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August 19, 2002

News for 8/19/2002

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Hey, you, get offa my Wi-Fi cloud: Starbucks and Portland, Oregon's community network PersonalTelco are sitting on the same Wi-Fi channel in one area where their networks overlap. This Oregonian story neatly captures the conflicts involved. Of course, one or the other could move without giving up anything but their pride, but principle is involved, and whoever blinks first might find themselves blinking quite rapidly in the future. [via Nigel Ballard]

Starbucks announcement on Wednesday: Starbucks has scheduled a press announcement at 10 am on Wednesday morning, at which time it's expected they, along with T-Mobile, will announce future cities (which apparently include Portland) and plans. HP, Compaq's merger partner, will also be on hand.

Cringely decides Wi-Fi isn't hip because of some anecdotal experiences: Oh, it's rough being fickle, but Cringely uses first-person reasoning to decide that Wi-Fi won't be the big thing. He's so bloody wrong because he's relying on his eyes and fingers instead of talking to the millions of people who are actually using this technology in their homes and offices. It's clear he's off base because he writes things like:

There are real problems with WiFi for home use. It is insecure, for one thing. Yes and no. It's not actually insecure; rather, it's broken because of flaws in the encryption methodology and algorithm. You can break a WEP key, but you need a sufficient amount of data collected to break the key. WEP actually works well enough for home use, and it's subsequent version will, in fact, make it good enough for most SOHO (small office/home office) use as well.

The failure could be laid at a higher layer, too: SSL and similar protocols are available for free or cheap, and some mail servers and clients support them, as well as other protocols. I use SSH, which is a bit techie, to secure my connections when I'm running wireless, but application developers should essentially assume untrusted links and make it a simple option to use SSL over any kind of TCP/IP connection. It's too complicated to install and configure now.

But here's why Wi-Fi really doesn't work, he says: For example, my home network uses wireless access points from Apple, D-Link, and Linksys, and each vendor uses a different WEP access scheme. Running multiple APs with heterogeneous firmware is probably not a routine consumer activity. But even if it were, a little bit of Google research would reveal that they are not using different WEP access schemes. Rather, you have to enter the same key in more or less the same form. If he's got an older Apple AirPort Base Station, it only does 40-bit WEP; 128-bit WEP is not much more secure, if someone really wants to break in and can capture enough data to do so over a reasonable period of time. The Apple Base Station requires a WEP key entered with a dollar-sign ($) in front of it if you're entering hex. The other two APs, as far as my experience with them, use WEP identically.

I guess I object to Cringely suddenly going off Wi-Fi because his experience is too idiosyncratic. If you're going to dismiss one technology in favor of another -- in his case, the HomePlug electrical networking system over Wi-Fi -- then you need to find out whether your problems are generally experienced or not.

1 Comment

Sorry, but Cringeley is such an idiot. I can't believe that I actually looked up to that guy at one time, and read what he wrote with gullible fascination. Now I feel like the sucker at a carney show after he's paid his $5 to see what was really inside the man-with-a-snake-for-a-head's lair.

After his "Bank Shot" fallacy, he dares to compare himself with David Ansen? Get some credibility Bob.

OK, I'll at least give some factual evidence of Bob's idiocy in this article - remember he talks about the weaknesses of WEP? Ok, he's right. But then he goes on to talk about the security of HomePlug because it uses 56-bit DES? Sheesh! That is easily crackable. Remember we went to 3-DES (that's TRIPLE DES) which is triple the keylength in order to get around the obvious deficiencies in DES, and now we even have AES, which is even more secure than 3-DES.

Glenn, you're right on inyour response. Someone should call PBS and get Cringely fired - not for bad writing, but for fraudulent reporting and gross inaccuracies. He still hasn't fessed up about his so-called "passive repeater" that no one has been able to duplicate.

Go away, Bob, you're getting almost as bad as Jesse Berst.