Review of Wireless Hacks

Wireless Hacks
Rob Flickenger
O'Reilly & Associates

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

October 10, 2003

There is something about the nature of wireless networking that seems to evoke old-school "hacker" passion in even the most jaded computing professional. System administrators with extensive vendor support contracts who rarely, if ever, see the insides of the machines they fix seem to get excited by the prospect of building antennas out of food canisters or drilling holes in perfectly adequately functioning network equipment. Riding on the collective creativity of hundreds of do-it-yourself Wi-Fi enthusiasts, Rob Flickenger collects a wide range of tips and tricks guaranteed to get the reader to seriously consider a trip to local electronics and home supply stores.

Wireless Hacks starts with a chapter devoted to explaining the relevant wireless networking standards. This is all done at a high level, yet the important bases for comparison are covered. All the deployed 802.11 standards are mentioned, but other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, FRS, and GPRS are also considered. Good information is provided about 802.16 technology and 802.1x port security, but there's no mention of the upcoming 802.11i or the interim WPA technology.

Chapter 2 focuses on Bluetooth networking, and after this chapter the rest of the book is almost exclusively dedicated to 802.11 issues. While this will satisfy the vast majority of the book's audience, be warned, anyone interested in messing with their GPRS system will need to look elsewhere. Chapter 3 provides a nearly exhaustive discussion of wireless network monitoring, covering tools such as Kismet, NetStumbler, Wavemon, Ethereal, tcpdump, ngrep, and others. Linux/Unix, Mac OS X, and Windows systems are all given their fair share of coverage.

The hacking gets intense in chapters 4 and 5, focusing on hardware modifications of all sorts. While much of this information has been culled from web pages, it's useful to have it all in one spot. If you ever wanted to know how to make a microwave antenna for less than $20 mostly out of common household items, this is the source. The sets of instructions here vary in quality from the meticulous to insufficiently detailed, and the fact that many of these hacks were aggregated from the web means that in aggregate they don't feel well organized, but there are a lot of interesting ideas in these pages.

Chapter 6 provides some advice for using Wi-Fi over very long distances. These topics are important, a high-gain antenna isn't very useful if it's not aimed properly. The book concludes with a chapter covering wireless security that could be subtitled "Making the Best of a Bad Situation." Here the reader is told about just how easy it is to break WEP, and informed about useful security mechanisms such as how to set up a captive web portal and a SOCKS-based web proxy. Shocking by its omission is any mention of the open1x project, an Open Source implementation of the 802.1x port security protocol.

Overall, Wireless Hacks contains "100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tools" that are bound to fascinate just about any wireless technology enthusiast. While the tips themselves vary greatly in the quality of their description and applicability to most situations, enough of them are good enough to provide a strong starting point for those who are both beginners and experienced in RF and networking issues. Flickenger also provides enough practical advice to help establish confidence in the technology itself, even among those readers who don't have the time or energy to break out their soldering irons. I expect that those who find the topic appealing will probably find this book worthwhile.


Wireless Hacks is a collection of 100 projects, some hardware, some software, intended to appeal to enthusiasts of wireless networking. While a chapter is devoted to Bluetooth networking and some background material is provided on technologies such as GPRS and FRS, the book is almost exclusively devoted to 802.11 networking. The quality of the description of the hacks varies widely, but there are quite a number of well-described projects that will appeal to wireless enthusiasts with a variety of needs. As a plus, those who don't feel compelled to "get their hands dirty" can still learn a great deal from folks who have considerable experience with this technology. Overall, Wireless Hacks is entertaining and interesting enough for me to recommend to folks fascinating by wireless technology.

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