Archive for 802.11n

No Strings (Wires) Attached: Wireless LANs, Part IV

Posted in Cisco Certification with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2011 by jjrinehart
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Up to NO Good!

When the 802.11 wireless standard first came out, security was seemingly an afterthought…one of the greatest criticisms of the technology in the “early days” was the fact that just about anyone could access the wireless medium with relative ease.  Stories abounded of hackers with antenna arrays made out of Pringle’s cans not only getting access to a company’s network, but having access to restricted information resources as well.  To combat these very real threats, the first security measure, called Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, was released.

Any early adopter of technology will tell you that the first release of just about anything, now matter how cool, is going to have some significant problems.  Most seasoned engineers or administrators will typically pass on the first release of a new product or version of code for that very reason (why make your job harder than it needs to be, right?)  WEP was no exception to that rule, for several reasons.  First, it used static preshared keys that were rarely, if ever, changed.  I know of a large healthcare institution where an ex-employee, just out of curiosity, checked to see if the WEP keys one supposedly secure wireless network had been changed, after several years of being gone.  Not only were the WEP keys the same, but so were most of the passwords on the servers and network!  Had this individual had unhealthy motives, it could have resulted in a significant security breach resulting in RGE’s (resume generating events) for members of the network staff.  To complicate the death knell for WEP, the keys were easily cracked and the methods for doing so were readily available to both the hacker community as well as publicized on the Internet.  NOT a good start for wireless security.

The next generation of wireless security was advanced by the Wi-Fi Alliance, and titled WPA or Wi-Fi Protected Access.  WPA introduced more thorough methods of authentication (that is, verification of the identity of legitimate users before granting access) as well as strong encryption.  WPA was released prior to an actually IEEE standard, so not long after WPA2 was released, matched to the 802.11i standard, and made even stronger, particularly on the encryption front.

The final area of wireless security had nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with policy management: security policies.  Many times the reasons networks have serious points of vulnerability have less to do with technology protection mechanisms and more to do with the foibles of internal users.  A strong security policy can prevent either intentional or unintentional problems by regulating risky behavior.  Next time, we will consider IP addressing and services…

– Joe

No Strings (Wires) Attached: Wireless LANs, Part III

Posted in Cisco Certification with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2011 by jjrinehart

Accidental Brilliance!

As with many inventions, microwave ovens were actually invented by accident. Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, was touring a factory and was standing close to a magnetron, (a device which provided the heart of radar systems at the close of World War II). He noticed that a candy bar in his
pocket began melting as he stood close to the machine, and then called for a bag of popcorn, which began popping within minutes of getting close to the
machine. The reason for including this seemingly irrelevant history lesson?
Simply put, it introduces the subject of the Industrial, Scientific, and Mechanical (ISM) unlicensed radio bands. In 1985, The FCC gave permission for
general use of a group of frequencies without requiring government-issued licenses, which is why it is often referred to an unlicensed spectrum. The
frequencies within this allocated space included 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.0 GHz, which then spawned an entire range of wireless-enabled devices on the market.  Early cordless phones, for example, usd the 900 MHz range, with newer ones using the 2.4 GHz range, along with our friend, the microwave oven.

The first generation of just about anything, whether hardware, software, cellular phones, always starts out with a very small group of early
adopters. This group tends to love gadgets, are willing to pay a premium, and tolerant of initial “bugginess.” As the technology gains popularity,
costs begin to drop, the rough edges get smoothed out, and the rates of sales and usage starts to grow, and eventually skyrocket. Wireless networking is no
different, as when the original 802.11 devices were released, with only 1-2 Mbps speeds and clunky/proprietary implementations. The “golden
ticket” came with the introduction of 802.11b devices in 1999, which operated in the 2.4 GHz frequency band and speeds of 11 Mbps using a modulation called
Digital Sequence Spread Spectrum, or DSSS. Ironically, 802.11a was released at the same time, which boasted speeds of up to 54 Mbps in the 5.0 GHz range using Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM), but the greater cost and lower adoption made it far less popular. Companies such as Linksys, D-Link, and others on the consumer side and Cisco on the business side flooded the market with affordable 802.11b access points and client adapters and pushed wireless network access into “prime time.” While it was an interesting time for service providers trying to offer subscription-based services, the hardware
side fared pretty well.

Wireless technology is now offered as standard on laptops, cellular phones, printers, and an entire plethora of other devices, making it
certain that it is here to stay.  There are drawbacks to wireless LAN technologies, which is what we will consider next time.

– Joe

No Strings (Wires) Attached: Wireless LANs, Part II

Posted in Cisco Certification with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2011 by jjrinehart

Wireless = Radio!

Wireless LANs transmit signals across the air rather than across copper wires or fiber optic cable.  For those of you who can remember back far enough before cable television, you may recall seeing antennas sticking up from the back of the set (remember rabbit ears?).  Television stations transmitted one-way signals that reached the television set, were decoded, and turned back into light and sound to entertain the masses.  In the “good old days” you turned a knob on the front of the set to change the channel (frequency) that was being displayed on the screen, and only a couple were usually available, NBC, ABC, and CBS, and maybe PBS.  Understanding the basics of wireless LAN technologies actually start at this point, in getting a better grasp of how radio signals actually act and operate.

Radio signals travel through the air and require both a transmitter and receiver, which are actually separate operations, although at one time the term transceiver identified something that did both.  Just as with human speech (using sound waves), wireless technologies are analog rather than digital.  Digital signals have one of two values, namely Zero (0) or One (1), indicating on or off status of a computer circuit.  Electromagnetic radiation, including radio frequency (RF), transmit information by changing some aspect of these waves, usually termed frequency (the measure of how many waves are repeated per interval), amplitude (strength of the signal), or phase (difference between the wave and some reference point).  All wireless technologies use some form of encoding/modulation to change the signal to communicate the zeroes or ones in order to carry the digital information.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s think of frequencies the way you typically use them: channels on your television or radio.  When you want to receive a different stream of data (for example, ESPN instead of the Opera Channel), you use the remote control to change the frequency from one channel to another.  In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets the rules for who can use certain frequencies, as well as power levels so that they can coexist.  Some organizations pay the “big bucks” for use of certain frequencies of operation, such as television and radio stations, and cellular telephone companies.  These are referred to as licensed frequencies because they require a valid agreement in place with the FCC in order to use them.  For our purposes, we need not worry about these RF signal families, but rather those that are part of the unlicensed frequencies group.  Since this is a much deeper topic, we will discuss this next time.

– Joe

No Strings (Wires) Attached: Wireless LANs, Part I

Posted in Cisco Certification with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2011 by jjrinehart

Evil Wire Monster! Run!

The evolution of networking has been rapid over the past several decades as computing moved from a single centralized mainframe to a more distributed model with server farms.  Alongside computing has been vast arrays of cable plants, originally consisting of thick coaxial cable, migrating to thin coaxial cable, to the twisted pair cables we all know and love.  However, just as a puppet without strings would be considered a marvel, a network without wires is equally impressive and desirable; this brings us to the subject of wireless LAN’s, or WLANs, as they are affectionately called.

The umbrella IEEE standard for wireless is designated as 802.11, representing a wide family of other standards, protocols, and so forth.  The establishment of the Wi-Fi Alliance (http://www.wi-fi.org/) in 1999 to promote interoperability has not only created widespread awareness of the technology, but has become synonymous with te technology itself (users frequently refer to WLAN’s as “wi-fi networks.”)

It probably sounds overly simplistic to say that the differences between wired and wireless networks are vastly different, but there is more truth to that than simply saying one medium uses wires and the other does not.  There are some similarities, however, that should not be overlooked:

  1. Layer 2 Technology: While they implement it differently, both operate at Layer 2 of the OSI stack.
  2. Communication Between Devices: Both allow for inter-device communication and data transmission.
  3. Frame Formats: While not identical, both use frame formats constructed with a similar anatomy, including headers/trailers, source/destination MAC addresses, etc.

One of the most striking differences between the 802.11 family of wireless standards and their 802.3 relatives has to do with the mechanics of data transmission; Ethernet uses Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detect (CSMA/CD), and responds to frames which collide in transit, while a WLAN uses CSMA/CA, in which is the stands for avoidance.  If you think of an intersection with cars crashing into one another as analogous of Ethernet, cars constantly swerving to get out of the way would be closer to wireless operation.  Here is the basic process a wireless devices uses to transmit data:

  1. Listen to make sure there is no traffic on the medium (in this case, the channel/air)
  2. Set a random timer and do nothing until it expires
  3. Listen again to make sure that there is no traffic
  4. Send the frame
  5. Wait for an acknowledgement
  6. If there is no acknowledgement, assume the frame was lost and start over at #1

Keep in mind that this is the process for transmitting a single frame, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the amount of overhead this takes.  The reason?  While you can control things that happen on a wire, you have no control over the air, namely transmitted signals.  Lots more to come!

– Joe