Tag Archives: wifi

WiFi on Airlines: Great Idea, Bad Users

I’ve learned that quite a few airlines are starting to offer in-flight WiFi service. The addition of this amenity has been long overdue.

I’m just hoping that people will be responsible with the wireless connection at 30,000 feet. It won’t take much to ruin a nearby passenger’s flight. How about some guidelines?

  1. Either hit the mute button or use your headphones
  2. Avoid browsing adult Web sites (or anything like ’em)
  3. Shut down all Bittorrent / P2P clients

And, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you open up a Skype video / audio call if there’s someone sitting next to you. I tweeted about it the other day – with some of my followers in complete agreement, and others completely oblivious to the reasoning:

randallholahan: why no skype? Bandwidth?

about a day ago

iBetaTest: Thanks for that great Video review about beta testing and mentioning iBetaTest.com 🙂 Much appreciated!

about a day ago

DirkBeveridge: Agreed Chris. They MUST block Skype at 30,000 ft! Personal space is already invaded – I need my thinking or resting space!

about a day ago

cjweeks: just take notes and ask them later if you have any questions

about a day ago

RudyMcComb: no skype Chris…lol

about a day ago

jamesisapc: yh gd answer I think wifi on planes is great

about a day ago

wbahner: @chrispirillo: Skype on a plane? WTF??

about a day ago

macwhisperer: true that. And stay off those porn sites too.

about a day ago

TracyRenee: thought you couldn&#39t use internet on planes, what good is skype then?

about a day ago

ammunix: rofl why? was someone babbling next to you?

about a day ago

JamesNaughton: I completely agree!

about a day ago

dougmcarthur: what&#39s your beef with skype on planes? sucking too much bandwidth? too many people making noise?

about a day ago

Patrick_Grady: I know, right? I&#39m not old school about much… but come on. BTW – your piece on CNN was brilliant.

about a day ago

How to Secure your Wireless Home Network

Geek!This is Kenny Mozzillo’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

Most people have a wireless home network these days. In the past few years, the cost of setting up a wireless home network has dropped. Setting up a wireless home network is much easier than it is to string networking wire through your walls and connect wall plates. In most cases, setting up a wireless home network is cheaper and easier than installing a wired network. Here’s a top five list on how to secure you wireless home network so that all of your hard-earned money used to pay for Internet access is not stolen by your neighbors.

  • Position you router in the middle of your home. This reduces the amount of signal that leaks outside the house and (therefore) makes it harder for neighbors to pick it up. Most people don’t take this tip into consideration when they set up a wireless home network – it’s the easiest way to help enhance the security of your wireless home network. Security through obscurity.
  • Turn on the wireless encryption! This sounds like a “duh,” but you would be surprised at how many people have an unsecured wireless network at home (or work). I’ve talked with many people who said that they didn’t turn on the encryption on their home network because they doubted that anyone would bother them. This would be the equivalent of leaving your house unlocked when you go somewhere because you didn’t think anyone would break in. It is very simple to enable encryption on all wireless access points. The best encryption mode is WPA2. WEP and WPA both have been cracked before, and it isn’t that difficult for someone to break the encryption key in a few minutes. Be sure to choose a password that no one can guess – never use things such as your pet’s name, your address, or your birthday as a password.
  • Enable Wireless MAC Address Filtering. This is another feature that most people forget to enable. This allows a set amount of devices to get on the network (if their MAC address is placed on the list). Setting up this feature is fairly simple to do – even for the average person. If you need help, check your manual – and if you threw away your manual, I bet the manufacturer put a PDF of the manual on their Web site.
  • Use home network monitoring software. This will allow you to scan the local network for mysterious devices that are connected to it. If you have a home network that has five devices connected to it, and the IP address scanner finds eight devices, you should look into what is connected that shouldn’t be connected to your network. Most home networking tools are free and can be easily found on any platform.
  • Turn off the Access Point. When you are not home for an extended period of time, turn off your access point. This will ensure that when you are on vacation you will not have to worry about someone getting into your shared files on a PC.

If you keep these five points in mind when you are running a wireless home network, you shouldn’t have to worry about your neighbor and other people getting into your wireless network. If you have anything else to add, please be sure to comment on this blog post.

Wireless Security: Why WEP is Bad

Fellow geek Andy Riordan emailed me in regards to a video we recorded a while ago on wireless (WiFi) access points. I haven’t used WEP for wireless security since WPA was available as an option. I refuse to run anything less than WPA on my home wireless network, although it was recently revealed that WPA has also been cracked. What’s so bad about WEP? Andy’s here to explain…

WEP does indeed stand for Wired Equivalent Privacy, which is a rather hopeful name considering that WEP can be cracked in less than 60 seconds now. How? Well, when you connect to a WEP network, the router sends you a randomly generated “hello” message. The connecting machine then encrypts the message using the WEP key and sends it back to the router. The router then decrypts it with the WEP key, and if it matches the original, unencrypted (“cleartext”) message, the machine is authorized.

This is bad. Why? Well, first we have to look at how the encryption and decryption is done. You may or may not be familiar with bitwise operators, but in this case we’re dealing with “exclusive or”, XOR. XOR, like other bitwise operators, operates on bits. If the 2 input bits are 0 and 0, it puts out 0. If they are 1 and 0, it puts out 1. If they are 0 and 1, it puts out 1. If they are 1 and 1, it puts out 0.

To encrypt the data for WEP, the data is XORed with the key (getting “cyphertext”). To decrypt, the cyphertext is XORed with the key, reversing the operation and returning the cleartext. When you think about it, that really can be shown visually (hope it doesn’t get mauled in the mail):

Cleartext   0 1 1 0 1 0 1 1
Key         1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1
Cyphertext  1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0

Now, to decrypt:

Cyphertext  1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0
Key         1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1
Cleartext   0 1 1 0 1 0 1 1

As you can see, we end up with the original message. (Cryptography is fun!)

However, this is where the problem is. Remember what we did to authenticate with WEP – we got sent a cleartext message, and then sent back the cyphertext results. What happens when we XOR the cleartext with the cyphertext?

Cyphertext  1 0 1 0 0 1 1 0
Cleartext   0 1 1 0 1 0 1 1
???         1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1

That byte looks a lot like one we’ve seen before. I wonder what it could be…

Key         1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1

Well, darn. That’s our key. An attacker can get our key just by XORing two things exchanged when a connection is made. It can’t be all bad, though, since a connection has to be made before that can happen, right? How often do you disconnect a machine and reconnect it? A few times a day. They would have to be lucky to catch you doing it.

Except that there’s another vulnerability which makes booting everyone off the network and causing a reconnect easy. Thus, our friend the cracker needs only to force a disconnect of all clients, then watch for the handshake and XOR the two pieces of information exchanged between the router and one of the clients.

That’s why you use WPA now. WPA is pretty much competely safe, if you have a good password. Rule 1 (or perhaps it’s 0) of security is that you never use a short, easily guessable password. Using a short, easy to guess password opens you up to the dictionary attack, or as I like to call it, the Gandalf attack. Scream elvish words at the router long enough and the gates of Moria are bound to open to one of them. Make the “word” long enough (32 characters is good, and is about what I use since some devices have issues with 64) and it will be impossible to guess. Again, a lock is only as secure as its combination. In your case, for instance, I don’t recommend a password of “Pixie”.

Now, for the banking/email question. This brings us to the realm of diffie-hellman key exchange. Many a beginning cryptographer has lost his life to the tangle of bits and factored prime numbers that awaits us here, so suffice it to say this: If there is an SSL connection between you and your web site of choice, you are safe. All your traffic will be encrypted, and will not be decrypted until you get to the site. You’re safe, as long as you have an SSL connection to the site itself, regardless of whether it’s an open wifi hotspot. If you don’t have an SSL connection and they give you a WEP or WPA key, don’t think banking will be secure – if they gave the key to you, they gave it to others, too!

Now, there are caveats (aren’t there always with technology?). Notice I said “If there is an SSL connection between you and your web site of choice, you are safe.” I don’t want to have to send you HTML mail, so mentally underline the first part of that sentance. What’s to stop the hotspot from saying “Ah, he’s going to ‘MyBankSite’ – take out their certificate (the part that contains their “public key” – what you use to encrypt your data to send to them. Note that public and private key encryption are one-way operations – if you encrypt something with the public key, it cannot be easily decrypted with that same key. When I say “easily”, I mean it would take a supercomputer thousands of years.) and put in our own public key. That way, we can decrypt his traffic on our end, look at it, then encrypt it with his bank’s public key and send it on.” Well, in a word, nothing is stopping them. This is known as a man-in-the-middle attack.

Wait, nothing is stopping them? How am I safe, then? Well, nothing is STOPPING them, but their key won’t be signed by a signing authority. A signing authority basically verifies that a given key belongs to a given site, and then when someone asks whether a key belongs to ‘MyBankSite’ they check their database and see. The “someone” who asks is your browser. This is done automatically in modern browsers – if you have the SSL indicator in your browser somewhere on ‘MyBankSite’ (this varies by browser – it usually comes in the form of a lock in the statusbar), that means the browser has checked the site’s credentials out with a trusted authority (VeraSign, etc) and it has checked out. If you get a site that can’t be verified but has a certificate, you will be warned – as in the case of our scheming wifi friends. Thus, if you see a warning, run far, far away.

Whew. Well, that certainly only scratched the surface, but it should help some. Glad I didn’t type that on my phone.

Want a Free VPN for Public WiFi Hotspots?

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When it comes to accessing the Internet when you’re away from home, you never really know what you’re going to get. You have to stay secure to protect yourself. A friend of mine emailed me the other day, talking about this exact situation. He was traveling, and had to check his Gmail from an unsecured public computer. He apparently forgot to log himself out, as well. I asked him if he at least had used the more secure httpS instead of the plain http prefix… and he had not.

I even get nervous at times connecting to my email via my Sprint PCS mobile broadband connection. When I’m sending information back and forth wirelessly, if it’s not being done in an encrypted fashion I get nervous. You never know who will be sniffing packets of information. This is what you need to be aware of when you’re connecting to the Internet via a wireless hotspot.

One way you can help keep yourself safe is by using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. One program, called Hamachi is free for personal use. I’ve been using it for awhile now, as you’ll see if you check out that link. However, I want to tell you about another program that one of our community recently emailed me about.

HotSpot Shield is another free program that can be used on Mac or Windows machine. It’s been reviewed by people on CNN and CNET, with good ratings. Think of a VPN as a shield that surrounds you and whatever you are wanting to connect to. If you’re connecting to the Internet via an unsecured network, anyone can look at the packets of information you are sending out. What a program like HotSpot Shield does is to encrypt that data, so it cannot be seen and/or read by those would-be information stealers.

While on the road this week, I had a need to log into Ponzi’s machine at home in Seattle, via my mobile connection. She has VNC set up, but it was behind our firewall. I didn’t want to have to go through opening ports and all of that. Instead, I chose to use the new TeamViewer. TeamViewer can establish a connection to virtually any computer in the world with just a few clicks. It’s a way to share screens, or remote control another computer as long as the other person is at their computer and grants the access. It’s simple, and made things much easier on me. I was connected to her machine securely, and quick.

If you are going to connect to a wireless connection, whether wireless or wired… I urge you to use either HotSpot Shield or Hamachi. And of course, why not check out TeamViewer if you have a need to connect to another machine.

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Will iPhones Fly with Free WiFi?

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AT&T has now made it so you can now get online with your iPhone anywhere there is a HotSpot of theirs… including airports! Finally! It used to be a pita to try to get a connection in an airport. Not anymore, thanks to AT&T… or is it true??

On April 30th, MacRumors announced that “AT&T hotspots are now offering free WiFi access to iPhone users. Barnes and Noble, Starbucks and presumably AT&T’s 71,000 other WiFi hotspot locations are now offering iPhone users a custom portal to access free Wi-Fi. A special iPhone formatted page asks for your mobile phone number. Once entered, you can access the WiFi access for free.”

However, as of the date this video was uploaded, things have changed. Apparently, the WiFi was temporarily suspended. “No official announcement had been made, however, and AT&T representatives reportedly declined to comment. Today, many users are reporting that the free iPhone access has been removed and users are unable to log-in with just their phone number. This appears to be true at locations that were verified to offer the free WiFi access just days before.”

Hopefully, we’ll be able to re-announce this excellent service in the very near future.


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Wireless Internet is Everywhere

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During a discussion about Broadband and people near Seattle having trouble with Comcast, Rikai from our chat room brought up an interesting question. “What are your thoughts on the rumors of the 700Mhz spectrum potentially being used for Hi-Speed Wireless connections?”

I’m sure you’ve all heard the news lately about how Starbucks is now offering free WiFi to their customers. I’m not going to comment on their coffee… but who would turn down some free Internet service? Make sure you use https:// when doing things from open Wi-Fi like checking your email. This makes you much more secure.

Wireless Internet is just everywhere. You can’t walk more than 20 feet in an urban area without finding an open connection. The problem with a lot of Tel-Co’s is that they want you to experience their version of a wireless Internet. That’s crazy. It’s the Internet, right? For now… we don’t have much choice other than to stick with just one provider. Some people don’t have access to faster Broadband… yet. Internet is essential these days. One of these days… mark my words… the world of the Internet is going to be blown wide open, as far as choices.

Just imagine if Wireless Internet truly was available everywhere, much like Television. Throw up a TV antenna… you have tv. Throw up an Internet antenna… you get the picture. Someday, it will happen.


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Wireless Routers Review

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We’re using a GoToMeeting to get together and share desktops again tonight. GoToMeeting is an easy and affordable way to host online meetings. Be sure and take advantage of our special savings! The current presenter is surfing sites relating to WiFi, since I am going to read you Sutty5’s tips for boosting wifi signal.

Hi, Chris i thought i should share out 5 tips on how to boost your Wi-Fi Signal. As i Was doing all these last week and i gotta tell you i got a great result.

  • Position your wireless router (or wireless access point) in a central location. When possible, place your wireless router in a central location in your home. If your wireless router is against an outside wall of your home, the signal will be weak on the other side of your home. Don’t worry if you can’t move your wireless router, because there are many other ways to improve your connection.
  • Replace your router’s antenna. The antennas supplied with your router are designed to be omni-directional, meaning they broadcast in all directions around the router. If your router is near an outside wall, half of the wireless signals will be sent outside your home, and much of your router’s power will be wasted. Most routers don’t allow you to increase the power output, but you can make better use of the power. Upgrade to a hi-gain antenna that focuses the wireless signals only one direction. You can aim the signal in the direction you need it most.
  • Replace your computer’s wireless network adapter. Wireless network signals must be sent both to and from your computer. Sometimes, your router can broadcast strongly enough to reach your computer, but your computer can’t send signals back to your router. To improve this, replace your laptop’s PC card-based wireless network adapter with a USB Network Adapter that uses an external antenna. In particular, consider the Hawking Hi-Gain Wireless USB network adapter, which adds an external, hi-gain antenna to your computer and can significantly improve your range. Laptops with built-in wireless typically have excellent antennas and don’t need to have their network adapters upgraded.
  • Add a wireless repeater. Wireless repeaters extend your wireless network range without requiring you to add any wiring. Just place the wireless repeater halfway between your wireless access point and your computer, and you’ll get an instant boost to your wireless signal strength. Check out the wireless repeaters from ViewSonic, D-Link, Linksys, and Buffalo Technology.
  • Pick equipment from a single vendor. While a Linksys router will work with a D-Link network adapter, you often get better performance if you pick a router and network adapter from the same vendor. Some vendors offer a performance boost of up to twice the performance when you choose their hardware: Linksys has the SpeedBooster technology, and D-Link has the 108G enhancement.

Robert sends us some more wifi tips

Yo Chris!

I’m emailing you from the country that brought you kiwi fruit, gum boots, LOTR and female goverment voting! Yes, NEW ZEALAND!

I thought of some more tips while watching you last video…

  • Use a cable when possible! If you have a desk top across the house don’t waste money on expensive wireless boosting products just because it is easier. Get a 100ft cable and run it under your house. This of course isn’t as practical if you are using a laptop.
  • Keep metal objects out of the way. Metal is good at reflecting wireless signals so try to position PCs, CRT screens and the like out of the way of the signal.
  • Centralized Location. If you want your router to be in a central location but don’t want your router to be in the middle of the house because there is a lounge or something where a router would look out of place, put it or a wireless access point in the attic or under the floor. Or maybe you can find a cunning object like a bookcase to hide it behind. This would involve running cables to your modem so might take some effort.
  • Use some tinfoil and paper to make a $1 booster. It really works! Bend the paper with tin foil stuck on around a semi-circle shaped piece of paper and stick a hole through the semi circular piece and slide it over your antenna.
  • Try and have your router in a high place, maybe up on a shelf or as suggested before in the attic. To show the importance of this I would like you to count the number of objects on the floor in the room you are in, and then count the objects on the ceiling. It is far less cluttered and there are fewer objects obstructing the signal!



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Eye-Fi Wireless SD Card Review

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The new Eye-Fi is a wireless memory card. It automatically uploads pictures from your digital camera to your PC or Mac and to your favorite photo sharing, printing, blogging or social networking site.No cables, no waiting, no hassles. At its core, this is a nice product and has a lot of promise. I would say it needs some improvement, and here are my recommendations:

  • Doesn’t support Safari on OS X.
  • Can’t log into management console without the utility running.
  • Manager link isn’t found on the regular eye.fi site.
  • Can’t upload to multiple services.
  • Can’t choose what to upload – it uploads every photo.
  • Can’t add or remove default tags.
  • Can’t rename photos before they’re passed along.
  • Account information isn’t retained across browser sessions.
  • Can’t upload without access to a vetted access point.
  • Must change camera’s “power saving” settings, since the camera has to stay on in order to transfer.

The packaging is nice, the card works. It’s simple to use. Now if only these recommendations can be addressed, I’d be a very happy person!

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Want a WiFi T-shirt?

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Jeff was streaming live for me this morning, and I happened to notice a very cool T-shirt he was wearing. It’s definitely the geekiest T-shirt on the planet. I had to get him on a video to show it off.

This T-shirt is just the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Unfortunately, I don’t think Ponzi will let me wear one out in public. But a guy can dream, right?

The Wi-Fi Detector Shirt from ThinkGeek is a hot new commodity. In their own words:

Here at ThinkGeek we’re pretty lazy when it comes to technology. We expect our gadgets to do all the busywork while we focus on the high level important tasks like reading blogs. That’s why we hate to have to crack open our laptops just to see if there is any wi-fi internet access about… and keychain wi-fi detectors, we would have to actually remove them from our pockets to look at them. But now thanks to the ingenious ThinkGeek robot monkeys you can display the current wi-fi signal strength to yourself and everyone around you with this stylish Wi-Fi Detector Shirt. The glowing bars on the front of the shirt dynamically change as the surrounding wi-fi signal strength fluctuates. Finally you can get the attention you deserve as others bow to you as their reverential wi-fi god, while geeky chicks swoon at your presence. You can thank us later.

According to Jeff, Mandy’s mom saw the T-shirt on the television news. She showed it to Mandy, who then ordered one for herself and one for Jeff. Jeff put his on as soon as it arrived in the mail to show it off. If you see in the video, he has five bars lit up on either side of the shirt. That means he is near a very strong wireless signal. He said when he went to his kitchen for a snack, the number of bars on the shirt decreased.

The shirt takes three AAA batteries, and velcro’s to the shirt. You simply take it off in order to wash the shirt. While it’s not the most comfortable thing you’ll ever wear, it’s quite possibly the coolest.

I wonder what other geeky things I could velcro to a T-shirt?

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Should Wi-Fi be Free?

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When Starbucks introduced for-pay Wi-Fi in 2002, it seemed like a great deal. But five years later, the model appears old and stale and ready for a complete overhaul.

According to my friend Mike Elgan at ComputerWorld.com, Starbucks will begin providing their customers with free Wi-Fi within the next year. This is an excellent development. I believe we shouldn’t have to pay for wireless access points, and I bet you don’t, either.

As you know, Wi-Fi is widely available. It’s no longer some new-fangled fad… and paying for it has become rather antiquated. The problem is, free doesn’t always mean secure. Thankfully, there are programs such as Hamachi to keep you safe. Hamachi is a free program that allows you to create your own Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

Any time I am out and about, I rely on jiwire.com to point me towards any hot spots in the area. Simply input your country, state and city, and the site will give you a list of all locations (including addresses and phone numbers) who have Wi-Fi available for you.

iStumbler for Mac OSX is an amazing tool. iStumbler is the leading wireless discovery tool for Mac OS X, providing plug-ins for finding AirPort networks, Bluetooth devices, and Bonjour services with your Mac.

If you want to hear all about my experience being tazered and almost going to jail over Wi-Fi… you’ll just have to watch this video.

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