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AddThis Social Bookmark Button O'Reilly Book Excerpts: Windows XP Annoyances for Geeks, 2nd Edition

Go Wireless

Editor's note: David Karp's Windows XP Annoyances for Geeks, 2nd Edition, offers tips and workarounds that let the geek in you customize Windows XP to your liking. In this selected excerpt from Chapter 7 of the book, David shows you how to get unwired.

If you're on a wireless network and you're not using Windows XP Service Pack 2, it means you're still suffering with the weak WiFi support built into the original release of Windows XP. Go ahead and upgrade to SP2 now; don't worry, I'll wait.

Related Reading

Windows XP Annoyances for Geeks
Tips, Secrets and Solutions
By David A. Karp

{Sounds of fingers tapping and whistling off-key.}

Got it? Good. The solutions in this section show you how to set up a simple wireless network and connect that network to the Internet, as well as connect your wireless devices to other people's wireless networks, and prevent others from sneaking on to your network. All of this is possible without wires, and the most amazing thing is that it actually works.

TIP: If you want to do a whole lot more with your wireless network, check out Wireless Hacks (O'Reilly). Among other things, it shows you how to extend the range of your wireless network from a few yards to several miles with home-made antennas. Very cool.

Set Up a Wireless Router

If you've read other solutions in this chapter, you've probably seen routers mentioned several times.

A router allows you to connect your computer (or your workgroup) to the Internet, while simultaneously protecting you with its built-in firewall. A wireless router does the same thing, but it also adds a wireless access point, allowing you to connect any number of WiFi devices to each other and to the Internet.

A typical WiFi setup is shown in Figure 7-3, but you'll probably want something closer to the setup shown in Figure 7-6, in which a wireless router provides Internet access to all your computers. Here's how to set this up and configure the security measures that should have been enabled out of the box:

Editor's note: Because we have selected a section of Chapter 7 to showcase here, rather than the whole, some references to figures in other sections will not be available.

  1. Plug your DSL or cable modem (or whatever broadband connection you're using) into your router's WAN or Internet port.

  2. Dispense with the software that comes with your router. Instead, open a web browser on one of the computers and type the IP address of your router into the address bar. In most cases, this is, but your router may be different; refer to your router's documentation for details. (You may also need to log in with a username and password at this point.)

  3. Choose your connection type from the list. If your Internet connection requires a username and password, select PPPoE. If your ISP has provided an IP address for your connection, select Static IP. Otherwise, choose Automatic Configuration - DHCP.

  4. If you've selected PPPoE or Static IP, you'll probably need to enter the IP addresses of your ISP's DNS servers (your ISP should provide these numbers for you).

  5. Click Apply or Save Settings at the bottom of the page when you're done.

  6. At this point, you should have Internet access; go ahead and test it by opening a second browser window (Ctrl-N) and visiting any web site.

  7. Choose a new name (SSID) for your wireless network, and turn off the Wireless SSID Broadcast option.

    WARNING Your SSID is the backdoor into your wireless network. If you broadcast your SSID, anyone with an SSID sniffer will be able to find it in a matter of seconds (see Section 7.5.2 later in this chapter), and connect to your network. The same danger exists if you use your router's default; probably a million people around the globe are using the SSID "linksys," which makes it a good guess for anyone trying to gain access to your network.

  8. Choose WEP for the security mode (if available), and then choose the highest WEP encryption level supported by your router (here, it's 128-bit). Higher levels provide better protection, but also mean longer (and harder to type) WEP keys.

  9. Once you commit this change, you'll need to enter one of the keys that appear here into each computer that connects to your wireless network, so take this opportunity to record the key before you save changes.

    Highlight the first key (Key 1), and press Ctrl-C to copy it to the clipboard. Then, open your favorite text editor (e.g., Notepad), and press Ctrl-V to paste it into a new, empty document. Save the file on your desktop; this will allow you to easily paste it into various dialog boxes later on, which is easier than having to type it.

    WARNING If you enable WEP for your wireless network, but you subsequently can't connect to it wirelessly, it most likely means that you've gotten the WEP key wrong. To fix the problem, you'll have to either connect to it with a cable and change the settings or, as a final resort, reset the router as described in your router's documentation.

  10. Click Apply or Save Settings at the bottom of the page when you're done.

See the next section, Section 7.5.2, for help connecting your computer to your (or someone else's) wireless network. See Section 7.5.4, later in this chapter, for ways to take advantage of your new wireless network. See the sidebar for ways to improve reception (and thus performance of your wireless network).

Sniff Out WiFi Networks

Probably the most significant change in SP2 is the substantial improvement of the WiFi support built into Windows XP. The centerpiece of these improvements is the "Choose a wireless network" window shown in Figure 7-20.

Figure 7-20
Figure 7-20. The WiFi sniffer in Windows XP SP2 lets you connect to any available WiFi network

A WiFi sniffer is a program (or device) that scans for and lists the WiFi networks within range. This is where the Broadcast SSID setting discussed in the previous section, Section 7.5.1, comes into play. If you're broadcasting your SSID, any sniffer within range will see it.

In the Network Connections window, double-click an unconnected Wireless connection to open the "Choose a wireless network" window. (You can also right-click the icon in your system tray or Network Connections window and select View Available Wireless Networks.) Windows XP will automatically perform a scan and display the results; in all, it should take less than 5 seconds. Click Refresh network list to repeat the scan.

To connect to a network in the list, highlight it and click Connect. If no security is in effect, Windows will establish a connection without any further ado. But if there's any WEP encryption, you'll be asked to type a WEP key. Note the little padlock next to the first network listed in the dialog box in Figure 7-20, which tells you that the only network with encryption is annoyances; you'll be able to connect to the other networks without any special permission or additional information.

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