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Wireless Hacks

Rob Flickenger and Roger Weeks
Published by O'Reilly Media
463 pages
£ 17.50
Published: December 30, 2005
reviewed by Mike Smith
   in the June 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

Yet another book with Rob Flickenger as (co-)author. This hacks book is now in its second edition, though unfortunately I can't say where the enhancements are, not having read the first. At over 400 pages though, it's a reasonable size, with the usual 100 hacks split into chapters on different topics.

From the title I was expecting a book on WiFi networking (everything seems to be 802.11[something] these days), and although this is covered in large measure, the hacks aren't restricted to this topic.

In fact we start off with a chapter on Bluetooth, mobile phones and GPS. This covers things like remote control using mobile phones (over Bluetooth) of applications on OS/X, Linux and Windows. Hack number 16 is about controlling a Home Theatre using a Palm, which gives me the opportunity to tell you about an article I wrote on -- having replaced the firmware on my Buffalo LinkStation, I've been extending the PCast media server menus accessed by a Buffalo LinkTheatre I treated myself to recently. Not really relevant to this review but may be of interest if any of you have a similar setup.

So then we do move on to the WiFi world - a bit of NetStumbler, WiFiFoFum, Kismet and the like, Ethereal, whatever that is, and ngrep. One tool I hadn't come across though (for Windows unfortunately, so apologies for mentioning it) is Qcheck - apparently a free tool from NetIQ that lets you measure the actual bandwidth of your wireless network (not the inaccurate bandwidth reported by the stock applications). Interesting.

Then we have a section on security -- nothing really exciting here, then a chapter with various hardware hacks: antennas, adding Bluetooth to a mouse and making a WiFi remote controlled car (using a WRT54G).

One area I've missed out on myself is the Linksys WRT54G router. Before I knew about the hackability of this I had already settled on a Netgear DG834G. The latter does have some hacks worth knowing and the firmware source code is available, but the community effort doesn't appear to be there. There's a bit about the WRT54G within the chapter on software hacks.

I think some of the hacks are now showing their age -- the first edition was published in 2003. So although still relevant, I suppose, explaining software like DriftNet and making antennas out of tin cans does take me back a few years.

There's a final section on wireless standards. Alas the standards cover a, b and g but not n and s. Pre-n equipment is already available, but I'm waiting for s now (I'm waiting for snow too, but lets not get confused). I'm hoping to persuade my neighbours to implement s equipment too, in the hope that we can aggregate our bandwidth (assuming this will be possible -- I've not investigated). I know we should be able to do this already with AODV and the like.

So in summary, a reasonable book; parts are a bit dated; covers Windows, various PDAs (Palm and Windows based) and OS/X, and some Linux -- and therefore partly of interest to the UKUUG membership.

I'm not raving about it but there are some interesting snippets of useful information. I now realise I have been quite harsh in one of my other reviews this month -- perhaps too harsh, as any published book has an audience (just not always suitable for the particular individual performing the review).

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