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Chapter 2 Network 4 Newbies

Abstract Computer networks are the veins of the information age, protocols the language of the net.

This chapter describes the basics of networking starting with hardware going over to topology and the functionality of the most common protocols of an Ethernet/IP/TCP network up to Man-in-the-middle attacks. For all who want to rebuild or refresh their knowledge of networking.

2.1 Components

To be able to build a computer network of course you need some hardware. Depending on the kind of net you'll need cables, modems, old school acoustic in banana boxes, antennas or satellite receivers beside computers and network cards as well as router (Sect. 2.14), gateways (Sect. 2.13), firewalls Sect. 2.18, bridges (Sect. 2.15), hubs and switches.

A hub is just a simple box you plug network cables in and it will copy all signals to all connected ports. This property will probably lead to an explosion of network traffic. That's a reason why hubs are rarely used these days. Instead most of the time you will see switches building the heart of the network. The difference between a hub and a switch is a switch remembers the MAC address of the network card connected to the port and sends traffic only to the port it's destinated to. MAC addresses will be explained in more detail in Sect. 2.4.

2.2 Topologies

You can cable and construct computer networks in different ways. Nowadays the most common variant is the so called star network (see Fig. 2.1), where all computer are connected to a central device. The disadvantage is that this device is a single point of failure and the whole network will break down if it gets lost. This disadvantage can be circumstanced by using redundant (multiple) devices.

Another possibility is to connect all computers in one long row one after the other, the so called bus network (see Fig. 2.2). The disadvantage of this topology is that each computer must have two network cards and depending on the destination

Fig. 2.1 Star network

Fig. 2.2 Bus network

the traffic gets routed through all computers of the net. If one of them fails or has too high a load the connections behind that host are lost.

The author has seen only a few bus networks this decade and all consisted of two computers directly connected to guarantee time critical or traffic intensive services like database replication, clustering of application servers or synchronization of backup servers. In all cases the reason for a bus network was to lower the load of the star network.

As last variant the ring network (Fig. 2.3) should be mentioned, which as the name implies connects all computers in a circle. The ring network has the same disadvantages as a bus network except that the network will only fail partly if a computer gets lost as long as the net can route the traffic the other way round. The author has not seen a productive ring network, but some wise guys whisper that it is the topology of backbones used by ISPs and large companies.

Additionally one often reads about LAN (Local Area Network), WAN (Wide Area Network) and sometimes even about MAN (Middle Area Network). A LAN is a local network that's most of the time limited to a building, floor or room.

In modern networks most computers are connected on a LAN over one or more switches. Multiple LANs connected over a router or VPN (see Sect. 2.17) are called MAN. If the network spreads over multiple countries or even the whole world like the internet than it is defined as a WAN.

Fig. 2.3 Ring network

Fig. 2.4 OSI model

 
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