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October 1, 2003

Wireless Hacks by Rob Flickenger

Wireless Hacks hits the stands: teaches you exciting new tips: Rob Flickenger's latest book, Wireless Hacks, has been out for a few weeks and I wanted to share my delight with the title. I have the privilege of having been asked to write the foreword, and so read the book completely a few weeks ago. Here's what I wrote:

As my wife likes to remind me, I'm an early adopter. I've bought piles of equipment that litter various shelves in the basement, home office, and work server closet that never quite met the promise that caused me to shell out the bucks in the first place.

Rob Flickenger is an early adopter's early adopter: before the technology has reached the fancy stage in which it's stuck in a box, wrapped in nice plastic clothing, and displayed to the masses, Rob has torn it open, decompiled its innards, and turned every part of it into something rich and strange.

Reading Wireless Hacks gives me a warm feeling inside, like holding my hands over the vacuum tube in a pre-transistor radio. The glow of this book illuminates Rob's intense interest in spreading knowledge about cool stuff in order to spread more knowledge about the world in general.

A large part of this book is devoted to extending access, whether it's by range, through antennas, signal strength, and other combinations of electromagnetic voodoo; or by price--introducing us to inexpensive alternatives to commercial gear or providing ways to take off-the-shelf items and, Julia Child-like out of the oven, produce serious production equipment; or by design, showing us ways to configure software to achieve better results.

Back in 1979, when I owned my first computer (an Ohio Scientific, Inc., C1P running a 6502 processor), I used to be a whiz with a soldering iron, assembling my own RS232C port and joystick circuitry. This book takes me back to those days when computing wasn't about fast chips, but it was about a lot of digital parts glued together with analog technology, such as wires and ports.

I guarantee that you don't need to master the art of hot dripping lead to make use of this book. The software tips and configuration advice for commercial gear is worth the price of admittance alone. But if you have ever--or even never--touched the electronic heart of a machine before, this book will reawaken that desire.

This book is the crystal radio of the 21st century, and Rob is the scratchy voice coming out of the receiver, carried over a long distances, without wires.


The only thing that bugs me about this book is the security section. There is mention of SSH tunnels and port forwarding (crufty) and then vtun.

vtun is a horribly insecure POS, with a number of well documented and fundamental flaws that will likely never be fixed (The author of vtun shrugs these off as a "trade-off")

I didnt see any mention of IPSEC or PPTP, kerberos or radius, etc. For a security section, this seems like a fairly large oversight.

I would have hoped for some mention of RADIUS or 802.1x implementation, seeing as that's a good way to secure a wireless network (not your own traffic on one). I'll probably still buy it, but it's a shame he doesn't include some info on that.

I don't disagree that both of these issues (RADIUS, 802.1x, etc.) are important -- but this is a wireless HACKS book, not an exhaustive book on running wireless networks. Having tried to figure out freeradius recently and then trying to install the demo version of Windows Server 2003 to test out their solution...well, I'm more inclined to believe that buying a real RADIUS server is the real solution.

I feel like I should mention some highlights as well: This book covers monitor mode drivers, hermesAP, hostAP, monitoring software like kismet, kisMAC, stumbler, etc. This alone is a great time saver as people have wasted way too much effort strugling with these combinations.

Also, wireless in general is talked about, not just 802.11b (or a/g). All sorts of bluetooth tricks are listed, as well as some info on 1xRTT and GPRS.

The Rendezvous on linux stuff is awesome, and I hope this really takes off. We need much more simple, out of the box integration and resource sharing that Rendezvous provides.

I didn't mean to sound overly harsh on this book. The lack of IPSEC/radius is the only weak point I could point out.

I think i'll pick this book up. It sound helpful and you can always learn something new.

This book seems like a very good read. I plan on picking it up today.