LET'S PLAY PASSWORD
Enter the world of password-protected BBS'sby SUZI SUBECK
Telecommunications circuits are growing busier by the minute, as more
and more Atari home computerists communicate via the telephone lines.
Inexpensive hardware and software, combined with recent newspaper headlines,
have been primarily responsible for this increase in the number of Atari
bulletin board users.
The extensive media coverage of the Minneapolis, Minnesota,-based 414's (the high school students who broke into a number of computer systems using home computers and modems) has resulted in a great deal of curiosity about home telecommunications and has boosted the sale of modems. The development of direct-connect modems, such as the Microbits MPP-1000C (and its Smart Terminal cartridge), has significantly reduced the cost of home telecommunications by eliminating the need for the costly Atari 850 interface. The resulting influx of new callers is a welcome addition to the world of Atari telecommunications, and it has produced at least one interesting side effect.
Up until a few months ago, more than fifty percent of all Atari bulletin board systems (BBS's) were run on AMIS software. AMIS is a user-friendly, public domain bulletin board program designed for Atari computers. Current surveys indicate, however, that more complicated, less user-friendly, password-oriented BBS programs are becoming popular. The large number of new callers is the main reason for this changeover to password-protected BBS'S.
There are a number of good reasons for a BBS that offers password protection. Unfortunately, there is one grave disadvantage to such a system: Most password systems are extremely intimidating to callers who are not familiar with BBS'S. New callers are confused by password prompts, such as "System ID" or "Enter your password," and are unsure if such systems are free of charge, offer public domain software, and are open to all callers. New callers also are unfamiliar with the process of obtaining a password and of getting past the original password prompt.
FOREM AND CARNIVAL
The two most popular Atari bulletin board programs that offer password protection are FOREM and CARNIVAL. Both of these systems allow callers to log-on without a password by responding with "GUEST" to the initial BBS prompt. Many BBS options are denied to callers who do not have valid passwords. Nonetheless, it's generally worth logging onto a system as a "GUEST" to learn how to obtain a password to the system, whether or not there's a charge for use of the board and if there are any other applicable restrictions or considerations.
Most Atari BBS's are free, and obtaining passwords for them is easy. In fact, most FOREM and CARNIVAL boards use an identical on-line "password application." This includes the caller's name, city, state and choice of a system I.D. (On CARNIVAL boards, this password is limited to a four-character word or a four-digit number.) Write down your password and keep it near your telephone-it is always the first thing you'll be asked for when you sign on to the system. Use the same password on all bulletin boards; this will avoid unnecessary confusion.
Some system operators (or sysops) will call you on your voice phone to validate your password; others will simply add it to their system. In either case, the validation process usually takes less than 24 hours.
ADVANTAGES OF PASSWORD-PROTECTION
There are several advantages to using (or running) a BBS that offers password protection, because the expanded capabilities of such BBS software are beneficial to sysops as well as callers.
For instance, both FOREM and CARNIVAL let the sysop place a maximum time limit on all calls. This allows more callers to access the system, and gives new callers an opportunity to learn. In addition, any board benefits from increased input, because it means that there will be more information for all users to share.
Because each BBS's password file must be updated regularly, sysops must spend some additional time maintaining password-protected systems. However, one of the advantages of FOREM and CARNIVAL is that they include a "remote sysop status" option. This option allows the sysop to engage the services of a friend or associate as an assistant sysop, who can help with regular BBS maintenance from a remote location (a location removed from the BBS itself).
Another advantage of password-protected BBS's is that they give sysops the ability to refuse access to abusive callers-callers who post distasteful messages on the board, for instance. Most public domain systems do not allow X-rated or off-color messages. The instant log-on/log-off technique used by password-protected boards helps the operator keep track of what is posted on the system.
LIMITED-ACCESS MESSAGE AREAS
Both FOREM and CARNIVAL support multiple message area sub-systems. This allows a sysop to include limited-access message areas on the system. These limited-access areas are designed for private communications, and are controlled by a special password file.
Multiple message areas allow a BBS to be divided into special interest areas, such as business and industry, adventure games or current events. Some boards include an on-line story area in which callers add text to a progressive group writing project. Dungeons and Dragons is another popular topic for a special interest area. It's also possible to run a BBS quiz that lists questions in one area of the board and posts answers in a private message area.
The greatest advantage to a password-protected system is the ability to post and retrieve electronic mail, or "E-Mail." Through the use of passwords, system users can leave private messages that can only be accessed by the person to whom they are addressed. After you logon to a board that offers E-Mail, the BBS asks if you want to "Check mail?" If you answer yes, a list of the message numbers addressed to you will be listed on the screen. E-mail makes message retrieval fast, easy and private.
ACCESS TO DATABASES
FOREM and CARNIVAL also makes provisions for the use of multiple databases. FOREM supports 25 different levels of user security-enough for 25 separate data bases. CARNIVAL provides nine levels.
At the sysop's discretion, a caller's password may be assigned to more than one security level. For instance, your password could give you access to both a specific message base and a specific database. Multiple databases can be structured in a number of ways; however, most sysops do not use all of the available security levels because of hardware or disk space limitations.
The sysop can assign security levels based on need and use. In addition, sysops can stratify the various levels of the database by special interest. For example, one level could be reserved for educational uploads and downloads, one for utilities, and so on.
The flexibility of the FOREM and CARNIVAL BBS software is a boon to any BBS. FOREM is more structured, but overall both programs are quite useful, and, once mastered, are just as accessible to a new caller as AMIS.
The following updates should be added to the list that appeared last month in "Call Me Modem" (Antic, p. 16, July 1984). Sysops should send updates regarding their boards and boards in their areas to Suzi Subeck, c/o Antic, 524 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94107.
Tabernacle Education and Religion
24-hour operation-no password
24-hour operation-no password
24-hour operation-no password
Evening hours only-password
DOWN for good
Evening hours-no password
Evening hours after 10:00 pm-password required