Practical Technology

for practical people.

Linux Wi-Fi hacking for fun and features


OK, how many of you are Wi-Fi hackers? Don’t be shy, we’re all friends here.

Besides, you’re in good company. There are several different groups working on better ways to get the most out of the Linux hidden away within many Wi-Fi devices. In particular Linksys Wi-Fi routers and APs (access-points) like the WRT54G and WAP54G have long been hacker favorites. (Editor’s note: If you’re considering getting a LinkSys router to hack, be sure to read about the WRT54GL — a special Linux-friendly version with more RAM and Flash).

Indeed, Eric Raymond, hacker extraordinaire and the person behind a little term you might have heard of — open source — has written a guide to hacking the 54G.

Why do this to perfectly functional Wi-Fi boxes? Well, if the famous climber George Mallory had been a hacker, he might have said, “Because it is there.”

But, it’s more than that. Firmware and Linux hacks on Wi-Fi devices can increase their range, add in security, add ssh (Secure Shell) functionality, and add VPN (virtual private network) services.

In other words, hacking a Wi-Fi device can add a great deal more functionality to an already useful network device.

Until recently, all of this has been, well, not difficult to do, but not a job for a newbie either. Now, however, as Joe Barr explains in a article entitled OpenWrt nears prime-time, a new program that’s now at release candidate four, OpenWrt, makes hacking many different kinds of routers a lot easier.

According to Barr, OpenWrt RC4 is really a Linux distribution based on the 2.4.30 kernel. As such, you can use it to run a wide-variety of applications. Besides the functionality I mentioned earlier, you can even use it, on some devices, to run such open-source applications as the Asterisk PBX (private branch exchange); SANE, the Linux scanner driver; or DansGuardian, a Web proxy and content filtering program.

Better still for new users, OpenWrt now has a Web interface: OpenWrt Admin Console. This makes setting up the basic functionality — type of Wi-Fi security, operating mode (access point, bridge, client, or ad hoc), etc., etc. — much easier.

None too shabby, eh?

Of course, like any of these projects, you do take the chance of taking the perfectly sound and working heart of your Wi-Fi network and… turning it into a brick.

If you install OpenWrt, or any other such program like Sveasoft or HyperWRT, you will void your warranty and there’s always the chance that you’re going to end up with a paperweight with antennas.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

That said, in the case of OpenWrt, I’ve managed to get it running successfully on both of my Linksys WRT54G version 2.0 router/APs and it’s made both of them a lot more useful to me.

So, if you’re feeling brave and you want to give your Wi-Fi network a kick in the pants, what I can say except, “Go for it!”

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