Inside a Computer: Random-Access Memory (RAM)

When you have something “open” on your computer, whether it is a document, web browser, or a game, it has to be held somewhere. Everything on your computer is likely stored on hard drives (HDD), so why can’t the open programs just be held there? Well, the problem with HDD is they are slow, relative to other technologies, so if the HDD held the program, it would run too slow to be useful. That’s why we have RAM.

RAM is random-access, which means it can read or write data, wherever it may be, in the same about of time. HDDs, on the other hand, read data sequential, taking time to find the data you need. This makes RAM much better for programs that are currently open, needing to read and write quickly and frequently. When a program is opened, the data associated with the program is read from your HDD and written to RAM. It stays in RAM until you close the program. When you save your work, the data in RAM is written to your HDD. Then, when the program is closed, its data is cleared from RAM.

RAM is constructed in what are called dimms. Think of them as sticks of RAM. Most dimms are one of these sizes: 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 Gbs, although other sizes do exist. RAM dimms connect into the computer’s motherboard. Motherboards vary in the number of dimm slots they have, from 1 to as many as 6.

RAM is also volatile. That means that when RAM loses power, it loses all the data it was storing. That’s why when you have a program open, and turn the computer off, when you turn it back on, its not open anymore. RAM is also much more expensive and has much less space than a HDD.

In addition to RAM, your computer also has something called “virtual memory”. Virtual memory is a way of extending the amount of RAM you have by telling your computer a part of your HDD is RAM. Now, this lets you have more RAM, using what’s called a paging file, by swapping data in RAM with data in the paging file when RAM is being used to capacity, but, because the HDD is considerably slower than RAM, this will have a noticeable impact on the response time of the program you are using.

Overall, RAM’s purpose is to store data that is being used currently in a faster space than your long term storage medium. Without it, working with data would be an incredibly slow process. Well, technically, without any RAM, your computer would detect no RAM, and refuse to turn on. So, it is also important in that regard.

Phishing: What is it?

Fishing (with an F) is something most people are familiar with. Take a fishing pole, bait it, cast your line, and wait for a fish to take the bait. Then you reel it in, and hopefully, you will have caught yourself an awesome fish. Fishing can be a relaxing hobby, a source of food, or a way to make a living. However, phishing (with a PH) is far from the peace and tranquility of fishing. Despite that, the basic concept of phishing is surprising similar to that of fishing.

Phishing is the act of trying to get your sensitive information, like passwords and credit card numbers, by acting like a trustworthy source. A phisher may send you an email, claiming to be your bank. They may tell you there has been a problem with your account, and they need you to log in to your account. They will provide you with a link to follow and sign in. This link, however, does not go to your bank. It goes to the phisher’s site, and if you logged in, you just gave the phisher your bank login information. The phisher can now log in to your actual bank account, and empty it.

In this example, you can see the similarity to fishing. The phisher is the fisherman, and you, and your information, are the fish. The phisherman casts his “line”, the email, baited with the false link to his own website. If you follow the link, you have taken the bait, and will get caught by the phisherman.

Phishers use lots of techniques to mask their intentions and keep up the idea that they are who they claim to be. First, they need to make sure that the link they provide looks like it goes to where you think its going to go, like your actual bank’s website. They manipulate the text in the link so that where it looks like it goes, and where it actually goes, are different places. If you look closely, you can sometimes notice that links don’t match up; that they aren’t pointing to the same place. But if you aren’t paying attention, it can be easy to miss.

Once you have clicked the link, the phisher’s job is not done yet. They also have to make sure that their website looks just like the website that they are pretending to be, like your bank’s. Otherwise, you may realize that something is wrong, and not enter your details. Phishers can use JavaScript and Flash to mimic the actual site, when underneath the code, the real site is waiting to collect your information.

While most phishing attempts use email, phishing can also take place over the phone or by text message. Regardless, phishing is always someone claiming to be someone they are not. They may claim to be your bank, your credit card company, your computer guy, or even a family member. Most phishing attempts are directed at individuals, so you may be a specific target in their mind, and they may have information that will help them target you specifically. The best defense against phishing is user awareness. Be aware of what is happening when you see an email or receive a phone call. If you are ever in doubt, call or email the real deal. If you receive an email from your “bank”, and you have even the slightest feeling it might not really be them, call your bank and ask them if they sent you an email. They will know for sure whether it really was them or not. To the phishermen, we are fish. When you see a hook, don’t take the bait.

Malware: What is it?

Diseases can have serious effects on human beings. They can be a slight inconvenience, cause permanent damage, or even be life threatening. No one wants to get sick, but when we do, we do everything we can to take care of it. This same line of thought can be applied to computers as well. Computers, like you, can get sick, and when they do, its important to address it before permanent damage is done. And while humans get diseases, computers get something else: malware.

Malware is a computer program that was intentionally designed to do harm. This separates it from a software bug, which unintentionally does harm due to an error. Malware can come from many sources: websites and files on the Internet, installed programs, a flash drive, anything that has been infected can infect your computer. And just as humans can get sick from many things: viruses, bacteria, cancer, computers can too: viruses, worms, Trojans.

At one point, the purpose of malware was generally for humor. Malware was a prank, a way for people to mess with each other. However, as the Internet became bigger, the potential to use malware for one’s own benefit became bigger as well. Malware is often used to steal personal information: social security numbers, bank accounts, passwords, etc. Malware can lurk on your computer, gathering your information as you use it, and send it to the malware’s owner without you realizing a thing. Malware can also hijack a computer, using it remotely for its own purposes. Malware-infected computers can be used to send spam emails, host illegal content, or any number of other things, all without you being aware. And all of this has an impact on how the computer runs. Malware infected computers tend to be much slower and less responsive. Although, if your computer is infected, performance should be the least of your worries.

Malware can also be used on a bigger scale. It can be used to attack enemy governments, destroying or stealing data, sabotaging enemy plans. It can be used to steal businesses’ confidential information, like client lists, or trade secrets. These kinds of attacks are more deliberate and take planning, as opposed to infecting home users, which is usually done naturally through the Internet.

Malware tries to hide on your computer so you don’t realize it is there and try to delete it. Malware can hide in a number of ways. It can hide itself inside of the files of a normally clean program, which means that any program can potentially be infected. This is why it is important to download programs only from trusted sites. Malware can also masquerade as a legitimate program, making you believe it is safe, when in reality, it is harmful malware. Malware can also elevate its privileges on a computer that you, the user, are unable to see it because it is considered a system file. It can also only run when you first turn the computer on or confuse or disable your computer’s defensive measures.

Malware often uses defects in programs to its advantage. Often when new programs or operating systems are released, they have certain flaws that have not been discovered yet. These flaws allow malware easy access to those programs until the flaw is fixed in an update. This is why installing brand new programs can be risky, and why updating your software is important.

User error is also a very easy way to get infected, as many people just don’t realize what they are doing sometimes. Malware distributors may sell malware, claiming it is legitimate software, and user will buy and install it, not realizing they just installed malware. Malware-infected websites tell users they have won a prize or that they are infected with malware. All you need to do is click here to claim it, or to clean your computer. These are often really asking, “Can we install malware on your computer?” And too often the user clicks yes, not realizing what they are really doing. This is why it is so important for computer users to be aware of what they are clicking on before they click it.

If malware is the disease, then anti-malware and ant-virus software is the medicine and vaccine. Every computer should have this software before the user does anything else. Anti-virus and anti-malware should be the number one priority when you buy a new computer. Without it, you have no protection from malware. But with it, it can automatically detect and delete malware, as well as warn you when it detects unsafe sites or programs.

Malware can be a very scary and very serious thing. It is a serous threat to any computer user. However, with good anti-malware tools, and a good familiarity with how to be safe on the Internet, you can reduce your risk of getting infected.

NAS: What is it?

A network-attached storage (NAS) is a server (computer) attached to your network. Its job is to store files, and make them available to devices on your network. This allows files like pictures and videos, which if stored on a local computer would only be available on that computer, to be available from all your devices. It also allows you to free up space on your local computer.

A NAS is usually a dedicated device. It can either be a normal computer or server with a NAS operating system, or it can be a pre-built “NAS box”. NAS boxes are usually smaller than a normal desktop computer and are pre-configured for use as a NAS. Either way, they may or may not already have hard drives. NAS’ usually have many slots for hard drives, allowing for a large amount of space, or to set up a RAID.

Some routers include USB ports. If yours does, a NAS can be as simple as plugging a flash drive or USB hard drive into your router’s USB port. These routers include NAS software which allows the router to double as a NAS box. For most people, a USB hard drive connect to your router is enough for you NAS needs.

NAS boxes are good for computer backups, as they allow you to backup your files to a hard drive elsewhere on the network. Should something happen to your computer which destroys everything in the computer, your files will still be safe on the NAS.

They also are good for files that you want to be able to access from multiple computers easily, like pictures and videos. Any device on the network can access the NAS, which allows you to have a central location to store frequently accessed files without having duplicates of all your files.

A NAS can be an invaluable addition to your home network. Use it to backup up your important files, or use it as centralized storage of all your often used files. Or use it for both. No matter what you use it for, a NAS can make file management much easier in multi-computer homes.

Fixed Wireless: What is it?

In the early days of the Internet, most people connected to the Internet via dial-up, over the phone lines. It was slow, and couldn’t be used at the same time as the phone. Dial-up was eventually replaced with more dedicated lines for Internet, such as digital subscriber lines (DSL) or cable. These are generally only available in urban or suburban areas, where the high number of people justifies the cost of laying cable. People in rural settings are generally left with one option: satellite, which is generally known as being slow and unreliable when compared to wired options. However, another option is available for people looking for reliable Internet access: fixed wireless.

Fixed wireless is a way of transmitting data (in this case, Internet access) using radio waves as opposed to physical cables. Generally this is accomplished by running a dedicated Internet cable to a tower. The tower broadcasts the Internet out, and dishes are installed on customers’ roofs to receive the transmission. The radio waves act as the cable, connecting the tower to the dish at your house.

The use of a tower on earth is one of the main reasons fixed wireless differs from satellite in speed and reliability. The physical distance between a satellite in space and your home causes satellite Internet to be slow compared to other option. A tower, however, must generally be within 31 miles of its target in order to deliver the signal. This limits a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) to that range for customers. This means towers have to be built periodically in order to cover greater distances.

Besides distance, fixed wireless has another caveat: line of sight. The space between the antenna on the tower and the dish on the roof of the home or business must be clear. If anything, a building, a hill, a tree, is blocking line of sight, fixed wireless cannot be used. This further lowers the number of people who can use it. Potential clients must both be within 31 miles of the tower, and have clear line of sight to the tower. This has lead some serious customers to build towers on their property to clear trees and other obstructions so they can achieve line of sight with the main tower.

Fixed wireless rarely can achieve download speeds higher than 100 Mbps. While this is superior to satellite, which on average lies between 1 and 25 Mbps, it is not as good as cable, which can be in the hundreds of Mbps, or fiber, which can reach 1 Gbps.

While cable is still the superior choice if you are looking for fast reliable Internet access, if you live in an area where cable is not available, fixed wireless may be an option. While not as fast as cable, it is faster and more reliable than satellite, which if you live in a rural area, is likely your only other option. So, if you are in the market for reliable Internet access, and want to avoid satellite, fixed wireless may be for you.

Local Area Network: What is it?

Most homes today are multi-computer homes. In addition to multiple desktop and laptop computers, many homes also have tablet computers and multiple smartphones. And, to add to that, many homes have various other “smart” devices: Rokus, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Fire Sticks, etc. And all these devices need an Internet connection to do what we want them to do. In order to facilitate a smooth stream of Internet access to all these devices, most homes also have a Local Area Network, or LAN.

A LAN is a computer network that connects computing devices of a small area, usually a building, like a home or business, to each other, and if you have Internet access, to the Internet. If you have Internet and several devices, you likely have a router, either one you bought yourself, or one provided to you from your ISP. The router acts as the bridge between connected devices, facilitating the transfer of information between computing devices and the Internet. The router can be wired or wireless. Most wireless routers also allow for wired connections, so most people don’t need a wired router anymore.

Wired connections to a LAN are most often done using Ethernet. Ethernet cables include coaxial, twisted pair, and fiber optic. Most Ethernet cables used in homes and small businesses are copper twisted pair cables. Ethernet has become the standard for wired networks, replacing its early competitors: Token Ring, FDDI, and ARCNET.

Wireless connections to a LAN are done over Wi-Fi. Most of the smart devices in homes today connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi, mostly due to its convenience over traditional wired connections. Wi-Fi can cause problems for the network when compared to wired connections, such as signals not reaching all parts of the house due to walls or other blockages, or interference with other wireless signals, such as wireless phones.

Wired (Ethernet) and wireless (Wi-Fi) together form the basis for a LAN. Many homes and businesses have combined wired and wireless LANs, however, as Wi-Fi becomes fasted and more reliable, some homes are becoming wireless only due to its convenience over wired. Whether wired, wireless, or a combination, your LAN is the reason all your many Internet-hungry devices can connect to the Internet together.

Digital Rights Management: What is it?

Have you ever needed to type in a long series of letters and numbers before you could install a video game or program on your computer? Or have you ever seen a message that says “you must be connected to the Internet to use this program”? If so, you have experienced a form of Digital Rights Management, or DRM.

DRM is a set of technologies used to restrict a consumer’s access to software or other copyrighted content. However, DRM is not loved by all. Supporters of DRM claim it is necessary to prevent the pirating of copyrighted software and ensuring copyright holders continue to receive revenue for their works. The opposition, however, claim that not only is their no evidence to support the idea that DRM prevents pirating, DRM may even increase pirating. This is because DRM inconveniences legitimate consumers, sometimes even preventing them from using software that they paid for. This can potentially push legitimate consumers to piracy.

One form of DRM is product keys. A product key is a long series of letters and numbers that comes with a piece of software. The user is asked to enter the product key when they install the software in order to “activate” it. The idea behind this is that if the software was pirated, the pirate would not have the product key, and would not be able to activate the software, preventing its use. However, methods exist that can easily bypass this. Cracking is a process where a piece of software has its activation requirements removed, so it can be used without a product key. Keygens are programs that can generate new products keys for any software that requires one.

Some software requires that you always be online while using their software. This allows their servers to verify that the software you are using is legitimate. However, there are problems with this system. If you don’t have Internet access, you cannot use the software, even if you had Internet access when you activated it. Also, if the company ever takes the server down, the software can never be used again. This is the case for games and programs that companies decide to discontinue, or if companies close.

Other software has a set number of allowed installs, usually between three and five. After the limit is reached, the software cannot be used. Usually, unless explicitly allowed, reinstalls on the same computer count as a new installation. This means you can use up all your installs on only one computer.

In the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a law that criminalizes bypassing DRM, like cracking and keygens. This has done little to prevent piracy, as these tools are still readily available.

Many individuals and organizations oppose DRM, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure. Some licenses, like the GNU General Public License and the Creative Commons License, do not allow DRM to be used on software covered by those licenses. has a strict no DRM policy, and Google Play music is DRM free. While some companies are relaxing their DRM usage, others are becoming more aggressive with its usage. And while its impact on piracy is disputed, its impact on some consumers is clear: they aren’t happy.

Inside a Computer: The Kernel

The kernel is a critical program for any computer to operate. It makes up the core framework of a computer’s operating system (OS). The kernel has unlimited access to everything in the computer, which it needs to manage the computer effectively. After the bootloader, it is the first program to to run when you turn your computer on. After loading, the kernel handles the loading of the rest of the OS, as well as many other key aspects of your computer’s operation.

The kernel handles input/output (I/O) requests between hardware and software. Hardware, like your computer’s hard drive, and software, like Microsoft Word, cannot communicate directly with one another. So, when you type a document in Word and want to save it, something has to tell the hard drive that Word would like to save something to it. That is what the kernel’s job is. The kernel acts as a bridge between computer software and computer hardware.

The kernel handles requests made to the central processing unit (CPU). All of your programs need to be processed in order to do what you need them to do. The kernel decides which programs get to be processed and when, so that processing can be a smooth transition from one program to the next.

The kernel also manages random access memory (RAM). Your computer has a limited amount of RAM, and all your programs need some RAM when they are open and running. The kernel decides which programs get which sections of RAM, and also handles problems if your computer runs out of available RAM.

The kernel also handles everything that is connected to your computer, like your keyboard, mouse, flash drives, speakers, etc. The kernel makes sure all these devices have the resources they need to function, and allow them to communicate with the various programs on your computer.

Everything the kernel does, it does in a protected part of the computer, called kernel space. You, as the user, do everything you can do in a part called user space. These two spaces never interact directly, which prevents users from making mistakes which could damage the kernel. This is also why a program can crash without the entire computer crashing.

The kernel is the core of any computer system. It is the bridge between the physical world of hardware and the virtual world of software. It handles every request to a computer, from typing to saving to listening to music. The kernel is the core.

The Dark Web: What is it?

The dark web has become a popular topic of discussion, both on television and on the Internet. I have seen several companies offering “dark web protection”, claiming they can protect your information from being sold on the dark web. But just what is the “dark web”?

The dark web is all of the websites and web content that can be found on darknets. Darknets are networks that exist on the Internet, but can’t be accessed by regular means. These darknets could be small peer-to-peer networks, networks where people connect directly to each other, or they could be larger networks operated by organizations. Tor and I2P are two examples of these larger networks.

You likely are reading this article using a web browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Opera. Darknets, and the dark web, cannot be accessed through these browsers. You need a special browser to access the dark web. The browser you use depends on the network you use. Tor and I2P each has a browser to access its darknet.

So, how does the dark web work? When you connect to the dark web, your information, like your IP address, is routed through several other computers before reaching its destination. This routing hides your identity, guaranteeing anonymity. This high level of encryption means users geolocation and IP address cannot be found, nor can you get that information about the host. So, unlike on a regular website, where you IP address is unencrypted and can be traced, on the dark web, you are completely anonymous. This allows users to hold discussions and blogs without fear of their identities being compromised.

This anonymity has, of course, also allowed criminal activity to take place on the dark web. Illegal pornography, money laundering, black markets, hacking services, fraud, phishing scams, and terrorism all exist on the dark web. Black markets have been known to offer illegal drugs, weapons, credit cards, passports, social security numbers, and other illegal content. However, various law enforcement agencies have been able to bring down several of the popular black markets and child porn sites that used to be found on the dark web.

While the dark web does allow criminal activity to take place, not everything on it is criminal. It allows your information to be safe, which is something that everyone wants. It allows people to speak their mind without fear of persecution. It allows people to make a stand against corrupt governments around the world. And, overall, it makes sure your information stays your information.

Open Source: What is it?

You may have heard the term “Open Source” before and wondered, what is open source? What software is open source? How do I get open source software? More than likely, you use something that is open source every day.

Open source, or more specifically open source software, is computer software that has been released to the world for free. But it is not the software itself that is released, but the source code. Source code is the code that makes up a program. It’s what runs on your computer when you have a program open. Source code is the program. Open source means that anyone can get this source code, and do whatever they want with it. They can just learn from it. They can redistribute it to others. They can even change the source code to add to the program. They are totally free to do with it as they choose.

This is quite different from most software, which is closed source, also called proprietary. Things like Microsoft Office and Windows 10 are proprietary. You pay for the software, then you use the software within the terms to which you agreed. You cannot change or even see the source code which makes up these programs. The source code is “closed” to you.

Some examples of open source software include Linux, WordPress, LibreOffice, Chromium, Mozilla Firefox, and Android. Their source code is “open” to you. You can do with it as you choose. It is also free of charge.

All open source software is licensed. The license is how the copyright holder makes his/her software open source, and it lets users know what they are allowed to do with the source code. Some open source licenses include GNU General Public License, MIT License, and Apache License.

Open source software is a great way for individuals and businesses to save money on their software needs. Most proprietary software types have open source alternatives, allowing you to do everything you need to do without any proprietary software, and therefore, not having to pay anything.