Technology

Switching to WPA

I have always been an unwavering evangelist of securing Wifi networks. My personal Wifi network has always been configured for some level of security but I was using weak 128-bit WEP encryption due to some network devices that didn’t support WPA. Recently I downloaded a bootable live DVD Linux distribution called Knoppix that is very slick and comes with a myriad of tools and utilities. On this distribution I found a number of cool tools including Airsnort, an “encryption recovery” tool for Wireless networks. After playing with Airsnort for a couple of hours on my own network I quickly realized just how useless WEP is – Airsnort had “recovered” my WEP key in a couple of hours of moderate network usage!

That was the last straw – it was time to upgrade to WPA. After inventorying my network I realized that I was down to a single device that did not support WPA – an older Linksys wireless print server. I quickly ordered a new Netgear WGPS606 print server that listed WPA-PSK support. The new print server arrived a day later – so I began converting the network to WPA. All in all the conversion was painless. In som ways WPA is easier than WEP because WPA pass phrases work across different vendor hardware/software implementations whereas WEP requires you to use the 26 digit hexadecimal keys that need to be entered on every device in the wireless network. Within 15 minutes I had the entire network converted to WPA and started to install the new print server. During the install wizard I was amazed to see a total of 10(!) wireless access points within range of my office (notice 6 out of the 10 are NOT secured in any way). The wizard finished and I was able to print from my PCs and Macs – all was well…. for now.

A few hours later I tried to configure printing on one of my laptops and could not see the print server on the network – further investigation revealed that the printer server had some how frozen. A quick reboot of the print server and all was well… for about 15 minutes. It froze again. I tried moving the network to a different channel to see if this was due to some conflict with a neighbor’s network but had no luck. A quick review of the support forums on Netgear’s site revealed that others were having the same problems and were not finding any reasonable or quick resolution for this issue. After thinking about it for a whole 30 seconds I have decided to drop the Netgear box in the trash and go pick up a new Linksys print server that supports WPA. Im off to COMPUSA to do some shopping this morning….

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