Wireless headaches

Well, I’m running an open and unprotected wireless network right now, which is probably the least intelligent thing I have knowingly done in several years, security-wise.

It’s one part necessity, one part troubleshooting and one part exasperation, really. When I picked up this router, I deliberately grabbed the one with the USB wireless key so my neighbor, who is a co-worker, would be able to hook up and share the cost of the Internet. It sounded like a fantastic idea to both of us.

Unfortunately, either the router is weak, or the building is too dense because the reception in her apartment, only one floor up and across the hall, is absolutely zero. Nothing.

I do worry that it’s structural interference, but it could be any number of things. She uses an ancient Pentium III desktop running Windows 2000, and I’m 99 percent sure those are underpowered USB 1.1 ports on there. Furthermore, I don’t have much faith in the proprietary software, mostly because I still don’t trust my kanji, but also because it (like so many Windows-based applications) installs any number of monitors, web shields and whatnot, and probably never gets down to the actual business of looking for a network.

Regardless, it picks up nothing … which is also suspicious since I can find six or eight (protected) networks in the immediate area, with both my OLPC XO-1 running Arch, and with the Broadcom 4306 wireless in the Pavilion running Gutsy (the network manager in Hardy is acting up for me at the moment; I dropped back as a troubleshooting measure). It’s possible that the placement of her computer or the location or the geography or … heck, maybe it’s sunspots. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Anyway, the router works fine for me … so long as I don’t try to set it up with any encryption key at all. When I do that, I get nothing for network access. No machines can sign on, with WEP, WPA or anything else either. I tried all the variations, all the settings and the only thing that I can reliably and regularly connect to is an open network.

So for the mean time I’m just watching the logs and the lights from time to time, making sure nobody is leeching off me, and I figure I’ll just screen out MACs if somebody does. It doesn’t look like an issue right now, but you never know.

All of this is tentative though since, like I said, part of the reason for doing this at all was to start some kind of an in-house network for my fellow employees. If this router is too weak — and it might be that too, since Gutsy shows a signal strength of 80 percent … with the router sitting directly behind the laptop — I’ll probably take it back and invest in a more powerful one. This is something I’m willing to spend a little money on, to get it right.

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3 Responses to “Wireless headaches”

  1. 1 matthew 2008/03/29 at 8:13 AM

    You are in good company. Bruce Schneier, the security expert, runs an open access point at home. http://www.wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securitymatters/2008/01/securitymatters_0110

    For what it is worth, I do to.

  2. 2 K.Mandla 2008/03/29 at 10:12 AM

    Thanks for that, matthew. I like his logic on the issue, and I might just leave it open. It feels funny, but it does spare me the agony of figuring out why it won’t authenticate, and I feel like I’m doing something kind of nice. Or at least, I’ve always been grateful when I found an open network. Maybe someone else will too.

  3. 3 CoachDANNY 2008/03/30 at 10:43 PM

    I run my wireless AP open, too. I do it for the ‘plausible deniability’ aspect. Everyday, almost everyone commits some illegal act every time they walk out their door. Speeding, jaywalking, etc. At the rate we’re progressing toward a police state, I’m sure the same will be of online surfing, soon enough.

    You might consider setting up wireless portal with WiFiDog:
    You can set it up on many distros:

    If you do, let me know how it works.

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