Tech Support Scare

My parents are switching to BellSouth for their dial-up access at home and I’m a bit concerned. I’ve known a few people with the service who haven’t had any problems, but I was a bit alarmed by a Support Technician the other day. Last Wednesday, my dad activated the service and waited for me to come home and set it up. So I get there on Saturday and he has the username, password, and access number all written down and ready to go. So easy enough I thought, and I proceeded to setup the dial-up connection on WinXP. [I'm going to shorten this for any of you who really don't care. For those of you technically interested, click on the "more" link and read on.]

The moral of the story is simply this: no matter what type of access you use to get online (dial-up, cable, dsl, isdn…), you NEED a firewall of some sort. If you’re on dial-up, the one included in XP is fine, or grab one from Zone Alarm or Sygate.

So, first attempt to connect is a no go, so I double-check everything and attempt it a few more times with no success. Lucky for me, dad also wrote down Tech Support’s phone number. I’m usually not one to call for help, but the error message said that the user name and password was rejected, so I dialed them up. The lady on the phone was very polite and said that for some reason their was no dial-up access listed on my parents account and that the username and password were definitely not in their network. I did find this a bit bizarre, my dad is no computer genius and I know he could have never in a million years came up with terms such as “domain is bellsouth.net” and “authentication keyword” but I let that go. No problem, go ahead and add it, and we proceeded through the account creation.

Once that was all finished, the Customer Service offered to pass us over to a “Configuration Specialist” and I began to see a nightmare ahead. I really didn’t feel like I needed this help now that the account was actually created and active, but dad urged me to just talk with this “specialist” (and I use that word very loosely) to make sure everything was ok. This guy starts by reading some disclaimer and then proceeds to tell me to “go to Start -> Settings -> Control Panel then find the shiny blue and green network connections icon and double-click on that.” At this point I interrupted and told him that I was a very advanced user and that I didn’t need all the coaching, just to know if there were any obscure settings that needed changing. That helped a bit but he still felt the need to walk me through each tab in the dialup settings and everything was correct by default other than some obscure one about compressed IP headers, which would’ve made no difference in the ability to connect. I wish the story ended here. The final tab for a network connection is labeled “Advanced” and is where the setting for the Internet Connection Firewall resides. Nonchalantly, ‘Mike’ says “make sure that is unchecked and you should be all ready.” The best of my recollection, the conversation proceeded like this:

Me: whoa, whoa, whoa. Why should I do that?
Mike: That’s the Windows Firewall.
Me: Yes, I’m aware of what a firewall is, that’s why I want to know why you are asking me to turn it off.
Mike: Well we here at BellSouth are a dial-up service and don’t use a firewall.
Me: I understand that you are dial-up, but that doesn’t mean that “we” are immune to outside intrusions.
Mike: Since you are not online all the time a firewall is not necessary.
Me: Maybe not but I don’t understand why you’re asking me to disable it. I would like to stay protected from the possibility of intrusion.
Mike: Well sir, that is your choice, but we at BellSouth will not be responsible for supporting your connection troubles as long as that is enabled.
Me: That’s fine, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

So, I finally made it off the phone and was ready to try this again. Five attempts with no connection. I start to get concerned, questioning the fact that MAYBE their dial-up server is trying to send some packet to every machine that attempts to connect and refuses those which are blocked. This obviosuly worried me, but I had to satisfy my curiousity. I disabled the firewall and was INSTANTLY able to connect. Not one to give up, I proceed to disconnect, re-enable the firewall and try to dial in again. No luck for five more attempts. Disable again and no connection now. Sigh…

After many trials with it both active and disabled, it turns out it really didn’t matter. I guess the bellsouth.net domain was just a little slow in getting the account added. I was finally able to leave my parents’ house with the new connection working WITH the firewall enabled. If anyone is still reading, I’d be highly interested in knowing if anyone has had similar experiences. Leave one….