to the moment where they want to switch ISPs for reasons of cost or closure of their present service. It can be a major headache to email every contact to inform them of such changes. In fact many people find that the exercise is so daunting that often they choose to remain with ISPs that may charge considerably more, rather than shop around for better and cheaper ISPs. This is similar to the situation that existed with telephone services prior to number portability, where many subscribers preferred to pay higher charges rather than lose their established telephone numbers.
Using ISP-based websites and email addresses can be very cumbersome and inconvenient, because not only is it almost impossible to establish easily recognisable Internet identities, but email addresses can become quite convoluted. One problem for most people when setting up ISP-based websites and email accounts is that the names they desire have often already been taken, so different and often more complex names have to be used. This can result in very long, difficult to remember and easily mistyped website and email addresses. Here is an example of what can be expected from a typical ISP-based service.
On the other hand, when domain names are acquired and hosted, email accounts linked to them can be established on the web host's email servers as part of the service and at no extra cost. As the ISP's email facilities are not required, the cheapest reliable ISP is all that is needed, purely for Internet access. An unlimited number of email addresses can be linked to domain names, often only restricted by the type of web hosting service provided. Therefore domain name owners never have to change their email addresses as long as they maintain their domain names.
Already having uniquely identifiable website addresses, domain name owners can merely set up any names they choose for email accounts as required and make them easy to remember and very meaningful, such as in the example below.
Of course domain names with linked email addresses look far more professional than anything ISP-based services offer and can only serve to establish impressive corporate identities on the Internet. Subscribing to the cheapest reliable ISP can substantially reduce operating costs and email addresses never need to be changed again.
The controlling authority for Australian domain names is the Australian Domain Authority (AuDA). The domain name monopoly held originally by registrar Melbourne IT has been revoked and many companies are now competing for domain registration business, among them being unscrupulous companies that are not accredited domain name registrars appointed by AuDA. Some of the renewal notices being sent to people by these non-accredited companies are quite misleading and use blatant scare tactics to give the impression that if domain holders do not renew with these particular companies, others will be able to acquire their valuable domain names.
Many of these shady unaccredited companies are quoting highly inflated fees, often more than double the dearest rate available from an authorised domain name reseller. What actually happens is that they merely register the requested domain names with an accredited registrar, then put their highly inflated profit margins on top of the cost of this and they sting their unsuspecting clients for a ridiculously high fee. Often they take control of the domain name administration so that when clients find out that they have been scammed and decide to transfer their domain names to officially accredited registrars, the shady operators make it very difficult for them to do so.
Australian domain names can only be renewed for two-year terms. Companies that offer renewals for longer periods may be acting fraudulently. Some companies have also been offering registration of dot-biz and dot-info domain names without being able to assure clients that they can actually obtain the domains of choice. The best way to obtain these domain names is to conduct a search on the websites of accredited registrars and register the selected names for the most economical fee. Not only that, domain names can be transferred to any registrar without having to enter into new two year licences.
Registration and renewal of domain names can easily be made via reputable registrars that have been authorised and appointed by AuDA. Reputable registrars will also send reminders to clients well before renewal times, so there is nothing to fear about forgetting to renew domains. Fees are quite volatile and competitive at this time, so it pays to shop around.
To help stamp out the sharks trying to cash in on the Internet boom, people should make complaints in writing to the relevant consumer authorities if misleading or deceptive offers are made. Letters to computer magazines and information posted on websites will alert potential victims of these predators. Any doubtful or suspicious offers should be examined thoroughly. There is substantial information on the Internet regarding shady domain name companies, detailing complaints and problems.
The best way to obtain a domain name is to only deal with reputable consultants who can organise the most equitable deals, as registrars change their terms and fees quite often in this volatile market. Switching to another registrar is generally not a problem, but could save money.
The www.ziggy.com.au website was entirely coded by hand in raw HTML, however with the advent of comprehensive web authoring software, building a website in this difficult fashion is unnecessary, except for the interest in learning HTML. Using such software, interested people can build their own websites, complete with many interactive features, rich graphics and special effects. However, this is not for the faint-hearted, as websites with errors can frustrate visitors who click on links that do not work or cannot easily find vital information. Amateurish appearance can detract from a company, rather than generate more business.
Commissioning professional website designers is often the best option for many businesses if they do not have the expertise to design and build their own websites, although often the cheapest deal is not the best deal, especially when businesses rely more and more on their Internet presence.
Once a domain name is acquired and a website is built, it must be hosted on a domain name server for the Internet world to gain access to it. Once the web hosting company is chosen, the domain name must be delegated to point at that company's web servers. Most web hosts will arrange this for clients, however their charges for setting up domain hosting services can be very expensive. As usual, if people cannot do this themselves, it pays to shop around for professionals that will perform domain and website maintenance at reasonable fees.
Many Australian web hosting companies charge high fees in comparison to those in other parts of the world, however there are a number of Australian companies that offer excellent and reliable web hosting at reasonable fees. It pays to shop around, ensuring that the web host company chosen offers a large number or unlimited email accounts, a generous or unlimited FTP and traffic allocation and allows facilities such as CGI, SQL and other features that allow interactive websites to operate.
There seems to be no limit to the imaginative ways that people can dream up ways to fleece the gullible, but the Internet has globalised their efforts and has spawned some amazing schemes to part fools from their money. It is easy to avoid all of these rackets with discipline, great suspicion of anything that sounds dubious and strict adherence to the simple principle of giving out as little information as possible to anybody whatsoever, even the most innocuous sounding people.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is. People who discover ways of making lots of money do not share this with strangers and thus create unwanted competitors. For instance there are people who claim to have found a way to beat bookmakers at racetracks or guaranteed ways of always winning at casinos and for a small sum, they will reveal their secret methods. Simple logic dictates that if such people can make fortunes simply by betting or investing money themselves, they certainly do not need small change from others, especially at the risk of revealing their methods and having any loopholes closed.
There are literally millions of emails being sent daily to recipients worldwide, offering to make easy money for those willing to join up, send a few dollars or merely send a reply. It stands to reason that if the senders actually knew how to make such enormous sums of money, then they would not be wasting their time soliciting a few dollars from gullible Internet users. In fact many of these emails are bogus and are only originated by spammers to ascertain if email addresses are active.
Any schemes that require the recruitment of others who will then pay a commission to those above them in the chain generally result in everybody except the top echelon losing money. Most of these are referred to as multi-level marketing, however generally they are nothing more than thinly disguised pyramid schemes that may be illegal. Anything from cosmetics, herbal treatments, vitamins, youth potions to website selling and share schemes are marketed in this fashion, but virtually everybody who gets involved in them financially gets badly burned.
Offers to transfer large sums of money to Australian account holders for a high fee or percentage because the operators say they cannot access the money themselves, is a blatant fraud. The most notorious of these is the Nigerian Oil Scam, where the operators claim to be high officials of the Nigerian government and have tens of millions of dollars that they want to secretly transfer out of Nigeria, but they need a trusted offshore account holder who will receive some millions of dollars merely by allowing his account to be used for such a transfer. Needless to say, once the operators of the scam obtain banking and personal details, they either clean out the victim's account or try to con money for bribes that they say must be paid to free up the non-existent funds in Nigeria prior to their transfer. Very surprisingly, many people, some supposedly intelligent businessmen, have been badly stung by such scams and one person was actually murdered when he went to Nigeria to try to recover his money.
A well-known blatant ripoff arrives in an email stating that the recipient has won a huge amount of money in a lottery or competition and to claim this prize, a small administration fee must be sent to finalise the transfer of the funds. Of course such emails should immediately set the alarm bells ringing, however many gullible recipients have actually sent money to the scammers. It is most obvious that if a person has not entered a lottery or competition, how could they have won it? In fact any offer that requires a processing or administration fee to release a prize is a scam, as no legitimate lottery requires this.
Of course there are literally millions of people who claim to have psychic powers and can tell the future, contact the dead, fly like birds, walk through walls or even be the next Messiah. They have now discovered that the Internet has opened up great areas of new opportunity, as it is populated by many gullible people. Not one of these charlatans has ever been able to prove or exhibit such powers, so to believe this nonsense and to pay money to these crooks is just stupid.
It is interesting to visit the websites of some of these so-called psychics and astrologers, because virtually all of them have disclaimers stating that their services are only provided for entertainment and as a curio and that they will not take responsibility for any consequences resulting from using the information provided. The truth is that if any of these people actually had paranormal abilities, they would not need such legal disclaimers. James Randi, the internationally renowned debunker of such charlatans has offered US$1 million to anybody who could prove they had paranormal abilities, however many thousands of people have been tested and not one has been able to show one scrap of psychic power. In fact nobody to date has even passed the preliminary tests.
So why do psychics and astrologers set up websites and try to wheedle chickenfeed out of gullible people when they could pick up a cool US$1 million by merely showing that they can actually do what they claim? The simple answer is that these charlatans cannot do anything paranormal and make their living by conning gullible fools. A visit to the website of James Randi is most educational, as the methods used by these psychics, clairvoyants, astrologers and other conmen are revealed in full. The bottom line is that every person who claims to have paranormal powers is a total fraud.
A prevalent scam called phishing uses bogus websites to lure unsuspecting victims into revealing their banking and credit card details. Victims receive an email purporting to be from their bank, informing them that due to some problem or security breach, they need to go to the bank's website and reconfirm their account details and passwords by clicking on a link in the email. When the victims do this, they are taken to a website that has been carefully constructed to look like the original bank website.
Any information they enter at the bogus website is then retrieved by the scammers, who then proceed to milk the bank or credit card accounts of the victims. The best precaution is to never click on links in emails that purport to come from banking institutions, mostly claiming to require recipients to update or verify their details. Financial institutions do not send emails to their clients asking for such confidential information. The only thing recipients of such emails should do is to immediately delete them.
One of the best precautions to take is to never divulge credit card or banking details on an unsecure website, which is indicated by the absence of the "https" prefix in the URL or the lock icon in the browser. The other way to avoid this scam is to only conduct credit card transactions with reputable companies and always contact banks or credit card providers personally or by actually typing in their URLs into the browser to update or verify any changes to banking details or security issues.
A healthy degree of suspicion is one of the best weapons against Internet scams, coupled with an occasional visit to some of the better websites devoted to exposing crooks and cheats, such as the Australian Sceptics, Scamwatch, Scambusters, James Randi and many more that can be found via any of the Internet search engines. The best safeguard is to not hand out any vital information such as bank account and credit card numbers, addresses or any personal information that crooks can use to impersonate victims and operate their banking facilities. If offers of easy money are made, it is virtually certain that they are either illegal or scams, so they should be totally avoided.
To avoid being ripped off, be aware of the following:
With all the privacy laws currently in force in Australia, most people assume that their most personal details are safe from intrusion, however this is one of the great myths propagated by various agencies, especially the Australian Government and the Australian Taxation Office. In reality, the public is literally like lambs being led to the slaughter - legally.
Some years ago, the government tried to introduce a universal identity card but this was emphatically rejected by the electorate. This card would have turned each person into a number that could be used to cross-link databases, thus rendering available any information that Big Brother needed to monitor everybody. Tax records would be linked to medical, legal, consumer and other personal data to produce a detailed profile of every person in the community.
Not succeeding with the Australia Card, the government decided to become Big Brother by stealth. Legislation was passed that allowed Medicare, tax records and other government databases to be linked to correlate the same data that would have been available under the Australia Card. Along with this, the government legislated to force financial and other institutions to provide the Australian Tax Office and other agencies access to their databases. Thus the government could monitor all bank transactions and tie them in with any other activity of any person or business. With the advent of the GST with its requirement for very detailed financial reporting and the universal use of the ABN to link all business transactions, nobody is safe from government intrusion. But it gets worse.
Not surprising, the government has now passed legislation that allows certain agencies to surreptitiously hack into people's computers and examine any data found on them. So not only do citizens have to suffer their private details to be freely accessed by any government flunkey in the right position, but now Big Brother is legally permitted to hack into their private computers and rifle through their most intimate data, even if it has nothing to do with any relevant investigation.
Really sensitive and confidential data can be protected by not even having it on local computers, but on offshore servers that can be accessed at any time via the Internet. For instance files can be stored on offshore domain name servers and accessed and edited at any time, but would be totally out of the reach of Australian authorities. If these files are also encrypted, then the chance of others being able to access the data is virtually nil.
There are many ways for people to prevent anybody, including the government, from hacking or accessing sensitive data:
These steps are simple and do not cost much, but will prevent intruders getting their hands on confidential data. It is time for Australians to fight back and not accept unwarranted invasions of privacy. George Orwell was quite right when he predicted Big Brother, but taking the right steps can totally frustrate Big Brother's ever-increasing appetite for personal secrets. However, because of recent terrorist activity around the world, Australians may have to forgo some aspects of their privacy as a trade-off for their safety and the security of this country.
The Internet originated some thirty years ago as a military and educational communications medium and was specifically designed so that messages or data flow could not be blocked in any way. In essence, if data packets were blocked at one node, they would automatically try other nodes until they found a way through to the intended destination. In the early days when nodes were few and far between, some blocking could have been implemented, but with the massive increase in the use of the Internet in recent years and the sheer number of nodes and paths, any attempt to block sites or data is doomed to failure.
In its misguided wisdom, the Australian Government passed Internet censorship laws that banned certain sex-oriented and gambling sites on Australia websites. As soon as these laws were promulgated, the operators of these websites merely closed down operations on Australian servers and immediately set them up on offshore hosts, in most cases using the same Australian web addresses. The relocation of these websites had no effect on their access by websurfers, but merely removed them from Australian legal jurisdiction and enforcement of takedown orders. The major outcome was that Australian authorities and legislators were made to look like complete and utter fools as well as grossly impotent.
It is obvious that Australian authorities have not learned anything from this debacle, because now they are attempting to censor links on Australian based websites that do nothing more than point to offshore sites deemed to be undesirable, such as on-line casinos. Even if the offending content does not reside on Australian websites, merely providing such links may now result in legal prosecutions or takedown orders. However, there is a very easy way to avoid all these problems and that is to relocate websites right out of Australia.
Any website in the world is only a click away, so having one hosted on an offshore server makes no difference whatsoever to accessibility. Many offshore web hosting companies can be found using search engines such as Google, AltaVista and Yahoo. Really sensitive sites should be set up on servers in countries that have no formal legal arrangements with Australia, thus takedown orders issued by Australian authorities cannot be enforced.