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US-CERT Cyber Security Tip ST04-024 -- Understanding ISPs

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                       Cyber Security Tip ST04-024
                            Understanding ISPs

   ISPs offer services like email and internet access. Compare factors
   like security, services, and cost so that you find an ISP that
   supports all of your needs.

What is an ISP?

   An ISP, or internet service provider, is a company that provides its
   customers access to the internet and other web services. In addition
   to maintaining a direct line to the internet, the company usually
   maintains web servers. By supplying necessary software, a
   password-protected user account, and a phone number to dial into the
   internet connection, ISPs offer their customers the capability to
   browse the web and exchange email with other people. Some ISPs also
   offer additional services.

   ISPs can vary in size--some are operated by one individual, while
   others are large corporations. They may also vary in scope--some only
   support users in a particular city, while others have regional or
   national capabilities.

What services do ISPs provide?

   Almost all ISPs offer email and web browsing capabilities. They also
   offer varying degrees of user support, usually in the form of an email
   address or customer support hotline. Most ISPs also offer web hosting
   capabilities, allowing users to create and maintain personal web
   pages; and some may even offer the service of developing the pages for
   you. Many ISPs offer the option of high-speed access through DSL or
   cable modems, while others may just rely on dial-up connections.

   As part of normal operation, most ISPs perform backups of email and
   web files. If the ability to recover email and web files is important
   to you, check with your ISP to see if they back up the data; it might
   not be advertised as a service. Additionally, some ISPs may implement
   firewalls to block some incoming traffic, although you should consider
   this a supplement to your own security precautions, not a replacement.

How do you choose an ISP?

   There are thousands of ISPs, and it's often difficult to decide which
   one best suits your needs. Some factors to consider include
     * security - Do you feel that the ISP is concerned about security?
       Does it use encryption and SSL (see Protecting Your Privacy for
       more information) to protect any information you submit (e.g.,
       user name, password)?
     * privacy - Does the ISP have a published privacy policy? Are you
       comfortable with who has access to your information and how it is
       being handled and used?
     * services - Does your ISP offer the services you want? Do they meet
       your requirements? Is there adequate support for the services?
     * cost - Are the ISP's costs affordable? Are they reasonable for the
       number of services you receive, as well as the level of those
       services? Are you sacrificing quality and security to get the
       lowest price?
     * reliability - Are the services your ISP provides reliable, or are
       they frequently unavailable due to maintenance, security problems,
       a high volume of users, or other reasons? If the ISP knows that
       services will be unavailable for a particular reason, does it
       adequately communicate that information?
     * user support - Are there published methods for contacting customer
       support? Do you receive prompt and friendly service? Do their
       hours of availability accommodate your needs? Do the consultants
       have the appropriate level of knowledge?
     * speed - How fast is your ISP's connection? Is it sufficient for
       accessing your email or navigating the internet?
     * recommendations - Have you heard or seen positive reviews about
       the ISP? Were they from trusted sources? Does the ISP serve your
       geographic area? If you've uncovered negative points, are they
       factors you are concerned about?

     Author: Mindi McDowell

     This document can also be found at

     Copyright 2004 Carnegie Mellon University

     Terms of use


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