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Old 8th August 2005, 00:10   #1
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Join Date: Aug 2003
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Adventures in Wireless Networking


"How All the Wireless Networks in Missy's Neighborhood Went Down the Drain One Dark Saturday Night"

Yesterday I went to Missy's to fix her network/internet problems. After trying a few things, I isolated some of the problems to hardware defects and/or compatibility issues (and I've had problems with these components before), so we went to Best Buy to pick up a new wireless router and a couple of WLAN cards...the same models I've used myself for several months now without a problem.

We get back to her place and start replacing the old networking components. Now I'm usually a loyal advocate of RTFM, but on this night I failed miserably. She disconnects the old router/access point and hooks up the new one while I install WLAN cards. I use her desktop PC to configure the router. The problem is I skipped the part about connecting with an Ethernet cable to do the router config. The cable modem and router are powered up, I reboot the PC after installing the WLAN drivers and card, get a "network connected" indication, and proceed to (the router IP) to set it up. I enter an SSID ("HelloMissy"), a WPA pre-shared key and I change her router login/password from the defaults.

Now, Missy lives in an apartment complex (like I do) and therefore sees several wireless networks in Windows "Network Connections" at any given time. On this particular evening we were seeing two neighbors with unsecured "linksys" networks. Easy, I thought...we just installed a new NetGear router, so telling them apart by default SSID will be easy.

After configuring the router and saving the changes, I'm not able to confirm which network I'm on. I'm connected to "HelloMissy" and I've got internet access, but several things just don't seem right.

I go back to, and it hits me......the banner at the top of the page says "Linksys" with the standard Cisco deep blue background. "Oh shit!!!", I tell her, "I just connected to one of your neighbors' unsecured routers, assigned a 22-character pre-shared WPA encryption key, renamed their SSID to the one you wanted, and then changed the router login and password to lock it down from anyone else getting in to change anything." We both stare wide-eyed at each other a moment, then bust out laughing. In my own ignorance, I completely missed the "Linksys" logo the first time I went in and configured the router. I accidently climbed into someone else's network infrastructure, renamed everything, locked it down, and locked them out.

After rolling about the floor laughing our asses off for a while at my "ingenious stupidity", and what the neighbors might be experiencing that the moment ("Honey, what's a 'passphrase'? The internet's asking me for one."), I go in to correct the havoc I've apparently caused. But it doesn't end here...

I reconnect to "HelloMissy" (I thought), the neighbor's newly reconfigured and highly secured wireless network, and go to the router home page to change everything back to what it was before I got my clumsy hands in there. Except I didn't confirm that I was on "HelloMissy"...I was on someone else's network, and soon realize their SSID is "IGotHoes". Their network was just as wide open (no encryption) as the other neighbor's, so I've stumbled into someone else's network configuration and have started tinkering. Again.

Now mind you, I haven't done any of this on only intention and desire was to get Missy's new router and WLAN cards set up so she'd have her own reliable, secure wireless network. Well, actually at this point she DOES have her own reliable, secure wireless network, it's just in someone else's apartment at the moment. And unless they do a hard router reset (to return it to factory defaults), Missy's the only person that can use it. (And if they don't know to secure their WLAN, I'm quite sure they won't know how to reset their router either.)

OK, to fix the damage. For a moment the only wireless network I can see and connect to is the one called "IGotHoes". I disconnect, reconnect, repair, disable, enable....and always end up on this same network. Now I'm getting frustrated, and I'm going to take it out (in a minor way) on the neighbor with the bloated ego. In his router config I change the SSID from "IGotHoes" to "AllYourHoesAreBelongToUs". Then I disconnect and start over from scratch on Missy's network.

By this time It's after 1:00am (we started around 9:00pm). We agree that I really need "RTFM" tattooed on my forehead. I make a note to have that done tomorrow, and then she breaks out the quickstart guides for the router and cards. I'm not (usually) an idiot, and I've set up many wireless networks in the past few years, but this night something was horribly wrong with me. I'm glad I wasn't piloting a plane...we would have surely died.

She's reading instructions and validating my every move, and at 2:18am we're done. It's really HER new NetGear wireless router that we're connected to; it's really HER network that we're using. We have positive network connections from all three PCs in the apartment, we have file and device sharing, and we have internet access. One last thing to do...go back into the first neighbor's network I "locked down" and disable encryption, rename the SSID to "linksys", and set the router login and password back to the defaults. The neighbors were likely either out of the house or in bed, and therefore not trying to use their network or internet access during our "Grand Adventure of My Own Idiocy". But even after it's over we're still laughing at it all.

So, that's the story of Missy's network infrastructure upgrade. The moral of this story is:

If you live in an apartment complex and you see Chris coming to hook up your neighbors with Wi-Fi, LOCK DOWN YOUR OWN WIRELESS NETWORK! He's not a demented, genious hacker...just a bumbling fool with (only occasional) networking skills. He knows enough to randomly screw up all the neighbors' networks, and may not always remember to go back and fix them later.

I'm a psychosomatic sister running around without a leash.
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