Sunday, November 02, 2008

Valca Goes Wireless…Headaches included free

For quite some time now the only method the Valca clan has had to access the Internet from the laptops is to string 50’ Cat-V cables down the hallways from the router.

It wasn’t so much that I was against a wireless solution (although not fully as secure as a hard-wired connection in the purest sense), but I just didn’t want to face the time and likely aggravation in getting it set up.

So, using craftily placed eye-hooks above the doorways, the girls have strung the cables along, on demand, to avoid trip hazards, but otherwise soldiered on.

Recently, I started looking at the D-Link DIR-330 Wireless G VPN Router, 4-Port 10/100 Switch as a possible solution.  I really liked both the pricepoint and built-in VPN server in the unit itself.  I thought it would be a great solution for secure surfing when I was on the road in hotels.

I asked Dwight for his masterful advice and his general recommendation was to find and go with a 802.11n router as this would provide much better performance moving onward.

So I continued to wait and research.

Last month Claus here had a birthday and little bro gave me a nice Amazon.com gift certificate.  I decided to use it to pull the trigger on going wireless.

I wanted to stick with D-Link as my current wired router has been rock-solid and never had a hiccup.  I was familiar with the configuration manager.  So when I looked on Amazon for the DIR-330 it wasn’t found, but they did have the D-Link DIR-655 Extreme N Wireless Router at a similar price.  Reviews were very good across the Net.  Additional research on the D-Link site satisfied my concerns.  Order placed and was received.

I put off doing the setup for about two weeks to be sure I was well-versed in what I was going to do for the setup and that I allowed sufficient time for any trouble.

Good thing.

Wireless Install Woes

The hardware-installation for the router went slamming-good.  I started out with the desktop unit as it is hard-wired.  Loaded the drivers, swapped the unit, configured the initial settings and locked down the default passwords.  Changed configuration so it (and all our systems) would use OpenDNS. Good.  In about fifteen minutes it was flying fast and both my desktop and the Ethernet enabled network HP Printer were chattering away on the Net and net just fine.

Now to the wireless config.

Our laptops both only support 802.11g not “n” spec yet, but the router is backward compatible.  I generated a WEP-2 WPA2 password and set the SSID.  Shouldn’t be any issues right?

Well I started with the Vista system and despite all my configuration efforts, it wouldn’t pick up the wireless connection.  I had disabled the SSID broadcasting, but figured if I put the information in during setup it would see it anyway.  In the end I had to temporary enable the SSID broadcasting.  It appeared in the Vista wireless setup, I connected and entered the password and was good.  Then I went back and disabled the SSID broadcasting again and the connection stayed solid  Full speed connections. Wonderful.  Took about an hour to work it all out after going round and round for a while.

Next I moved on to Lavie’s XP Compaq Presairo V2575US notebook.  This took three hours.  I’ll save you the details but it seemed that the on-board network card was bad.  I had resigned myself to going out and picking up another USB wireless device for it, but decided to play around with one more thing.

I had noticed during my hours of troubleshooting that no matter what I did, the XP wireless configuration screens just didn’t quite match with what I was seeing on the on-line search results.  At first I figured it was a XP SP3 change, but that just didn’t seem right.

Using ProcessExplorer and AutoRuns, I took another look at the system.  It seemed that the wireless would enable during startup and for a few seconds on reaching the desktop, but then disconnect.  I finally noticed an OEM Compaq application HP Wireless Assistant.

The web had a number of posts in forums with HP wireless assistant issues.  So I figured what the heck and uninstalled it.

Rebooted and wham!  Full wireless connectivity! Woot!

Turns out that software was overlaying the XP Wireless configurations. Once gone everything worked fine.  So file that one away kids.

Right now the wireless is going strong.  No problems or issues with the unit itself.  I did have to do a firmware upgrade on the router to bump it up to v.1.21 but that also went flawlessly.

Connections are instant, fast, and flawless.  If/when we go with another 802.11n device, we will be ready.

As an added bonus, the router came with a 30-day full trial of Cisco’s Network Magic software.

I’ve really, really been impressed with this product.  So much so that I think I will buy the full version when the trial is up. Something I rarely, if ever, do.  It has a ton of management tools but even more importantly it interfaces with the router and provides a real-time network map of our network and all the devices connected, as well as logs.  This provides a wonderful security check to see if any unauthorized devices have joined the network.  There are other ways to accomplish that as well, but this is very home-consumer oriented.  Good stuff guys!

I’ve still got to go back and enable MAC address filtering.  Just haven’t had the time to do so at the moment, but it is locked down enough I’m not too worried at the moment.

Expect for SharePort BSOD the systems….

One of the bonus points of the DIR-655 router (and a few others) is that it now comes with D-Link’s SharePort software.

D-Link DIR-655 SharePort Downloads

Basically what this does is to enable devices to access a USB device (printer, drive, etc.) plugged into the rear USB port on the router itself.

It’s kinda like a poor-man’s server.

Only when I went to install it on my XP systems AND the Vista laptop, all were reduced to blue-screens of death.  Apparently I am not the only one with this issue.

After my heart got beating again, I was able to get all the systems restored and operational again.

Whew!

At first I suspect a conflict with AVG Free 8 which is a common piece of software on all my systems as it installs some HIPs style protections and I thought it might be happening when SharePort got installed and tries to load some system driver or service.

Based on some Virtual PC build testing I felt comfortable enough that this could indeed be  the issue so on my Vista system I uninstalled AVG and rebooted, then tried again to install SharePort.  It horribly BSOD the Vista system again.  Luckily I had done a System Restore point just before the attempt so I got it going again.  Not AVG.  What next?

The other similar application on all my systems was NetLimiter Monitor.  I didn't even consider this could be the issue.  It's been great and stable.

So I started a fresh Virtual PC session with a pristine XP SP2 load.  I installed NetLimiter Monitor and rebooted. So far so good.  Next I attempted to install SharePort software and, sure enough, the XP system black-screen rebooted near the end of the setup just like on my real systems.

After the number of system restores I've had to do, I'm a bit hesitant to try again before I reattempt an install of SharePort again on my "live" systems even after uninstalling NetLimiter Monitor from one of them.

I'm convinced the issue is with the SharePort software itself and specifically a driver or service conflict at installation initialization, since both NetLimiter Monitor and SharePort touch on the system networking elements, it looks like a logical conflict point.

I’ve put in an email to the NetLimiter support team and asked them for any feedback.  Will let you know what i find out.

So for now I haven’t yet gotten it successfully installed yet.

But that isn’t a problem with the router itself so I can’t complain too much.

Good Wireless Setup Articles

Here are the best Windows Wireless setup articles I read in preparation for this conversion:

More. A bit dated but useful:

Wireless Tips, Tools, and Techniques

Finally here is a collection of utilities, advice, and how-to’s that you wireless freaks might find interesting.

WirelessKeyView v1.17 – (freeware) – NirSoft utility “recovers all wireless network keys (WEP/WPA) stored in your computer by the 'Wireless Zero Configuration' service of Windows XP and by the 'WLAN AutoConfig' service of Windows Vista. It allows you to easily save all keys to text/html/xml file, or copy a single key to the clipboard.”

WirelessNetView v1.03 - (freeware) – NirSoft utility is “a small utility that runs in the background, and monitor the activity of wireless networks around you. For each detected network, it displays the following information: SSID, Last Signal Quality, Average Signal Quality, Detection Counter, Authentication Algorithm, Cipher Algorithm, MAC Address, RSSI, Channel Frequency, Channel Number, and more.”

BluetoothView v1.10 - (freeware) – Nirsoft utility is “a small utility that runs in the background, and monitor the activity of Bluetooth devices around you. For each detected Bluetooth device, it displays the following information: Device Name, Bluetooth Address, Major Device Type, Minor Device Type, First Detection Time, Last Detection Time, and more.”

Confessions of a freeware junkie: Tip: Recover your Wireless WEP/WPA keys with WZCook – Alternative method to snag your WEP/WPA key if it goes missing.

LucidLink WiFi Client - (freeware) – Utility that helps automate wireless configuration and setup on a device (XP/Vista) system.  I personally was able to manually configure mine as noted above, but this might have been a fallback tool had I not been able to persevere.  Supports a WEP, WPA, WPA2 security configurations.  Spotted in a review over at Confessions of a freeware junkie.

Network Mining, and Wireless Fun, and Wireless Network Penetration, and Securing a Wireless Connection – all courtesy of SynJunkie.  Lots of great info posts that provide additional background on WiFi monitoring, sniffing, and other dubious l33t skillz. Well worth the while to be familiar with.  SynJunkie also has additional great posts that might be interesting to forensic examiners and system administrators.

Wi-Fi: Troubleshoot a Slow Home Network  - Lifehacker.  My wireless is ripping fast, but in case I were to have a problem, these tips would be valuable.

How to catch hackers on your wireless network - TechRadar UK – Mix of $ and free solutions. Not so much for home-users, however.

--Claus

5 comments:

Gary Berg said...

"I generated a WEP-2 password and set the SSID. Shouldn’t be any issues right?"

You mean other than security, since WEP can be quickly broken? I assume you might have meant WPA2?

Claus said...

@ Gary - Doh! Yep. Typo.

I think I was watching the Texans lose their comeback attempt (and I'm still feeling the pain of the UT Longhorn's sudden loss to Texas Tech). It stings and I must have lost my train-of-consciousness for a moment.

WEP is old-hat now and as you point out, quite crackable with just a moderate bit of effort.

Yes. I meant to type WPA2.

Thanks for taking the time to draw that to my attention. Corrected.

--Cheers! Claus V.

Dwight Silverman said...

Claus:

Unless the software is the only way to access the settings in a router (as is the case Apple's AirPort Extreme), I recommend NEVER using extra software bundled with them. You're much better off in almost every case working directly with the router's configuration screens, which are usually browser-based. This keeps things simple, which is almost always better.

Claus said...

@ Dwight - thanks for the tip on looking for the 802.11n router specs. So far we all have been highly pleased. Signal strength and connections are fantastic, even though we are running the laptops on "g" spec for now.

I've not made a final decision on the NetworkMagic software. I need to spend more time on the desktop system that has it loaded to make a final call. As you mentioned, I've always managed the router config from a web-browser as well. I've been pretty well versed with the D-Link config layout so that was a plus for sticking with that brand. This firmware is a lot more powerful than the previous router I controlled so it will be lots of fun, especially working through the advanced logging features.

I've had some network mapping tools I've been itching to try in our home network. This might be as good a chance as any to put them to the test. A number are open-source and freeware so if any of them can match or come close to the mapping features of that bundled one, I'll be more than happy to toss it at the end of the 30-day trial.

--Cheers!

SynJunkie said...

Thanks for the mention Claus. Great site and excellent content you have here.

Cheers

Syn