MacUpgrades Wireless Networking FAQ

Why WiFi?

WiFi, or Wireless Networking, will allow you to share files, Internet access, music and more without the need to run cables all through your house or office. If you have an iBook, PowerBook or MacBook a wireless network can set you free, allowing you to receive emails at the bottom of the garden, order those MacUpgrades from the bedroom or share your iTunes libraries with the other computers in your house. Although full of terminology, a wireless network is relatively easy to set up and administer. Some common sense and the ability to read the manual will see you up and running in no time. In this FAQ we hope to answer some of the more common questions, explain the terminology and help you select the right wireless networking products for your needs.

WiFi Questions

What Hardware do I need to have a Wireless Network?

First of all you'll need a wireless capable laptop or desktop. If your Mac doesn't have Airport or Airport Extreme built in then there are ranges of third party products that will allow you to add WiFi to your Mac. All the Macs you wish to use on your WiFi network wirelessly will need to be WiFi capable.

Secondly you'll need a Wireless Router or Wireless Network Access Point. How you connect to the Internet will determine which of these products you need.

Sharing the Internet

One of the most common reasons for creating a WiFi network is to share your Internet connection with other machines in your home or office. This should be a doddle to set up. First up you need to make sure your computers are capable of connecting to a wireless network.

Connect to a Mac from a PC

To allow a Windows machine to access your Mac in order to share files and folders you will need to enable SMB sharing. Use the Sharing pane in System Preferences and click Windows Sharing. This enables the Microsoft-standard SMB network sharing protocol.

You'll then need to create a network place on your PC. Go to My Network Places and click on Add a Network Place, then complete the My Network Place wizard. When asked for the address of the network place, click Browse and then go to Entire Network-Microsoft Windows Network-Workgroup, and pick a shared folder from your Mac.

Once selected give this an appropriate name. When done there will be a new icon in the My Network Places directory. Simply double click this to connect to your Mac across the network.

Security

Everyone is concerned about security, whether it's people piggybacking on your wireless broadband or trying to take a peek at your files. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to make your wireless network more secure. Below is guide to some of these methods. The bad news is, that if someone is really determined, then it is nigh on impossible to keep them off your network.

  • SSID (Service Set Identifier) - When you connect to your wireless network you'll usually just have to select its name from the Airport icon on your menu bar. This name is the network's SSID. We'd recommend changing this from the factory settings to something more personal (although you may want to avoid a name that would identify you or your house). Most routers will also let you hide the name completely, although this offers only a low level of security as ?sniffers' can easily discover the names of hidden wireless networks. This option will be marked something like ?Create Closed Network'.

  • Router Login - When you log into your router to make changes' you'll be prompted to enter a password. Default user names and passwords are well known, so if left unchanged malicious types could easily access your router and change your settings (or even lock you out!). Change these immediately from the factory settings and change them as regularly as you can!

  • MAC Address Filtering - Routers will, by default allow any computer that attempts to access it join your network. One of the basic steps for securing your wireless network is to get your router to stop them at the first fence.

    Every network port, on every computer, has a MAC (Media Access Control) address. This in basic terms is a permanent, unique address tied to that network port - whether it be a physical wired network port or a wireless network card such as the Sonnet Aria. Your router should allow you to deny access to all computers except those that you allow simply by entering their MAC addresses into the list of accepted computers/devices. On your Mac you can find the MAC address of your network ports in the Network preference pane. They'll be listed as both Airport ID and Ethernet ID. It's worth copying both of these addresses into your accepted devices list, as you may need to connect via Ethernet in an emergency!

    You should be aware the MAC address filtering is no more than a speed bump to someone who knows what they are doing, but it is a useful technique for keeping out the curious out of a home network.

  • Encryption - By applying an encryption method to your network, not only will anyone who wants to join your network need a password, but all the data will be scrambled too.

    The two main types of encryption are: WEP - Wired Equivalent Privacy and WPA - Wi-Fi Protected Access. WEP offers limited security that would deter only casual snooping. However WEP may be the only encryption you can apply to keep older systems on the network.

    WPA is more secure but does require MAC OS 10.3 or later, and Airport 3.3 or later for the 802.11b Airport card or version 3.2 or later for the Airport Extreme card. Check the documentation of any device you might want to use to ensure its WPA compatible before implementing WPA encryption. Using encryption on your wireless network can have an impact on your bandwidth. If you're just browsing the web or collecting email this won't be a problem but if you're likely to be transferring large bits of data, video for example, then you may want to only implement MAC Address filtering.

Glossary

802.11b
Older wireless networking standard. Maximum transfer rate of 11Mb/sec. Replaced by 802.11g. Apple equivalent - Original Airport
802.11g
Current, most prevalent WiFi networking standard. Maximum transfer of 54Mb/Sec. Apple equivalent - Airport Extreme
Airport
Apple's name for 802.11b networking kit. Compatible with all 802.11b compliant networks and hardware.
Airport Extreme
Apple's name for 802.11g networking kit. Compatible with all 802.11g compliant networks and hardware.
Client
On a network a client is a computer, or application running on that computer that uses a network service provided by a server.
DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol)
This is a client/server protocol running over TCP/IP, which allows a client to automatically obtain a valid I.P address for itself as well as the DNS & gateway servers address for Internet access
DNS (Domain Name Service/System/Server)
DNS provides the IP address associated with the domain name. DNS is useful for several reasons. Most well known, the DNS makes it possible to attach easy-to-remember domain names (such as "macupgrades.co.uk") to hard-to-remember IP addresses (such as 212.227.77.248).
Ethernet
The basis for most wired networks. Ethernet is the wired networking standard for TCP/IP networks. Pretty much all modern computers will have an Ethernet port built in for TCP/IP networking.
Firewall
A network security device, which can be implemented either by hardware, software or both. It is designed to prevent unauthorized access to a network. The firewall sits between the network and the outside world, providing a single point where all inbound and outbound traffic passes. It closely monitors the traffic and blocks any suspect activity.
Gateway
An Internet Gateway is a router able to handle and forward Internet requests from a local network to the Internet. The address of the local gateway is normally assigned by a DHCP server to client machines. For basic home networks it is the same as the IP address of the broadband router.
IP Address (Internet Protocol address)
An IP address is a unique number that devices use in order to identify and communicate with each other on a computer network utilizing the Internet Protocol standard (IP). Any participating network device ? including routers, computers, time-servers, printers, Internet fax machines, and some telephones ? must have its own unique address.
An IP address can also be thought of as the equivalent of a street address or a phone number for a computer or other network device on the Internet. Just as each street address and phone number uniquely identifies a building or telephone, an IP address can uniquely identify a specific computer or other network device on a network.
LAN (Local Area Network)
A single network isolated from the wider Internet. Home and Small office intranets are LANs.
MAC (Media Access Control) Address
The MAC Address is an address associated with a physical network adapter, be it wired or wireless. Every Ethernet device has a unique MAC Address.
NAT (Network Address Translation)
Pretty much all Broadband routers assign IP Addresses in the form of 192.168.blah.blah or 10.0.blah.blah to local computers. These ranges of IP addresses are reserved for local networks and aren't valid on the wider Internet. NAT is the service performed by the router. The router alters the address headers of the packets to and from the Internet. It assigns it's own unique WAN address to the outgoing packets from local computers, collects the resulting inbound traffic and changes the packet addresses once more so that the incoming traffic is routed to the correct computer on the local network.
Router
A router acts as the intermediary between two separate networks. It maintains a routing table to allow it to pass packets across the two networks by addressing them for the most efficient delivery. Home Broadband routers can combine this function with DHCP, NAT, Firewall, wireless access point and Ethernet switch functions.
SSID (Service Set Identifier)
This is the name given to a wireless network by the administrator/owner to differentiate it from others.
TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol
TCP/IP is the complete set of network protocols that allow communication over the Internet and Local Area Networks.