Blessed are the Geeks, for they shall internet the earth

Enter the Wireless World
Graham Parks


For quite some time now I have looked with interest at getting wireless networking at home. This week I decided the time had come.

I currently use a desktop machine running Windows 2000 and a laptop running XP. These connect to a small hub which is linked to an Ethernet Broadband router.

I found that I was not using the laptop that much, mainly because I have got used to having an ‘always on’ Internet connection and the only way to get that on the laptop was to have it connected up alongside my desktop PC. I had considered running some CAT5 to other locations in the house, but never got around to doing it. Going wireless seemed the perfect solution.

I had been holding off buying wireless because I had decided to wait for the faster 802.11g devices to hit the market. A week back I looked around the market and saw that there is now a good selection of devices available. I eventually decided on the Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router. See here http://www.tomshardware.com/network/20030325/index.html for a full review. I also bought a Linksys wireless card for the laptop. I decided to buy both items from the same manufacturer because I had heard some horror stories of getting a mixed bag of wireless hardware working together.

The postman arrived yesterday morning with a parcel and I dived in. I opened up the packaging and got everything out and had a look at the documentation. Yeah, I know! I apologise! I can hardly call myself a techie if I admit to RTFM. In my defence I did not read it all and just skimmed the pages I did read.

The Linksys Wireless Router has got four switched 10/100 Ethernet ports so I decided to put it in place of my old hub. The Linksys does not contain a broadband modem so I needed to retain my old MRI Ethernet Broadband router/Modem. I connected my desktop to one of the Linksys’ ports, connected the Linksys’ uplink to the MRI and crossed my fingers. I was concerned about potential addressing problems as my old MRI acted as a DHCP server and the new Linksys also had a DHCP server built in. I need not have worried. I had been using IP 10.0.0.0 as an internal network address. The new Linksys uses 192.168.0.0. I checked my desktop machine and found that it had changed addresses quite happily. I found that I could still connect to the Internet OK. The Linksys router provides the ability to manage it from a web browser and I connected no problem. I just had a look around to start with, no point in getting too bold to start with. I noted that the Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) was turned off by default. I decided to leave it off initially. The only thing I changed was the SSID (wireless network name).

I then turned to the laptop. I plugged in the new card, inserted the CD and everything installed fine. Note: The driver is not signed.

I then installed the management utility from the CD onto the laptop. Once I started the utility I quickly saw a working link. Using XPs network properties I was quickly able to setup a wireless network connection. I then fired up a browser and found to my surprise that I had a connection to the Internet. It really was that easy, I got it right first time.

However, I was fully aware that what I had got was a totally unsecure system broadcasting out its SSID to the world.

There are four things you really ought to do to secure your wireless network.

  1. Change the default admin password on the router
  2. Enable Wireless Encryption Protocol
  3. Disable SSID Broadcasting
  4. Enable MAC address filtering

Back to router management and I first changed the default password to the router. I next enabled 128bit WEP. I will not go into full details here as I am sure that different hardware solutions offer slightly different ways of doing this. After enabling WEP, I ended up with encryption keys that the system had generated once I had entered a passphrase. I then went to the laptop and enabled WEP and set it up using the keys generated by the router. And what do you know, it all worked first time again. MAC address filtering was easy as well, so now only my laptop could access the router. Finally I disabled SSID broadcasting.

Then started working on the laptop and was very pleased with the speed of the link. I wandered around the house checking the signal strength and found no problems. I went out into the garden and found the only problem was the brightness of my laptop screen.

And then the link dropped out. A minute or so later it came back, but the problem reoccurred about five minutes later. I rebooted the laptop and found that I could not connect, although this problem also sorted itself out a few minutes later. I checked the Linksys website and found a newer version of the card driver, so I downloaded and installed that. No change, the disconnection problem still came and went.

Eventually I tried turning on SSID broadcasting again and the problem went away. At the time of writing this I still have the problem. I hope that after doing some reading I will be able to sort this out.

Finally I tried to link my laptop to my desktop and got nothing. I quickly realised that I was the victim of my own defences. Because of the IP address changes my firewall software on each machine was stopping communication. A couple of minutes reconfiguring that and all was well.

In conclusion, I am very pleased with the results. The wireless link is fast and reliable. It was easy to install and configure. For the average user it would be reasonably easy to get the equipment up and running, but securing it takes some time and knowledge. For the future I want to get the SSID broadcast problem fixed and explore the firewall built into the router to further strengthen my security. My only concern is signal strength. I have no problems, but in a larger house with more solid walls signal strength might be an issue. There is no fix for this, Linksys do not offer a better antennae.

I am already seeing the benefits of wireless. I am now able to work where I like and have found that working in the living room with my stereo on is much better than having to put up with my PC sound system. All in all, a worthwhile investment.

Send your comments to GrahamParks@Thenetworkadministrator.com

 




 


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