Remote wifi troubleshooting
August 1, 2007 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out whether or not my parents' home wifi is password-protected.

I'm helping my pops set up a new computer, his first laptop (Mac), from remote (I'm west coast, he's east coast.) I have the computer here and am pre-configuring it for him before I send it off.

Even though his current setup (PC) doesn't involve wireless, he does use a Linksys wifi router. Which is great for his new soon-to-be wireless life. So what I'm trying to figure out is if his wireless router requires a password.

I tried (with the help of Yuuguu on both ends) to access his router's admin utility, so I could look into this, but the default passwords for the admin utility don't match. I can't login.

I fear my only option would be to have Dad restart the router to default factory settings (then I could sneak in via Yuuguu and get things done) but I'm afraid that might blow his whole connection. And I'd hate to do that as he'd no longer have internet and I'd be unable to help in any way.

Any other ideas? Is there software I can run that'll tell me whether or not a wi-fi password is required? Thanks.
posted by diastematic to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
His wireless client should say. If not, install netstumbler (or whatever the mac version is called) and scan the area. You'll see his AP and see what encryption its using.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:11 PM on August 1, 2007

Its called kismet.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:15 PM on August 1, 2007

Response by poster: He doesn't have a wireless client right now -- he's wired, but his new computer (which is in my possession) is wireless (ideally). I'll definitely checkout netstumbler, though, thanks.
posted by diastematic at 2:18 PM on August 1, 2007

Best idea short of resetting it is have one of Dad's friends come over with their laptop and see if they need a password to connect.

Anyway, it's not such a big deal to reset them. They default to a state that lets anyone connect, and it sounds like your Dad has no wireless assets to actually protect, so who cares if the whole neighborhood can connect? Leave it like that until Dad gets the laptop from you, and then assist him in locking it down.
posted by poppo at 2:25 PM on August 1, 2007

try admin and leave the password blank. i'm pretty sure that's the default for Linksys stuff.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:26 PM on August 1, 2007

THe problem I see is that if he resets it and its set to do pppoe with a username and a password, he will lose his internet connection. Then someone has to wakl him through configuring the router. If he knows 100% that its all dhcp/automagically then he'll be ok.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:27 PM on August 1, 2007

I'd say you lose without admin access to the router OR a wireless machine in the network (Linksys very sensibly FORCES you to change the default password on first login).

Another question: Why exactly do you care? Wouldn't your OS X just pop up a dialog asking for the authentication info when trying to connect?

Plus, being unhelpful and thinking a bit further: Either it requires a key - then you probably don't know it, so you need to reset the router, or it doesn't - then you should set up encryption ASAP, which requires the admin password you don't have and you need to reset the router - so just do it.

Make sure you have the Linksys manual and all necessary Internet account data handy before nuking it, then go ahead - setting up a DSL or cable Internet connection on a Linksys isn't magic.
posted by themel at 2:30 PM on August 1, 2007

I see is that if he resets it and its set to do pppoe with a username and a password, he will lose his internet connection.

Right, totally right. I forget that in this enlightened day and age there are still ISPs that require authentication.
posted by poppo at 2:30 PM on August 1, 2007

Kismet and netstumbler are both wireless sniffers. They're not going to help unless you can get someone on site with a wireless card.

AFAIK, Linksys wireless hubs come defaulted to open/non-encrypted connections. So as long as he hasn't changed these settings, he should be ok.

If you know the model number of the unit you can download the manual from the Linksys site, to make sure you're using the correct default password. Their usual one is leave username blank, password is admin.
posted by bitmage at 2:32 PM on August 1, 2007

Response by poster: Unfortunately Dad a) doesn't have friends with wireless access. (He just moved in.) And b) he doesn't know squat about computers and is clearly getting older/less capable of understanding these things. That's why I'm setting this up for him.

Good points, all, about resetting the router. Looks inevitable. I'm going to first see if his ISP in North Carolina (local cable co.) has any info online, first.

Then, I'm going to simply send the laptop. If it has no protection, that's good for the moment. (And I'll need to reset with proection on.)

And if it already does have protection, then I'm going to need to reset in order to keep him secure.
posted by diastematic at 2:47 PM on August 1, 2007

There's a definite possibility that if he didn't secure the WiFi and didn't put a password on the router, someone could have simply taken control of it remotely to give themselves free internet.

To be really safe, you need to reconfigure the router from scratch. Ideally, you should also reflash it from a factory image. First, talk to his ISP (or have him do it) to find out if they're using using DHCP or PPPoE. Make sure to get the username and password if it's PPPoE, and possibly the MAC address it's linked to. If it's DHCP, you shouldn't have to worry too much here.

Have your father disconnect the router from the cable/dsl modem, reset it with the button, and then walk him through reflashing and reconfiguring it BEFORE he puts it live on the Net. The very first thing he should do is set a new router password, and then set an encryption key -- WPA2 is much better than any other choice. WPA keys also look like passwords -- there are, in effect, TWO passwords in a wireless setup. One is the encryption key for the wireless, and should be incredibly long and complex for best safety. The other is the admin password on the router, which generally doesn't need to be as ridiculous, since it's not exposed to the entire world by default.

Once he's got the passwords reconfigured, then get him reconnected to the Net. Ideally, log in for him and change the passwords AGAIN, just to be absolutely paranoid and certain, and then tell your dad what the new password and key are.

Why reflash it? I don't have direct knowledge of this, but I would be VERY surprised if there weren't hacked Linksys firmwares that give bad guys backdoors into the router. The firmware format is very open, so it wouldn't take a monumental amount of brainpower to put a little irc bot on it or something. Hell, it could just run a little cron job to mail the configuration to a gmail account once a week or so. So it would be much smarter to replace the firmware completely with the latest from the Linksys site.

The router has sitting there completely open, presumably for many months, and the only person watching it has no idea what's going on. Assume it's completely compromised. This is probably not an accurate assumption, but it's safest. If it's not hacked, you don't do any real harm this way, and if it is, you're potentially saving your father lots of trouble.
posted by Malor at 3:10 PM on August 1, 2007

Switch what the guy above said:
for linksys routers, the base login is empty, and password is "admin". Access it via, but only from the home router.

Should there happen to be a password, holding down the reset button until all lights blink will erase it.

Would that I were you, I'd:
install Tight VNC on it
send it home w/ him and a short ethernet cable
have him plug in directly to the router
log into his computer via TightVNC
browse to
if there happens to be security, you can turn it off.
If there isn't, you can turn it on.
However, if you turn it ON, you will instantly lose your VLC session, at which point you'll have to talk him through browsing for the connection and putting in the password. That's pretty easy, though.
posted by TomMelee at 4:56 PM on August 1, 2007

Here's my recommendation:

1: Contact his ISP, and get the necessary login information for his connection.

2: Purchase a $35 cheap wired-only router, and configure it for his ISP connection.

3: Swap routers, make sure it works, and once it does, sell the Linksys on eBay.

Seriously, with your dad's needs, a wireless router is just overkill/trouble, and his ISP can provide you with all the setup information you require; just unplug his router, then call and say "my dad's router crapped out, I bought him a new one, but I need the login/authentication info. I'm putting him on the phone now so that you can verify his identity."

Good luck! I know tech-supporting an older relative can be a bear; I had to do it for years with a father descending into Lewy-Body Dementia. Keep it simple, and you'll both be better off.
posted by davejay at 5:41 PM on August 1, 2007

Gotta agree with Tom here... Why don't you install VNC on the laptop, send it to him and get him to plug it in via the Ethernet cable...

You can then VNC into the laptop and poke around, try and log into the router, check whether the machine can see the router wirelessly etc... Even if you do have to set a password for the wireless, you should still be able to access the machine via the ethernet until you are happy it's all sorted out...
posted by ranglin at 12:12 AM on August 2, 2007

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