Monday, October 8, 2007

WiFi wannabe? - You MUST See This

We often hear stories in the media of internet fraud and identity theft. Ordinary people have their lives turned upside down when some malicious stranger in an unknown location invades their computer and steals valuable information. Information that was perhaps thought of as being safely locked away within the computer’s hard drive has be accessed from a remote area without the computer’s owner even realizing – until he receives word from his bank that his credit card has been maxed out or his savings account has been emptied.

These are no urban myths – having sensitive documents such as credit card numbers, bank account login information and passwords stolen by hackers is a very real and ever-increasing threat in this globally connected world we live in. Most people don’t even understand the precautions they should be taking to prevent hacking on their computer. Every new story about credit card fraud only reaffirms people's suspicions that the internet is a dangerous place to transact. It also undermines the credibility of security software, as people generally only feel secure if they can SEE that their valuables are safely locked away. People will invariably have a "friend of a friend" who had all the whiz-bang security software installed on his computer and still got hacked. Unfortunately, putting your computer in a thick steel box with a combination lock isn't going to safeguard you against hackers while you're using the internet.

All this is amplified when you start talking about wireless internet connectivity. Where there is already a general suspicion when it comes to sensitive information being passed along wires, the thought of that information being sent through the air where almost anyone can virtually reach out and grab it creates alarm bells in most people’s minds.

The Real Hustle Team
Case in point is the following video from the British TV show The Real Hustle. The Real Hustle is a show that explores various scams throughout the world, and in doing so hopefully educates its audience on what to look out for and how to avoid getting duped.

The Real Hustle Team At Work

That video alone would be enough to turn a lot of people off using WiFi completely but I wanted to show it to illustrate how even if you think you have a secure network you may still be vulnerable.

The positive side to all this is, despite the outcome of the above video, it is possible to stop hackers (including those on the show) from not only stealing your wireless bandwidth but also your credit card details, etc.

If you haven't already, I suggest you read my previous post entitled "What’s The Beef With Beefing Up WiFi Security?". In the post I explain that it is possible to create a wireless network as secure as a wired one. It goes into methods of securing your wireless connection as well as offering a variety of software options for increased security.

It goes without saying, however, that before you even connect to the internet for the first time over a wireless network you should have the following things in place:

1. Personal Firewall Software (in conjunction with good Anti-Virus Software) – Don't just install it, LEARN how to use it and what it does for your computer.
2. Encryption Software – Don’t simply rely on a website being secure (using https://), make sure the data you are sending is encrypted before it leaves your computer.
3. Password-Protect computer files containing sensitive information.
4. Change the default information on your Wireless Router – As well as password-protect the router's configuration details.
5. Disable the "Service Set Identifier" broadcast – Your wireless router will periodically broadcast a beacon to let the world know that it is there. This beacon also includes some data, such as the Service Set Identifier (SSID), which is basically the name for the wireless network. It is not necessary to have this information broadcast from a home network, and disabling it will add to the difficulty a hacker has of finding your connection.

They are just a handful of security measures that you should seriously consider having set up and ready before you connect for the first time. For more information you should talk to your local (knowledgeable) wireless connection provider, or WiFi hardware-selling store.

Get secure!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Losing Their WiFi Nerve

Just reading through my blog subscriptions today I've found news and blog posts detailing 3 cities that were trying to enable city-wide WiFi access, now taking their plans off the table. The main problem seems to be cost.

The first story, from tells of how Chicago have scraped plans to create a WiFi blanket over it's 228 square-mile city. They cite their reasons as being "too costly" and "too few residents would use it".

"We realized -- after much consideration -- that we needed to reevaluate our approach to provide universal and affordable access to high speed Internet as part of the city's broader digital inclusion efforts," Chicago's chief information officer, Hardik Bhatt, said in a statement.

Chicago had hoped to be one of the largest cities to offer full coverage when they first announced their plans early last year. Instead, it appears that negotiations between the city and EarthLink.Inc have stalled due to the enormous reliance on public funding.

Next there is the story from The Enquirer in Cincinnati, which tells of it's city's decision to suspend plans for full-coverage, stating that "It's not smart right now. The market is too volatile". It is The Enquirers opinion that the project would be a costly venture that could "...sink like a rock a year from now." But as they also put it:

Technology continues to evolve rapidly. In a few years, conventional WiFi may seem as hopelessly archaic as a 14.4Kb modem. Meanwhile, there are many free or low-cost wireless Internet options out there that do not require taxpayer subsidy.

Finally, and probably saddest of all, was the story of how Google have pulled out of the effort to give San Franciscan's free WiFi access across the city. This story comes from The Precursor Blog, and claims that "...Google/Earthlink's 'sweeping plan to blanket San Francisco with a high speed Internet network is officially dead.'"

The post goes on to question Google credibility when it comes to their announcement of spending 4.6 billion dollars to bid as a national-wide wireless broadband provider, when they are dropping their 15 million dollar commitment to the San Fran project. Scott Cleland, the writer of the article, casts his suspicions on Google's intentions to actually bid the $4.6 billion on the 700 MHz auction, as well as the additional billions to operate the network. He cites his suspicions for the following reasons:

* Becoming a national wireless carrier would prompt a radical change in Google's business operations, regulatory status, financial status, profitability, and valuation.
o Google's business operations: currently Google is a network core infrastructure play having built the largest parallel computing grid computer system in the world. That fixed cost infrastructure is highly capital efficient and profitable. Building an edge wireless network is the exact opposite, much less capital efficient and unprofitable for at least several years as a late new entrant.
o Regulatory status: Why would Google want to become a regulated wireless company? The financial, political and valuation cost would be very large and painful -- for what?
o Financial status: To become a wireless carrier will require buying spectrum and building/operating a national network. Google would probably create a capital budget and take on debt to do that size endeavor. Currently, Google has no debt to speak of and a huge cash position. Taking on debt, or using cash to pay upfront for such a risky network would significantly weaken Google's current robust financial position.
o Profitability: Getting into wireless as a carrier is almost all cost and little revenue for many years for Google. Becoming a wireless carrier means Google's margins come down substantially.
o Valuation: Becoming a wireless carrier would lower Google's stock market valuation because it would hit Google with compression of its valuation multiple as many investors would look at the company as a hybrid play, a less profitable play going forward, and a company committing to new big cap ex spending that has a riskly long term payback.


His bottom line is that becoming a national wireless broadband provider would make Google a much less valuable company. Makes sense to me...

So there you have it, 3 cities all pulling out of WiFi city-wide coverage in the space of only a few days. It's disheartening to see, as WiFi use is still on the rise. Hopefully, these plans are only a temporary shelving, and these cities will see in the not too distant future that supplying their citizens with complete wireless coverage will be beneficial in the long-term.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Happy First Birthday, Google WiFi

Just taking a break from the "What is WiFi" information today to pass on this interesting tidbit from the guys over at Google. Seems Google has set up a WiFi network over at it's home base of Mountain View, California, and they are celebrating their first anniversary of the service by supplying some statistics for us all.

Now I'm no WiFi guru - I'm just a guy who's interested in WiFi and wants to share what he's learned - but the data that Google has posted sounds pretty damn amazing! From the blog itself:

The network's 400+ mesh routers cover about 12 square miles and 25,000 homes to serve approximately 15,000 unique users each week month. Since the beginning of 2007, traffic has grown almost 10 percent each month, and the network now handles over 300 gigabytes of data each day, sent to over 100 distinct types of WiFi devices. Virtually the entire city has been taking advantage of the network, with 95 percent of the mesh routers being used on any given day.

Pretty incredible stats, huh? The estimated population of Mountain View, California in July 2006 was a whiff over 70,000, so that's over 20% of the towns population 'plugging' into Google Wifi.

WiFi usage is most definitely on the up and up, and as more knowledge is acquired about this technology, and as security concerns are address particularly concerning public access areas, more people will see the advantages and jump on board. Don't be mistaken, the coverage and therefore the usage of this technology WILL grow at an ever-increasing rate. WiFi will follow in the footsteps of Television and Cell Phones, where once the initial skepticism is over, people will be flocking in hordes to be a part of it. Google's triumph in one year is a clear indication of things to come. Knowing Google, as most of us do, they won't stop at Mountain View, and other providers will follow suit as the race to sign up as many users as possible expands. Personally, I think now is the time - before the market is inundated with hype and you get lost in confusion over which set up is best for you.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Is WiFi - What Do I Need To Get Started?

Getting a WiFi home connection started is actually easier than you'd think - the set up being simpler than setting up a wired internet connection. This is because you don't have to mess around with a bunch of phone cables - or Ethernet cables if you're planning on creating a wireless network in your home. As your computer will be connecting to the internet via radio signals it is really easy to set up multiple connections within your house so that everyone with a computer can connect to the internet and/or each other. For now, though, we'll just go into what you need to get started at home with one computer.

The most important piece of equipment you will need for your home WiFi connection (other than your computer, of course) is a wireless router. The wireless router is used to convert the digital signals that come in from your Internet connection (via a broadband modem) into a radio signal that is then broadcast to your computer. It is the hub of your wireless connection, and any computer within it's signal, carrying the correct hardware, will be able to log-in to the network. The wireless router plugs into your existing DSL or ADSL modem, which in turn plugs into the phone socket in your wall. So the set up looks like this:

Routers are pretty easy to set up (basically plug it in and away you go) but it is always recommended that you go through the instructions that come with your router, to be sure you are getting the best from your wireless connection.

Note: Wireless Routers are often confused with Wireless Access Points - and while both have pretty much the same job, a Wireless Router has added security features and is recommended for home or small business wireless connections. Wireless Access Points are generally used for larger offices with a large number (several hundreds) of network connections.

Okay, so you have your router. Next you will need something for your computer to interpret the signals sent out by the wireless router. This comes in the shape of a wireless network adapter. Most new computers have this technology built in, in which case you don't need anything extra, but if your computer is a little older you may have to purchase an adapter to install. The easiest of these for a desktop computer is a USB adapter, which simply plugs into an existing available USB port on your computer. Adapters also come as PCI cards, which slot directly into your motherboard, and are a little more work to install. For Notebook computers you can pick up a PC card network adapter, which slots into the back or side of your laptop. Again, internal cards are available but are more work to install. Actually, you'd need to have a pretty old laptop for it not to have some sort of inbuilt wireless technology already.

Wireless Network Adapter For Desktop

Wireless Network Adapter For Notebook

Once you have your router and your adapter you can set up your internet connection. For home networks you need only sign up to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) of your choice. You may already have a broadband internet account with an ISP, in which case you need do nothing more than connect everything up, switch it on and follow the installation instructions on screen. Otherwise, shop around for the best ISP for you.

And that's it, the basics of what you need to get started with a home WiFi internet connection.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What is WiFi - What's The Beef With Beefing Up WiFi Security?

What is WiFi security I hear you ask? Well, in this age of identify theft and credit card fraud, its easy to understand the concerns regarding the secure transmission of data through a wireless (WiFi) network. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to safeguard your wireless Internet connection from malicious intruders - to the point where it is just as safe as a wired one. These things generally only cost you a bit of time to set up and include:

* Using a personal firewall alongside good anti-virus software
* Turning off the file sharing feature on your computer
* Updating your operating system on a regular basis
* Password protecting your computer and any important files
* Only transmitting emails through secure Web based email sites (those that show https:// in the address bar)

There are also Encryption software programs that encode data sent across the WiFi network, such as login passwords and credit card details. Most sites these days that require you to enter this sort of information are secure anyway (web address starts with https://), but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

You can also set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which is probably the best way to protect your data when using a public WiFi network, such as those found in Airports and Hotels, etc. There is numerous VPN software available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux operating systems, and what it does is provide a protective shield around the user and the site they are accessing, so that anyone in between is unable to access the data being passed along. Think of it as trying to get on a train that is in a tunnel, you can only get access to the train at the start or end on the tunnel - the users point or the web site.

Hope that helps

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Is WiFi - What Are WiFi Hotspots?

WiFi hotspots are areas that a WiFi radio signal can be picked up by your computer, so that you can connect to the internet or a computer network without the need for phone cables and wall plugs.
A hotspot is created by using a wireless router, and these days there are plenty of hotspots around the globe for use with wireless internet connections. Try any airport, library or hotel in the western world for starters, with a growing number of cafes following along. Hotspots are covering a greater area worldwide as WiFi gets more and more popular due to the increased need for people to be connected while on the move.
Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G Router
These days with big business the way it is, executives need to have remote access to their head offices, and what better way to do that than with wireless technology? Like most things technological, what starts as a product for big business eventually becomes a tool for the everyman. It happened with Cell Phones, and it's slowly but surely happening with WiFi.

As time goes on and more hotspots appear, wireless internet connection will become more popular, as people like you and me will be able to access the internet from just about anywhere. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before land line internet connection are a thing of the past.

Currently there are a number of sites that post WiFi hotspot locations, such as, and, to name a few.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What is WiFi - How Does WiFi Work

I'm often asked "What is Wifi and how does it work?". The simplest explanation of Wifi is that it is a high speed internet and network connection, all done without needing access to wires or phone plugs. How WiFi works can be summarized pretty easily as well.

Basically, WiFi uses radio waves, much the same as a Cell Phone does. When you are inside the range of a "hotspot" and have the necessary hardware in your computer, you can quite simply connect to the internet or your computer network, usually by the click of a button. The hardware in your computer turns the data to be sent to the internet into radio waves. These waves get sent to a wireless router which decodes them and sends them through to the internet. The same works the other way, with internet data being translated into radio waves, sent to your computer and decoded using the installed hardware.

The WiFi radio frequency, however, is much higher than that of Cell Phones (2.4GHz or 5GHz), and the higher frequency allows more data to be transferred. WiFi makes connecting to the internet extremely convenient, as airports, libraries, hotels and a growing number of cafes are now fitted as WiFi hotspots. WiFi also makes the use of home connections that much easier, as one wireless router can service an entire home that contains multiple computers and internet connections, making networking simpler, and there is no hassles with cords when moving your computer to a different location in the house.