As wireless 802.11 networks grows in popularity the number of insecure private and business networks skyrockets. Setting up a small hotspot is usually a matter of plugging in the wireless Access Point (AP) and you’ll have full access. This unfortunately means that everyone else has too, unless you know what you’re doing. As a natural consequence of this, there are a lot of myths out there on how you can keep the Evildoers off your network. Most of them have a base in reality, but if you don’t have all the facts they can give you a false sense of security as they might not be as bullet proof as they seem. Let’s go through some of them Mythbusters style:

Adding a MAC filter will let you decide which computers get to connect

MAC addresses are supposed to be the physical address of your computer’s (or AP’s) network adapters. Letting the AP have a list of physical cards which are allowed to connect seems like a good idea. Unfortunately MAC addresses are a) always transmitted in the open regardless of any encryption, and b) can be overridden in a lot of configurations. In other words, an attacker can listen for what MAC addresses are connected to the network, and then assume one of these identities. It would be best for the attacker to find a MAC which either leaves the network or is generating little traffic, since that computer (or strictly speaking the network adapter) of the “victim” and the attacker will be one and the same as far as the AP is concerned. Traffic bound for one of them will be received by both with ensuing messiness.

Conclusion: Busted! It will keep your random bypasser from connecting to the net, but won’t stop anyone really wanting in.

Setting the AP to not broadcast the SSID will keep people not knowing what it is from connecting

While knowing the Service Set ID is necessary to connect to a wlan, it’s not really a secret. Like the MAC addresses it’s transmitted in the open without any encryption, but unlike the MAC it’s not transmitted with every packet. Instead it’s included in the handshake when someone connects to the network, so you’ll be safe as long as no legal users ever connect to you network. Clever.

Conclusion: Busted! Again, it’ll keep the random jokers away but that’s about it.

WEP encryption is of no use

Cracking a WEP key doesn’t take much time in a network with a lot of traffic, and with packet injection techniques an attacker can even generate the traffic necessary for the crypto analysis to work without really being part of the network. There are however two upsides to WEP encryption as opposed to the two previous methods. 1) Cracking the wep key is without a doubt BREAKING into the network in a (il)legal sense, and 2) you won’t be transmitting your emails and surfing habit to anyone that might be passing and not inclined to crack the key.
Conclusion: Busted! It’s useless in the same way that locking your front door is useless if you’ve got windows in your house. Not the perfect analogy since someone bashing in a window can’t remain undetected.

WEP: Breakable but not completely without use

WPA2 is better than WPA

While WPA is an attempt to patch up the gaping security holes in WEP and still run on old hardware, WPA2 is rebuilt from the ground up with heftier encryption and message authentication using the AES algorithm which at the present has no known theoretical weaknesses. Since it had to be designed to run on old hardware WPA’s TKIP encryption and “Michael” authentication algorithms are inherently weaker, but no practical attacks have to my knowledge been suggested.

Conclusion Confirmed! If your hardware supports WPA2, there are no reasons not to choose it over WPA. However, there’s no need to panic just yet if it doesn’t.

You can’t touch me! I’m using WPA(2)!

While there are no known weaknesses (at least exploitable ones) in the system or encryption primitives, you need to realize that no system is stronger than its secrets. Most home users and small business are probably using WPA(2) in Pre Shared Key (PSK) mode, where the security is based on the supplicants knowing a secret key or a passphrase which is manually entered in the AP and the clients. This secret is then used to set up a common encryption key during the handshake between the client and AP. However, this process is part of the standard and well documented, the handshake can be recorded by an attacker using a standard packet sniffer and the only actual secret is the passphrase. This means that if a handshake is recorded and the passphrase is weak because it’s subject to a dictionary attack, the whole system falls apart. In other words, your super secret WPA2 network with super secret passphrase “Volvo” might very well take less time to crack than your average WEP based wlan.

Conclusion: If you don’t know what you’re doing: Busted!

You can’t touch me! I’m using WPA(2) in Enterprise mode with none of that shared key nonsense!

While an attacker might well be powerless today, there’s nothing stopping him from recording all the traffic for future analysis if he’s really determined. If your data is so sensitive that you cannot possibly accept that the data you transfer today might be decrypted 5 years into the future when a new weakness with today’s system is discovered you really shouldn’t be broadcasting it. That’s the key word right there – you are BROADCASTING your secrets in the hope that no one ever will be able to decrypt them. If you think that sounds like a bad idea, I would recommend sticking to the good old cables as of now, or at least use some form of upper level encryption like VPN and pray that that too will stay infallible.

Conclusion: As of right now, it’s Confirmed. If you’re willing to bet your secrets that it will remain confirmed forever and you don’t have any attackers that are very patient, then there’s nothing to worry about in the wlan department.

That’s it for now. While this might lack the explosions, walrus mustaches and the occasional beautiful women of the real Mythbusters, you’ve got to admit that wireless mythbusting is far more fun! For the whole family!

So, you’ve bought a Linksys WRT55AG Wireless A+G router, and now you’ve realized it doesn’t work properly. It drops the wireless connections on random intervalls, it suddenly refuses to open new connections to the outside world and it even crashes completely from time to time! The all round fix for these sorts of problems is always “Just update the firmware!”, but without a firmware update in sight you’re kinda stuck. But fear not! Follow these tricks to at least make this rubbish piece of… kit at least possible to use.

Hey! Stop dropping my wireless connection!

The dropped wireless connections was my first indication that things weren’t all like they should be. They came as a complete surprise too, since the WRT55AG was set up to replace its younger brother, the Linksys WRT54GS, which I had been running for months without a glitch (as soon as the firmware was updated). The 55AG however, would drop the wireless connection up to several times an hour even if the signal quality was excellent. This made it completely useless to do anything but surf the web, as the connection would be down for ~5 seconds while the IP-address was renegotiated through the DHCP-server and all TCP-connections would be broken. Try streaming video, playing games or even staying connected to MSN, IRC or ICQ-servers… Frustrating!

Well, even if this technically doesn’t stop the router from fumbling up the connection to your wireless adapter, it does make the connection drops really hard to spot. What you need to do is set the adapter’s IP, gateway and DNS-addresses manually, instead of relying on the DHCP-negotiation. These addresses are set either in your network adapters software or under the properties of your adapter in the Windows Control Panel -> Network connections -> Right click on the wireless adapter -> Properties, select TCP/IP and press the Properties button.

If you’re not sure what these addresses should be you can follow these instructions as long as you’re already connected to the router:

1) Log onto the router. This is done by opening a web browser and typing in the address if this hasn’t been changed in the router’s configuration. If it has, you can find the router’s address in Windows by pressing Start -> Run -> type cmd and enter -> ipconfig and enter. The “Default gateway” is your router’s address. The default password is “admin” with no username.

2) In the router’s web configuration utility, press Status -> Local Network. You should see something like this:

DHCP Server DHCP Server: Enabled
Start IP Address:
End IP Address: signifies the lower and upper limits for the IP-addresses the router gives out through DHCP. Choose a random address between and 192.168.99 (or *.150 - *.255) as your network adapters address. Mine's, with the subnet mask

3) The "Default Gateway" should be your router's address, probably

4) You can get away with setting the DNS server(s) to your router's address too, but I've seen certain Windows installations acting funny when this is done, refusing to look up several addresses at a time and stuff like that. If you experience such problems set the proper DNS addresses directly. You'll find these in the router configuration by once again pressing the "Status" tab. Under the "Internet connection" tab you'll find something like this:


It's usual to have several DNS-servers. The router supports three, your Windows adapter probably just two. Use two if your ISP supplies them.

There you have it. The router will still technically drop the connection from time to time, but instead of a several seconds long blackout and dropped TCP-connections you'll just experience a short latency burst.

Hello? Hellooo?

So, you just lost the ability to make new connections to the outside world and no web servers are resonding? But you can still use your local network and log onto the router via the web interface?

This can be "fixed" by logging onto the router, and selecting Status -> IP Renew under the "Internet connection" header. Or selecting Setup -> Save settings. Other selections probably work too. My guess: some buffer has gone full, and it's flushed when the router reboots. *sigh*

Hello?! Hellooooooooo?!

So, everything just stopped, and you cannot connect to the router. It's crashed. The lights on the router keeps blinking merrily like there's nothing wrong, but it's gone. Pull the plug, wait a minute, reinsert. Come to think of it, this is how I fixed my C64 when that crashed. No, wait a minute. That had a proper power switch.

In conlusion, if you're on the lookout for a 802.11a router, get something else. You might also want to check out the User Opinions at CNet's. If you already own one it can be learned to live with. Much like most diseases.