I was chatting with Omar over lunch the other day and he was telling me about his latest wireless network setup and his frustration with trying to troubleshoot connection drops. I feel his pain… my wireless network is a combination of one Microsoft base station (naturally) and two Linksys bases (two totally different models, of course). I was unable to connect to the network when in my bedroom for about 6 months. Everything worked everywhere else… but in the bedroom? No. Gah! I think I solved the problem, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to document that later after I’m sure I understand it (no use posting embarrassingly wrong advice… I know I’m an idiot, but why tell others? I’ll keep the illusion up as long as I can. 🙂 ).
So… where am I going with this rambling post with zero useful content thus far? NetStumbler. Omar commented that he wished he has a tool to tell him all the networks in his area and on what channel they communicated (yes, you can change the channel on your wireless base station for better connectivity). There are probably a bunch of tools, the one I’ve found useful is NetStumbler.
Netstumbler is a fun little app that can provide hours of entertainment for geeks. This software will look for WiFi networks in range, document their SSID (essentially the network name), if they are encrypted, their channel, the signal to noise ratio and, if you have a GPS on your laptop, the coordinates. It’s a very useful tool for working out network issues… or for finding open networks (war driving is apparently a popular hobby). Check it out if you have some time to kill or feel like living out your hacker fantasies.
Oh, war driving… Do you remember War Games with Matthew Broderick? If you don’t, rent it, it’s a fun movie. In War Games Matthew’s character was trying to find a game company’s mainframe by having his computer methodically dial every single phone number in a given area code and logging the phone numbers connected to computers – he was war dialing. War driving is the modern equivalent where people put a WiFi-equipped laptop in their car and drive around logging open wireless networks. Using software like NetStumbler you are able to drive around then dump the results to a program like Microsoft MapPoint to graph out all the open networks in your area. Why? Geeky fun, mischief or whatever reason doesn’t really matter, it just reminds you that you shouldn’t assume that because your computer is in your house that your data is safe. My advice: turn on some form of encryption (WEP for most), hide the SSID and enable MAC filtering. If you don’t know how to do that, check your manual, it’s worth learning how.