Internet Connection Issues
When You Can't Access the Web
This page will assume that your Internet was working at an earlier point, not that you are setting it up for the first time. While the steps listed below may help you troubleshoot a new installation, they were not designed with that purpose in mind.
Basic Internet Terminology
- A modem can generally refer to either cable or ADSL modems. Dial-up modems are mostly obsolete.
- ISP refers to the company that provides you access to the Internet (e.g. Shaw, Telus, Islandnet.com, etc.).
- A router combines the splitting power of a network hub with the ability to protect you with a hardware firewall. Your connection may be hard wired or wireless.
- An IP address is usually represented with a numeric series of numbers separated with dots (e.g. 192.168.1.1) and will vary by ISP and by router brand.
- A (web) browser is a program used to view web pages on the Internet. IE is the browser included with Windows, but there are many others.
When your Internet service is disrupted, there can be many things that have gone wrong. The best way to start is to determine if everything is broken or if the difficulty is only with certain programs or websites. Try the following series of steps, in order, to see if this fixes your problem. These lists assume that you will stop when you resolve the issue(s) you are having.
Windows users should reboot their computer to see if that fixes the problem. This will fix many problems by resetting Windows settings, including the IP address for your Internet access.
Your Internet Connection
If restarting Windows doesn't work, try to determine if the problem is a general lack of any Internet access or if access works for some programs or sites but not others.
If There is No Internet Access
If you have no Internet access (you cannot reach any Web addresses and your email doesn't work) try the following steps to determine where the breakdown is:
- Check that your modem (and your router if you have one) has power. Recycle the power, if necessary. This may be especially necessary if you have a router because your ISP (Shaw, Rogers or Telus, etc.) may change dynamic IP addresses every so often.
- Check the connections at both ends of all wires. This may sound silly, but things get pulled or simply break. Check the connection to the cable jack or phone line as well as the network cable (CAT5) between the modem and the computer or router (there should be a green LED lit on most systems). Hopefully, you've verified the power connections in the step above.
- Be sure that your software and/or hardware firewall is running correctly.
- The issue may be with your ISP. All providers have problems from time-to-time (most advertise expected ones on their site so their customers can plan around them). If there is no general outage, then the problem may be specific to your connection. Give your ISP a call to see if they are having difficulties in your area.
If Access is Limited
If you are able to view certain sites, but not others, or if only some of your programs are working, try the following:
- If you are able to view local content but cannot see sites hosted across the country or elsewhere, there could be a blockage in the Internet grid. Have a look at The Internet Traffic Report (see the graphic image to the right) which monitors the flow of data around the world. On their site, you can view data for specific cities, helping to pinpoint potential problems. There is little you can do about this sort of problem other than to wait it out.
- If your email works fine but your problem appears to be related only to your web browser, have a look at the Browser Problems section.
- If you can surf the Web OK, but you have difficulty sending or receiving email, have a look at the Email Problems section.
In order to protect yourself while connected to the Internet, you should be using both a software and a hardware firewall. There is more information about these on the Firewalls page, including why you need them.
If you are having difficulty with your Internet access, you'll need to determine if your firewall is not creating the problem.
I have tested several of the popular software firewall packages as well as done extensive research on them. I found ZoneAlarm to be the best product for a number of reasons.
There is a free basic firewall available for personal use although ZoneAlarm Pro or Internet Security Suite will simplify the process of determining what programs should have access and provides protection against a multifaceted attach. A combination of products from two or more vendors may not cooperate.
I'll use ZoneAlarm in the examples below. The testing process should be similar with other firewall products. Your product manual or the company's website should give you more information.
Configuring ZoneAlarm Incorrectly Can Stop Internet Access
Programs like ZoneAlarm are designed to protect you from unwanted and dangerous traffic to and from the Internet. ZoneAlarm shuts access to the Internet off for everything by default. The free basic firewall depends upon you to determine if various programs should get access to the Internet. If you have not configured ZoneAlarm properly, your Internet service might not work.
To correct an incorrect installation of ZoneAlarm, you may need to uninstall and reinstall it to rectify the problem. The same may be true if ZoneAlarm is not running at all. In extreme cases you may have to reinstall ZoneAlarm in order to be able to uninstall it. (See Uninstalling ZoneAlarm for instructions.)
Testing ZoneAlarm's Firewall Settings
There are many programs tracked by ZoneAlarm and incorrectly choosing to deny access could be the source of your problem.
- Double left-click the ZoneAlarm ZA icon beside the clock to restore the program. It may be showing red and green brads if there is Internet activity.
- Click on the Firewall menu on the left then click on the Main tab at the top right.
- You should see two slider controls labelled Internet Zone Security and Trusted Zone Security. Normally, these should be set to High and Medium respectively.
- Try moving the Internet Zone Security to Off and see if your browser has access to the Internet.
If you are able to access the Internet with ZoneAlarm off, then the problem is with your ZoneAlarm settings and you should probably do a clean install (to remove any settings) using the most current version of ZoneAlarm or ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite to reset your program access.
Testing Without ZoneAlarm
If the previous test didn't give you access, ZoneAlarm may be corrupted and should be uninstalled. Once ZoneAlarm has been uninstalled, your Internet should work. Try the connection without ZoneAlarm to see if it works.
- If it does, then your problem was with ZoneAlarm and you should reinstall it (do a clean install to remove any settings) to restore the protection it offers you.
- Otherwise you need to look elsewhere for the source of the blockage of your Internet access. Do not reinstall ZoneAlarm until you've resolved the problems with access.
Other Reasons for ZoneAlarm Access Issues
Incorrect configuration of ZoneAlarm is not the only possible cause for lack of Internet access.
One of the Windows Updates that Microsoft released on July 8, 2008 (KB951748) causes ZoneAlarm to treat the changes as a malicious attack on Windows. As a result, ZoneAlarm users were unable to access the Internet. Setting the Internet Zone Security to Medium resolved the issue temporarily until a new version of ZoneAlarm could be installed that fixed the problem.
You can read more about this issue if you think this may be the problem you're having.
Hardware Firewall Issues
If you have followed the steps to this point and you still have a problem, you'll need to verify that your modem and/or your router (if you have one) are not the problem.
Recycling Power to Your Router and Modem
Start by recycling the power to your router and modem:
- Turn off the power to the modem then the router, and wait for two minutes.
- Turn the modem on and wait for the lights to settle (you should see a steady light on the modem) then turn on the router.
- Wait 30 seconds.
- Turn your computer on.
Note: If you have to do this relatively frequently, you might find it easier to purchase a decent power bar (not the $10 variety) to protect your investment in your modem/router as well as making it easier to turn off the power to both the modem and router with a single switch.
This process will force a new IP lease from your ISP and everything should now work.
Try Without the Router
Try your Internet connection without the router. If the Internet is accessible, try to run it with the router again. If that fails, proceed to the next step in resetting and setting up your router.
Resetting Your Router
If you continue to have problems, you should try resetting the router. Obtain the instructions for your particular router from the manufacturer's website or from the documentation that came with your router. Most have a recessed reset button that can be held down for a minute or two with the tip of a ball point pen or an opened paper clip to restore the factory settings.
Configuring the Router
You will then have to configure the router again to have it work with your network. You may wish to have some professional help in accomplishing that (at the very least you should read the manual provided with your router).
Ensure that your computer is connected to the router with a network cable during the setup process.
Never alter your router settings while connected through a wireless connection — you will lose access to the router when it reboots during the setup process.
Browser Security & Access Issues
Internet Explorer exposes your computer to more vulnerabilities than any other browser.
Ensure that the patch for a critical vulnerability in Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 is installed. As long as Windows Update is configured to automatically download and install updates, you will be patched, otherwise check for updates manually.
IE is very tightly tied into the Windows operating system — any vulnerabilities expose your whole Windows system to attack. No other browser does this.
Alternative browsers and email programs that use components of IE to display HTML messages (anything but plain, unenhanced text) are also vulnerable to these exploits.
- Use Internet Explorer only for Windows Update.
- Use Firefox or another recommended browser for anything else.
- Note that many alternative browsers are Internet Explorer-based and therefore share IE vulnerabilities.
The exceptions might include sites like Symantec for running their Norton Antivirus fixtool. The fact that you can't run Symantec's tools on anything but Internet Explorer should tell you something about the vulnerabilities you expose yourself to when using IE on the Web.
In fact, those that run Internet Explorer for all their surfing will gradually find their system is running slower and slower since IE's design flaws allow it to install spyware and other malicious software merely by visiting a website.
More recent developments have made this more difficult, but the fact remains that Internet Explorer places you at greater risk than any other browser out there.
Learning More About Security Vulnerabilities
Internet security vulnerabilities, including Windows security weaknesses and web browser weaknesses, may have something to do with failed Internet connections.
Most problems with access for browsers are relatively simple to track and fix. If you are not sure that you have working Internet access, first troubleshoot your Internet connection.
ZoneAlarm Permission Needed
As with other programs seeking Internet access, ZoneAlarm must be told to allow your web browser(s) to have access to the Internet. If you upgrade the program, you will be asked about access for the updated (changed) program.
When you open the ZoneAlarm Program Control tab to the left then the Programs sub-menu, you should see two green check marks beside your browser under Access. See the ZoneAlarm documentation for more information.
Proxies, On-line Status, etc.
There are several other factors that can create a problem with access to the Internet for your web browser:
- Be sure that your browser is set to work on-line. This may be indicated by an icon in the browser's status bar, but the simplest way to check is to go to the File menu and check the on-line status there.
- Be sure that no proxies are set — there should be a direct connection to the Internet. You may need to speak to the person responsible for your Internet access (e.g. your IT department or landlord) if you don't manage it yourself.
- Firefox: Tools, then Options. Click on the General Tab then the Connection Settings button. Select Direct connection to the Internet
- Internet Explorer: Tools, then Internet Options (or through the Control Panel). Click on the Connections tab, then the LAN Settings button. Select Automatically detect settings.
- Opera: Tools, then Preferences. Click on the Advanced tab, then Network on the left. Ensure that nothing is entered in the section that opens when you click on the Proxy Servers button.
- Safari: Safari uses Microsoft's Internet Options in the Control Panel for proxy settings.
- Be sure that pop-up blockers are not stopping access to a site. Most browsers provide some sort of notice that a site is being blocked.
Be Sure the Specific Browser Isn't the Problem
You may need to uninstall and reinstall a browser that continues to be unable to access the Internet. If Firefox or another browser fails to work, yet Internet Explorer works, try reinstalling that browser. Be sure that you are running a current version of your browser.
Try installing Firefox if your only browser is Internet Explorer. IE is tied so closely to Windows that you may be looking at a complete reinstall of your Windows if it fails, so you'll want to determine if the problem is unique to Internet Explorer. Browsers that depend upon IE components are unsuitable for testing purposes and have the same vulnerabilities as IE.
If you are having difficulty sending or receiving email, there are several things that can be causing this. In many cases, simply restarting your computer will fix the problem. If not, proceed through the possibilities listed below.
Test Your Connection
First, see if you are able to connect to the Internet with your browser. If this works, the issue is with your email program. Otherwise, you need to check your Internet connection.
If the browser has access, there are several reasons that you may not be able to send or receive messages:
- Your ISP may be having difficulties.
- Your email program may be incorrectly configured.
- Cable ISPs deny access to incoming messages unless you are connected to their service.
- Many high-speed ISPs block outgoing messages to servers other than their own.
- You may have failed to give permission for firewall access.
- Antivirus failures.
Note: Running more than one firewall program or more than one antivirus program on your computer at the same time can cause both to fail.
The issue may be with your ISP. All providers have problems from time-to-time (most advertise expected ones on their site so their customers can plan around them). If there is no general outage, then the problem may be related to your email settings. You should find the correct settings on your ISP's website or call them to be sure that you have configured your email program correctly.
Be sure that your email program is configured properly. You will need to ensure that both the incoming and outgoing servers are correctly entered. Your ISP should have information on their website or you can contact them about the correct settings.
Some ISPs (such as Shaw and Telus) previously did not support email clients other than Outlook Express (now obsolete) and some ISPs continued to use outdated support material. This has changed with the release of Windows Vista (which has Windows Mail) and Windows 7 (without any native email client).
Since most email programs use the same settings, this shouldn't be a problem except that terminology and the location of these settings may be different. Have a look at your email client's support pages to learn how to configure your program with the information available from your ISP.
Try Your ISP's Webmail to Verify Settings
You can verify email settings by checking them on your ISP's webmail service. If you don't succeed you can try various combinations to see what is the correct combination. Some webmail services require you use your complete email address and I've notice this can also be required by your ISP in your email program.
Blocked Incoming Messages
Shaw (and other cable providers) block incoming messages unless you are directly connected to your Shaw cable connection. This block extends to uploading of web content and other services as well.
If you are using your laptop in a coffee shop, you will have to use Shaw's Webmail. Most ISPs now provide webmail service to their customers.
Blocked Outgoing Messages
If you may get an error message when you try to send a message or simply are unable to send messages, you may be dealing with port-blocking by your ISP.
Shaw, Telus and some other high-speed Internet providers block outgoing messages that are sent to servers other than their own. You may get an error message when you try to send a message or simply be unable to send messages.
This will affect you if you are using an email account for a website hosted elsewhere or are using alternative email accounts including Islandnet's high speed cable users.
Islandnet provides a simple work-around that will enable you to use Islandnet servers to send mail. Simply configure your email account settings to use Port 2525 for the Outgoing Server instead of Port 25. Do NOT change any shaw.ca accounts:
- Thunderbird: Click on Tools then Account Settings. Click on Outgoing Server (SMTP), select the affected account and change the Port to 2525.
- PocoMail 4/Barca 2: Click on Tools then Account Setup. Select the affected account, then click Edit. Click on the Outgoing tab on the left, ensure that Outgoing server port number is selected, then change the Port to 2525.
- PocoMail 3: Click on Tools then Account Setup. Select the affected account, then click Edit. Click on the Outgoing tab on the left, ensure that Account Server Settings is checked, then change the Server to mail.islandnet.com:2525.
- Outlook Express: Click on Tools then Accounts. Select the affected account, then click Properties. Click on the Advanced tab on the top, look for Server Port Numbers at the top, then change the Outgoing mail (SMTP) setting to 2525.
You will need to make the changes for all non-Shaw or non-Telus accounts. Click OK to accept the changes when you are done.
If you're not using an Islandnet account and your ISP doesn't support alternative SMTP ports, you'll have to use your Shaw, Telus or alternative ISP's SMTP settings for sending mail.
However, as more folks move to smart phones and multiple portable devices to access their mail on the go, these ISPs are being forced to adapt or lose their customers.
You should have your antivirus program configured to check at least incoming mail. Sending and receiving of email can fail if the antivirus program doesn't start properly.
In many cases, you can restore functionality by restarting Windows.
Be aware that most attacks are multifaceted — you are vulnerable to drive-by downloads when visiting websites, opening attached files, malware in downloads and through many other avenues — even coordinated attacks. Simply having an antivirus program is no longer sufficient.
Ensure Your Antivirus is Correctly Configured
You should also be sure that the antivirus is configured properly. Setting everything to the program's defaults should work for most people. C
If your program has become corrupted or indicates that there is a problem with the installation, you should consult the support site for your antivirus vendor. Be sure you're running the most recent version of the program and that all available updates are installed.
Reinstalling Your Antivirus
The next step is to completely uninstall your antivirus program (including the settings and items in your virus vault), reboot then reinstall the program. You'll want to be sure that you have the most recent downloaded version of your antivirus program before you uninstall because you're not safe without protection.
More About Related Issues
Protecting Your Online Identity
The following related pages offer more information about protecting your online identity:
- Encryption — Protecting Your Data
- Passwords — Protecting Your Electronic Signature
- Avoiding Spam — Unsolicited Emails and Mailing Lists
- Phishing & Identity Theft — Obtaining Information by Deceit
- Proper Email Address Etiquette — Using To:, CC: & BCC: Correctly
Securing Your Computer
The following related pages offer more information about securing your computer:
- Security Basics — Preventing Unauthorized Access
- Security Strategies — Avoiding Infections
- Firewalls — Your First Line of Defense
- ZoneAlarm Security — Recommended Firewall Products
- Anti-Virus Protection — Current Alerts, Strategies, Hoaxes & Software
- Your Privacy At Risk — Spyware Detection & Removal
- Encryption — Protecting Your Data
- Passwords — Protecting Your Electronic Signature
- Web Security — Vulnerabilities in Internet Software
- Windows Security — Vulnerabilities in Windows
Updated: May 6, 2013