Networks in Action
Clandestine Wireless Networking and MacStumbler
“At last,” sang Etta James. “My love has come along.”
Network geek, admittedly. Experienced cable-and-socket jockey, perhaps. The common availability of wireless is still a welcome networking gift. Away with bad hair day Ethernet snarls! Fie to protracted battles with computer desk dust bunnies! Cables swapped for a single AirPort card, I consider the transition from network maven to network slacker an upgrade. Using my mental RAM for “location of car keys” is vastly preferable.
“My lonely days over and life is like a song.”
Fortunately, there’s more to wireless than just, well, nothing. Many use wireless access points (WAPs) to share their high-speed Internet connection within their home or office. WAPs broadcast their signal in every direction, much like radio stations. If your AirPort card is within signal range, access is yours—assuming you’re allowed in (more on that later). As neighbors, coffee shops, and offices add access points, the likelihood of encountering multiple signals increases. Some Starbucks, for example, let you browse wirelessly as you sip.
“At last, the skies above are blue—my heart was wrapped up in clover the night I looked at you.”
MacStumbler Connection Details
MacStumbler is a simple application that catalogs and measures nearby WAPs. AirPort does something similar with its connection strength icon and menu of available connections, but MacStumbler shows a comparative overview in one window. It profiles each WAP by name (technically, its Service Set ID or SSID), showing network details and connection status. Pick the best connection, coolest name, or whatever floats your network boat.
“I found a dream that I could speak to, a dream that I could call my own.”
The ease of wireless ostensibly solves a business money problem in reduced cable and maintenance costs. The downside? Careless installation leaks network (and Internet) connectivity beyond its intended bounds, letting anyone within range listen in. Disregard security settings for your wireless network and people are eventually going to notice. Some wireless users go warchalking, using hobo-inspired pavement symbols to indicate nearby access points. Savvy users see the marks and know a free Internet connection is close at hand.
“I found a thrill to press my cheek to, a thrill that I have never known”
Don’t confuse warchalking and casual Internet access with cracking. Most users aren’t out to read your e-mail, just piggyback off your free-for-them Internet connection. Since you’re paying the bill, though, feelings of righteous indignation may result. Check your WAP or router instruction manual for help with securing your network and lowering your blood pressure.
“oh, and then the spell was cast and here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last.”
MacStumbler is a tool for both warchalkers and wireless network owners, regardless of the esteem you hold for either group. You don’t need to be a business to spill your signal around. Home users should be just as aware. It’s not hard to secure your access point or wireless router, just read the instructions. Omit that step, however, and be ready to foot the Internet bill for some morally flexible neighbors.
Also in This Series
- Mac to Windows: Troubleshooting the “No Logon Servers Available” File Sharing Error · October 2004
- Using WEP Security on an AirPort Network · July 2004
- Whatever happened to…Threemacs.com? · September 2003
- Clandestine Wireless Networking and MacStumbler · July 2003
- Learning to Share With Others: Sharing Preferences Overview · April 2003
- Serving Files Using FTP in Mac OS X · December 2002
- Switching Between Networks in Mac OS X · November 2002
- The Audio/Video Quadras (660av, 840av) · September 2002
- Thoughts on Apple’s Xserve · July 2002
- Complete Archive