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Sometimes it’s ok to blame your ISP

An aunt of mine in Hyderabad was having a very strange Internet problem. Whenever she tried to access anything online, she was getting some very strange messages. Instead of being taken where she wanted to visit, she was being redirected to a very fishy-looking website. This happened on her computer, on her mobile and on her tablet.

My aunt is a savvy-enough Internet user to know not to click on any of the links on this spammy website she kept getting redirected to. Finally, frustrated beyond belief, she called me and wondered whether I’d seen this before and if I could help.

This was a completely new phenomenon to me, and I did the usual tech support run through with her: clear the cache in your browser; restart your device; wipe your tablet and try again. None of this worked and I was getting increasingly intrigued. To make matters curiouser, this issue was occurring only on my aunt’s BSNL connection. (Just to demonstrate how savvy a web user she is, she has two separate Internet connections at home from different ISPs.)

Searching on the web for the problem didn’t help much. The site my aunt kept getting redirected to was india-mmm.net. It had been shut down because of some nefarious practice or the other, but this being the Internet, it just kept popping back up. After trawling through many forums and doing some quite involved searching, I came across a post mentioning that the issue could actually be in the BSNL DNS.

Before we go any further, I’m sure some people will be wondering what exactly a DNS is. DNS stands for Domain Name System. It’s like an Internet phone book and helps translate machine-speak to human-speak. Each website has an IP address like a phone number. This Internet Protocol address appears as a string of numbers – 192.168.0.1 for instance. Now, there’s no way we’re going to remember a whole list of numbers for each site we want to visit, so the DNS translates these random numbers into a form we can understand like www.thehindu.com.

To see how this works, type this IP address – 121.241.247.61 – into your browser. If you type it exactly as it appears, it should take you to the homepage of The Hindu.

From the forum post, it appeared that some BSNL DNS servers could be compromised and send unsuspecting customers to this malicious site, rather than the one they meant to visit. Not only is it dangerous, but it is also negligent of an ISP to allow this to happen and compromise the safety of their customers.

I managed to fix my aunt’s Internet problem by changing her router settings, and she is now happily surfing away without being redirected to any more fishy sites. Next time, I’ll reveal how I fixed the problem and we’ll delve into the world of DNS and router security. I promise it’ll be fun.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 7:54:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Sometimes-it%E2%80%99s-ok-to-blame-your-ISP/article15604622.ece

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