OPLIN 4cast #445: Free Wi-Fi tools

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

free noteThere must be something about summertime that triggers interest in software tools to manage Wi-Fi networks, because in the last couple of months we’ve seen several articles on this topic. We’ve cited four of these articles in today’s 4cast, all of them dealing with Wi-Fi analysis tools that are free. You will see a lot of these tools mentioned in more than one article, of course, but the descriptions and discussion of what each tool is good for may help you decide which ones to put in your Wi-Fi toolbox. And in some cases, these may be tools you hope someone else does not have in their toolbox.

  • 8 free WiFi analyzers (Network Computing | Ericka Chickowski)  “There are additional, lesser known free options, and we’ve assembled the best of them here. Check them out if you’re interested in delving into a specific aspect of wireless performance, planning access point placement, seeking out rogue networks, or you just want a cool, slick interface.”
  • 7 free Wi-Fi stumbling and surveying tools for Windows and Mac (Network World | Eric Geier)  “Each of these tools gives you the basic wireless details: SSIDs, signal strength, channels, MAC addresses, and security status. Some can even reveal ‘hidden’ or non-broadcasted SSIDs, display the noise levels, or display statistics on successful and failed packets of your wireless connection. Two of the tools include Wi-Fi password cracking tools as well, useful for educational or penetration testing purposes.”
  • Free wireless survey software (TCAT Shelbyville – Technical Blog)  “It is important to perform a wi-fi survey so that you can determine not only the perfect place to locate your access point or bridge but to gain an understanding of the channel co-existence challenge you may face. With wireless access points in surrounding neighborhoods and businesses, you will need to perform a survey by walking around and mapping out the BSAs (Basic Service Area) of wireless that surrounds you and your organization.”
  • 13 popular wireless hacking tools (InfoSec Institute | Pavitra Shandkhdhar)  “Sometimes when you are on a network, you also want to check what is happening on the network. This happens mostly in big organizations, when an employer wants to check who is doing what in the network. For these things, there are a few network hacking tools available that let users analyze packets and see what other users are doing.”

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OPLIN 4cast #436: IoT security

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

graphAs more and more specialized electronic devices automatically connect to Wi-Fi wherever they can find a node, comprising the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), the people who install and maintain wireless access points in libraries will encounter more and more concerns. For one thing, designing a wireless network for the IoT requires a shift in thinking, from providing big bandwidth for a few devices that patrons are using to “read” the Internet, to providing small bandwidth for a multitude of devices that they happen to be wearing in the library. But an even larger concern may be network security, since many of these devices have been designed with little or no thought given to protections against hacking and viruses.

  • Internet of Crappy Things (Kaspersky blog | Alex Drozhzin)  “In general, the problem is that those who develop home appliances and make them connected face realities of a brand new world they know nothing about. They ultimately find themselves in a situation similar to that of an experienced basketball player sitting through a chess match with a real grand master. Things get even worse when it comes to the users of connected devices. They don’t bother with security at all. For an average user, a connected microwave is still just a microwave. A user would never imagine it is a fully-equipped connected computer which has means of influencing the physical world.”
  • Prepping WLANs for the Internet Of Things (Network Computing | Marcia Savage)  “IoT security is a top concern, [director of product marketing at Aerohive Networks Abby] Strong said. Oftentimes the devices have custom operating systems, so antivirus can’t simply be installed on them. ‘There are few best practices for how to handle IoT systems,’ she said. ‘And absolutely no standardization. The industry doesn’t even know what the risks are yet.’”
  • Are we creating an insecure Internet of Things (IoT)? Security challenges and concerns (Toptal | Nermin Hajdarbegovic)  “[Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith] Ramirez went on to say that developers of IoT devices have not spent time thinking about how to secure their devices and services from cyberattacks. ‘The small size and limited processing power of many connected devices could inhibit encryption and other robust security measures,’ said Ramirez. ‘Moreover, some connected devices are low-cost and essentially disposable. If a vulnerability is discovered on that type of device, it may be difficult to update the software or apply a patch – or even to get news of a fix to consumers.’”
  • ‘Internet of Things’ gets watchdog: Report calls for extra security to prevent hacking of smart gadgets in homes (Daily Mail | Victoria Woollaston)  “Last year, the FTC studied 12 mobile fitness apps and found they shared data with 76 separate entities. Ms Ramirez continued: ‘If I’m wearing a fitness band that tracks how many calories I consume I wouldn’t want to share that data with an insurance company.’ The FTC report made no specific legislative recommendation for IoT but said ‘there appeared to be widespread agreement that companies developing IoT products should implement reasonable security.’”

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OPLIN 4cast #431: Morphing antennas

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Wi-Fi routerEthertronics Inc. got some attention in the technology media about a month ago when they announced that they had developed a chip for wireless routers that changes the radiation pattern of the router’s antennas to fit the characteristics of a space. Ethertronics (and some other companies) have previously been doing work in the area of developing “reconfigurable” antennas for mobile phones and tablets, and at least one university is also doing research in this area, reportedly with military funding. Reconfigurable antennas in routers could improve wireless performance substantially and might alleviate the need for multiple wireless routers in some places.

  • Wi-Fi signals can now penetrate thick walls and cover long distances (Deccan Chronicle | Francis D’Sa)  “The chip enables Active Steering technique (signal steering) by monitoring the RF link performance and uses a closed group of predictive algorithms to select the best antenna radiation and pattern for superior performance. The technology works best with 802.11 ac devices and enables wireless signals to penetrate thick walls, ceilings and alike to reach further distances, where conventional routers cannot today.”
  • Active antennas could mean more powerful Wi-Fi networks (GigaOm | Kevin Fitchard)  “Ethertronics has designed the antenna technology that has gone into more than a billion mobile devices (if you own a Samsung Galaxy device chances are you’re talking and surfing through an Ethertronics rig), but its active steering technology hasn’t yet made it into a mobile device, though it is engaged in several trials with carriers. [Chief Scientist Jeff] Shamblin, however, thinks that that the technology stands a good shot in the Wi-Fi market as we increasingly hook more devices into home wireless networks from TVs and stereos, to wearables and smart home appliances.”
  • Ethertronics goes for WiFi (Electronics Weekly | David Manners)  “The technology allows three physical antenna to act as 12 virtual antenna. ‘We take one antenna and by changing the radiation pattern of the antenna we can generate multiple radiation patterns from a single antenna,’ [COO Vahid] Manian told EW.  Beam steering, by sampling and switching between the multiple radiation patterns, selects the antenna radiation pattern that provides the best RF link performance. This delivers, says the company, improvements in range, data throughput, interference reduction, robustness in multipath environments, and connection reliability.”
  • Wi-Fi beam-steering tech could kill off fixed home networks (Faultline [via The Register] | Peter White)  “The system also comes with some predictive algorithms so that once it has worked out which is the best way to deliver a particular signal, it gets better at finding the most effective radiation pattern more immediately. The company already sees future markets for active antennas in hospitals, inventory tracking, traffic control, car-to-car control, metering, cameras and Internet of Things sensors.”

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OPLIN 4cast #427: TV white spaces

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

television setIn June 2009, television stations in the United States stopped broadcasting analog signals and switched to digital transmissions. This released large areas of broadcast frequencies between 50 MHz and 700 MHz that are not needed for digital TV, and are available for other uses. One possible use of this “white space” is for wireless broadband Internet access, using relatively inexpensive equipment to transmit Internet data over these frequencies rather than using a physical connection or cellular wireless. So does this technology have any value for libraries? Possibly. The Gigabit Libraries Network is currently leading a WhiteSpace Pilot project to demonstrate how TV white space “…can increase availability and convenience of Wi-Fi access at tens of thousands of new fixed and portable public library community hotspots.”

  • Microsoft-backed TV white spaces trial goes commercial in Ghana (ZDNet | Adam Oxford)  “TV white spaces, otherwise known as dynamic spectrum allocation, is seen as a promising form of connectivity for extending broadband networks to rural areas across the world – including parts of the US. It works on unlicensed areas of the radio frequency spectrum that are allocated for analogue TV channels, using gaps in the signal to carry internet traffic. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all run white spaces pilots in Africa, and it is considered a promising alternative for broadband access where building a commercial case for 4G or fibre is tough.”
  • White Space, the next internet disruption: 10 things to know (TechRepublic | Lyndsey Gilpin)  “Television networks leave gaps between channels for buffering purposes, and this space in the wireless spectrum is similar to what is used for 4G and so it can be used to deliver widespread broadband internet. Typical home Wi-Fi can travel through two walls. White Space broadband can travel up to 10 kilometers, through vegetation, buildings, and other obstacles. Tablets, phones, and computers can all access this wireless internet using White Space through fixed or portable power stations.”
  • TV white space will connect the internet of things (Wired UK | James Temperton)  “Uses for the technology currently being trialled include live video streaming of meerkats at London Zoo and sensor networks to provide flood warnings on the Thames and Cherwell rivers near Oxford. Trials have also been carried out to bring faster broadband connections to ships travelling near the Orkney Islands. The first commercial uses of the technology are expected by the end of 2015.”
  • Libraries to expand as TVWS hot-spots with new Knight project (CivSource | Bailey McCann)  “Phase two of the project – with the aid of Knight funding – will expand the role of libraries using TVWS. Participants will be encouraged to think of ways to use TVWS/WiFi for community disaster planning as a redundant and potentially community resource. Ideas to explore include how to use libraries as a headquarters during disasters or as pop-up hotspots around the community.”

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OPLIN 4cast #423: Power to the (wireless) people

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

revolution fistSo you have public Wi-Fi in your library, and your users are thankful. But how about power for recharging their wireless devices? Do they have to carry a cord and sit by the wall so they can plug in? Restaurants and coffee shops, the other popular places for public Wi-Fi, are increasingly providing wireless recharging stations at their tables, so users can simply lay their smartphones on a charging pad and load up on power. But nothing new is ever simple, and there are competing technologies for wireless charging at the moment. Recent news may make the choice of charging equipment a little easier for everyone.

  • Alliance for Wireless Power merges with Power Matters Alliance to push wireless charging standard (FierceWireless | Mike Dano)  “The A4WP was founded in 2012 to push the Rezence-branded technology for magnetic resonance wireless charging, and it counts Broadcom, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung and others as members. The PMA was founded in 2012 to push its inductive charging technology, and its backers include AT&T, Duracell, Powermat Technologies and Starbucks, which has added PMA-capable chargers into some of its coffee stores. The groups said they would now jointly push wireless charging due to the merger, but that both technologies would continue to be available so that members could use whichever made the most sense.”
  • Alliance for Wireless Power and Power Matters Alliance agree to merge (Chip Design | press release)  “Consumers will gain access to an exciting and enhanced battery charging and power management experience sooner across the full spectrum of devices in daily use. Mobile network operators and commercial and retail brands can commit to the necessary investment confident of stable, long-term evolution and management of innovative wireless charging technologies.”
  • Two rival groups pushing wireless charging declare peace (Wall Street Journal Digits | Don Clark)  “The two groups had already made signals that they were moving closer together. Meanwhile, the third group—called the Wireless Power Consortium—claims 200 members including Philips and Microsoft. It supports a standard called Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), which it says combines elements of both inductive and resonance technology. Most Windows Phone handsets, and some Android smartphones are currently Qi compatible.”
  • Key wireless charging groups A4WP, PMA agree to merge (CNET | Roger Cheng)  “The two groups believe the merger will close by the middle of 2015, and plan to chose a new name for the combined group. The WPC, meanwhile, said the merger wouldn’t have an effect on its efforts to bring wireless charging capabilities to the consumer. ‘The two groups are filling gaps with technology the other didn’t have, and they have been behind in rolling out commercial products,’ said John Perzow, vice president of market development for the WPC.”

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OPLIN 4cast #419: Electrosensitivity

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

caduceus symbolAfter last week’s 4cast about jamming mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, it was interesting to read some recent articles about Green Bank, West Virginia, where the federal government does not allow Wi-Fi — or cell phone towers, or radio, or electromagnetic transmissions of any kind — because the transmissions interfere with the operation of a number of radio telescopes located there. The side effect of this ban has been an influx of people who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), and while the medical community disputes the existence of this “Wi-Fi allergy,” such people do have health problems that they sincerely believe are caused by modern technologies.

  • The town without Wi-Fi (Washingtonian | Michael J. Gaynor)  “A few years ago, one disturbed electrosensitive flew into a rage at the local library, decrying the ‘dumb hillbillies’ who surrounded her, as the story goes. She rampaged from the post office to the bank to the auto shop, belligerently screaming before police finally ticketed her and banned her from a couple of public places around town.”
  • “Electrosensitives” flock to Wi-Fi quiet zone as teens set up rogue hotspots (Ars Technica | Jon Brodkin)  “A number of studies have looked at the existence of electrosensitivty. A survey of their results found that people who claim to have this disorder can’t recognize the presence of electromagnetic fields, and studies that showed health effects were either flawed or could not be reproduced. The World Health Organization says that ‘well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure.’”
  • Refugees of the modern world (Slate | Joseph Stromberg)  “As such, the best predictor for whether a hypersensitive person will experience symptoms isn’t the presence of radio frequency—it’s the belief that a device is turned on nearby. An elegant demonstration of this on a much larger scale took place in 2010, when residents of the town of Fourways, South Africa, successfully petitioned for a cell signal tower to be taken down because of the sickness caused by its radiation—even though it was later revealed that it hadn’t been switched on during the time of their complaints.”
  • Enter the Quiet Zone: Where cell service, Wi-Fi are banned (NPR All Tech Considered | Elise Hu)  “But keeping the noise down around here is getting harder these days. ‘If you think back to 1956 when this site was first built, there were issues with radio noise, but most of those issues came about through cars and spark plugs and power lines. And now we’re living in a society where everything is wireless,’ [telescope overseer Karen] O’Neil says.”

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OPLIN 4cast #410: ConnectED Wi-Fi vendors

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

ConnectED logoWe’ve blogged about the Federal Communication Commission’s E-Rate reforms in an earlier 4cast, so you may remember that one of the big changes is a push to use more E-Rate money to support the management and operation of Wi-Fi in schools and libraries, including installation, activation, and initial configuration of eligible components. The FCC’s “push” will come in the form of $2 billion of new E-Rate funding over the next two years for Wi-Fi upgrades, which of course has the attention of Wi-Fi vendors. Now we’re starting to see some vendors take an advantage in the rush for the new money, through their involvement with the President’s ConnectED initiative, which prepared the ground in many ways for the FCC’s E-Rate reforms.

  • Apple’s ConnectED program participation brings Macs, iPads and more to underserved schools (TechCrunch | Darrell Etherington)  “Apple’s program will put an iPad in the hand of each student at these [114] schools, give both an iPad and a Mac to every teacher and admin staff, and put an Apple TV in each classroom. It’s truly a full-coverage approach, and it should mean that these schools, at least from a technological perspective, get to stand on more equal footing with some of their better-funded peers.”
  • Apple details how its $100 million pledge to Obama’s ConnectED will help schools (The Verge | Chris Welch)  “Apple wants to see things through with its pledge to ConnectED, and that extends beyond simply passing its products around. The company says each school will be assigned a dedicated Apple Education Team that will help educators integrate the technology in lessons and ensure they can make the most of what they’ve been given.”
  • Apple picks Aerohive for ConnectED program (Network Computing | Lee Badman)  “Aerohive Networks announced today that it’s been selected as the sole WiFi infrastructure provider for ConnectED as part its relationship with Apple, which is expected to be a major provider of devices to the program. Apple plans to provide $100 million in resources to the initiative, including client devices (iPads and AppleTVs) and the Aerohive network switches and APs that will form the new infrastructure for ConnectED schools.”
  • Aerohive Networks teams with Apple to drive Obama’s ConnectED program (CRN | Kristin Bent)  “[Bill] Hoppin [vice president of business development at Aerohive] said all of Aerohive’s ConnectED implementations will be done by its partner and managed service provider, Education Networks of America (ENA). He said in addition to helping deploy Aerohive’s technology, ENA will provide schools with ENA Air, a turnkey managed services offering for wireless infrastructures.”

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OPLIN 4cast #407: Jamming hotspots

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Wi-Fi hotspotA couple of weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission fined the Marriott hotel chain $600,000, charging that they “…intentionally interfered with and disabled Wi-Fi networks established by consumers in the conference facilities of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, in violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act.” In plainer English, Marriott was sending signals that disabled the cellular mobile hotspots that people at the conference facility were trying to set up for use by their group, thus getting around paying steep fees charged by Marriott for using their in-house Wi-Fi. (If you’re curious about how steep these fees can be, OPLIN just paid the Greater Columbus Convention Center $10,000 for Wi-Fi access for OLC Convention attendees last week.) While most media reported this story as an example of a hotel getting caught being greedy, the FCC’s action raised ticklish questions for some technicians responsible for maintaining Wi-Fi networks.

  • Marriott fined $600,000 by FCC for blocking guests’ Wi-Fi (CNN | Katia Hetter)  “Marriott issued the following statement Friday afternoon defending its actions: ‘Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft,’ the statement said. ‘Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers.’”
  • Understanding FCC decision regarding Wi-Fi containment at Marriott (Mojo Wireless | Hemant Chaskar)  “In this case, it seems FCC reached the conclusion that rogue containment was used in a manner to disrupt rightful communications of users even though they did not pose security threat to the Marriott network. I think everyone would agree with the FCC position here. Some may bring up the hotel Wi-Fi performance degradation issue due to personal hot spots, but Wi-Fi operates in the public spectrum and does not guarantee performance in the first place.”
  • Prudence in the wake of the FCC’s ruling on Marriott jamming WiFi (IT Connection | Mike Fratto)  “On the other hand, Marriott – and any organization running a WiFi network – has good reason to monitor its airspace in order to provide good service. If you look at the airspace at any public venue, it is a mess of access points overlapping channels and degrading WiFi access for everyone, and there is no way for a venue owner to provide good service in that environment. However, protecting unwitting guests from ‘insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft’ is a specious argument and not one you should make unless you have tangible proof.”
  • FCC-Marriott WiFi blocking fine opens Pandora’s box (Network Computing | Lee Badman)  “Many of us have bought into the fact that WLAN can be as good and secure as Ethernet, and the WLAN industry says we shouldn’t hesitate to include WiFi in our critical infrastructures. But we need the FCC to provide some clarity. Even if it’s not OK to ‘jam’ in whatever form that may take, it ought to be OK to have ‘Thou shalt not use’ policies for our own spaces. The FCC didn’t say that’s acceptable, but it really needs to at this point.”

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OPLIN 4cast #394: Open Wireless

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Open Wireless MovementThis weekend at the “Hackers on Planet Earth” conference, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) plans to demonstrate new open source firmware for wireless routers. While open source wireless firmware is nothing new, in this case, the firmware is designed specifically to support the Open Wireless Movement. This movement is promoting the widespread sharing of unencrypted wireless networks with no password protection, so anyone can easily access and use them. Libraries are big on sharing, of course, and also big providers of public wireless, but will they embrace Open Wireless?

  • What is the Open Wireless Movement? (openwireless.org)  “We are aiming to build technologies that would make it easy for Internet subscribers to portion off their wireless networks for guests and the public while maintaining security, protecting privacy, and preserving quality of access. We’re also teaching the world about the many benefits of open wireless in order to help society move away from closed networks and to a world in which openness is the default. Our efforts follow the opinion of nationally recognized computer security expert Bruce Schneier, who considers maintaining an open wireless node a matter of ‘basic politeness’.”
  • New open-source router firmware opens your Wi-Fi network to strangers (Ars Technica | Joe Silver)  “[OpenWireless.org’s] mission statement reads. ‘And we are working to debunk myths (and confront truths) about open wireless while creating technologies and legal precedent to ensure it is safe, private, and legal to open your network.’ One such technology, which EFF plans to unveil at the Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE X) conference next month, is open-sourced router firmware called Open Wireless Router.”
  • This tool boosts your privacy by opening your Wi-Fi to strangers (Wired | Andy Greenberg)  “One goal of OpenWireless.org, says EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo, is dispelling the legal notion that anything that happens on a network must have been done by the network’s owner. ‘Your IP address is not your identity, and your identity is not your IP address,’ Cardozo says. ‘Open wireless makes mass surveillance and correlation of person with IP more difficult, and that’s good for everyone.’”
  • EFF wants you to open your Wi-Fi to IMPROVE privacy (The Register | Darren Pauli)  “The EFF sees the proliferation of segmented open wireless networks as a key tactic that will foil intelligence agencies’ ability to track individuals. By opening home and business wireless to all, it became more difficult to tie people to their online activity.[…] Provided the software is sufficiently secure, the obvious outstanding threat would be to the open wireless users who could find themselves blamed for online crimes committed by anonymous users of their network.”

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OPLIN 4cast #393: E-rate reform

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

FCC logoOur apologies if you have already heard about this, but this news is important enough to bear repeating. This Friday (July 11), the Federal Communications Commission will meet and probably come to a decision about making some sweeping changes to the E-rate program. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would like to shift E-rate discounts away from supporting outdated technologies – such as pagers and (eventually) plain old telephone service – to more current technology needs, particularly internal Wi-Fi. Does he have support from the Commissioners to get approval for his proposals? We’ll find out on Friday.

  • Modernizing E-rate: Providing 21st century Wi-Fi networks for schools and libraries across America (Federal Communications Commission)  “Modernizing our rules to facilitate investment in Wi-Fi would result in a 75 percent increase in Wi-Fi funding for rural areas, which have been disproportionately shut out by the current system. Under existing rules rural schools on average receive 25 percent less Wi-Fi funding for every student, and 50 percent less funding for every school, compared to their non-rural peers, because the current rules often put them at the back of the line.”
  • Washington’s Wi-Fi Friday: FCC, Senate push for more Wi-Fi in schools, more unlicensed airwaves (GigaOM | Kevin Fitchard)  “Wheeler is calling for new rules to the government’s E-Rate program, which was established 18 years ago to bring internet connectivity to schools and libraries. The program largely accomplished its mission, delivering broadband access to 94 percent of U.S. classrooms and 98 percent of public libraries, according to the FCC. But when the rules were originally written, they didn’t anticipate the wireless connections most devices would need to make that final hop to the internet.”
  • ALA encouraged by FCC Chairman’s commitment to a multi-stage E-rate reform (District Dispatch | Marijke Visser)  “Mobile internet use in libraries is exploding, and this first step by the Chairman to address this need is important for the vast number of schools and libraries that have not received E-rate support for internal (e.g., Wi-Fi) connections for many years. But this is not enough to meet our national needs. The lack of access to affordable, high-capacity broadband to the building remains a major challenge for so many libraries and schools. Such access must be fully funded for eligible applicants, regardless of any new funding models for Wi-Fi services.”
  • E-rate reform: A sustainable path forward for school and library connectivity (The Hill | Danielle Kehl and Sarah Morris)  “Simply put, ubiquitous Wi-Fi cannot achieve its promise without a robust wired backbone that is scalable to meet future needs. That’s why a number of stakeholders have recommended that the FCC create a dedicated ‘upgrade fund’ to help schools and libraries cover high upfront costs associated with capital investments to bring fiber to the premises.”

E-rate workshops:
As many of you know, OPLIN and the State Library have sponsored E-rate workshops for public libraries, one in the late fall and one in the winter, for a number of years now. This year, because of the anticipated changes, we are planning to do many more workshops in locations around the state and are also looking into improving online delivery of the workshops. Watch for details early this fall.