Windows Tips and Techniques for Wi-Fi Networks
It's easy to connect your Wi-Fi® network to computers running Microsoft Windows. In this section we'll discuss the basics of what you need to know to set up and configure your network. Throughout, we'll point you to detailed information and directions on how to implement your network in the various Windows operating systems. The information presented here is intended to provide a basic understanding of the things you will need to consider to make your network useful and secure.
Types of Wireless Networks
There are only two types of wireless network implementations. While they are variously referred to as hosted vs. peer-to-peer, infrastructure vs. ad-hoc, and managed vs. unmanaged, all of these sets of terms are synonymous and represent the same two types of networks. For simplicity's sake, we'll use the terms hosted and peer-to-peer because those terms are more descriptive of their function in a small SOHO (Small Office or Home Office) network, which is our main focus.
A hosted network contains one or more separate access points connected directly to an existing network. These access points are called gateways or wireless routers. This configuration allows wireless devices to access the computers on the existing network, as well as the peripherals and services available on the network such as printers, Wide Area Networks (WAN) or the Internet.
A peer-to-peer network consists only of devices connected wirelessly. A peer-to-peer network contains no central access point or controller, which means each device communicates directly with the other wireless devices in the network. In this configuration, one device can share the information and services available on another device. For example, you could sit by the pool with your laptop, wirelessly surfing the Internet through the DSL service connected to your desktop computer inside your home office. For this configuration to work, both computers must be turned on.
In corporations or enterprises, more than one hosted network may be connected. In this complex environment, wireless connectivity can be accomplished in many ways. We recommend that the IT department that manages the network always implement this type of connection - not only because the possibilities are too numerous to present here, but also because most IT departments are already equipped to handle wireless connections.
Microsoft Networking Basics
If you are using Windows 2000 or Windows XP, the basic installation procedure may be as simple as powering down the computer and peripherals, installing the Wi-Fi hardware and rebooting the systems. However, if you are adding Wi-Fi equipment to an existing wired LAN or if you want to change things after you install your Wi-Fi system, you need to know a few basic concepts. You can find more detailed information and procedures in the Help section on the Windows Start menu.
Your place on the network
Most networking tasks can be completed from My Network Places on the Start menu. Here, in the Network Tasks menu, you can add a network place, view network connections, set up a small network or view other computers in your local network. You will use this menu frequently to access resources on other computers and change network settings.
Naming your network and computers
Each computer must be able to identify the other computers on the network. Since each computer could be a part of several networks, it must be able to identify each network as well. The principle is simple: the network name must be the same for every computer using the network, and each computer on the network must have a unique name so that other computers can find it. If you want your Wi-Fi equipment to access the computers, peripherals and services on your existing network, you must use the same network name when you set up your Wi-Fi system.
To find out the network and computer name, choose Control Panel from the Start menu. Click on System and then choose the Computer Name tab. You can change your network and computer names from here as well.
Finding computers, files and services on the network
Computers can connect or disconnect from a network. To find out which computers are currently connected to your network, choose, from the Start menu, My Network Places. Under Network Tasks, choose View Workgroup Computers. This will show you all of the computers currently on your Local Area Network. To find out which files and services you can share on a listed computer, click on its name. Clicking on individual drives, folders, files, printers or other devices provides direct access to them as if they were on your computer. This works just like the Windows Explorer feature, so you can keep clicking to get continued access as you go deeper into the file structure.
When you look for files and services on another computer, you will probably find that you cannot access every drive, folder, file, printer or other device on the computer. You may not want other computers on the network to have access to all of your resources, either. You control which resources to share. To share resources, start in Windows Explorer and bring up the folder directory. Then, right-click on any drive or folder on your computer. Choose the Sharing or Sharing and Security option, and then click on the Sharing tab. Here you can choose whether or not to share the information. You can also add a password to protect the data if you choose to share it. In order to share a file or folder, you must also share the folders and drives above it in your computer's file system.
Printers may also be shared by right-clicking on a printer in the Printers and Faxes section under Settings or Control Panel and choosing the Sharing option and the Sharing tab.
A map to frequently used data
You may find that you require frequent access to files on another computer. You can get easier access to those files by mapping them so that they appear to be contained in a drive on your own computer. You will see the mapped drive in My Computer and in Windows Explorer.
You can begin the mapping process from My Computer or Windows Explorer by choosing Map Network Drive from the Tools menu. Or, you can right-click Map Network Drive from My Network Places on the Start menu. Follow the instructions to select a drive letter and browse the network for the data you want to assign to that drive. Please note that if the computer you are connecting to is not on the network when you are trying to reach it, or if the file is in use by another computer, you will not be able to access the data.
Consult the wizard
Windows contains a number of wizards that can walk you through each step in setting up, troubleshooting or making changes to a network.
You can have Windows help you through the entire procedure of setting up a network for a small office or a home. From My Network Places, and Network Tasks choose Set Up a Home or Small Office Network (alternately called Network Setup Wizard) in the Network Tasks menu.
To troubleshoot your network in Windows XP, from My Network Places, and then Network Tasks
click on View Network Connections, then from the See Also menu select the Network Troubleshooter wizard. There are other wizards that you may find useful within the help section on the Start menu. Search for a specific topic and links to applicable wizards will be found within the text.
There can be only one master: IP addresses, NAT and DHCP
To communicate with other computers on the Internet, your computer must have a unique, identifiable address that other computers on the Internet can recognize so they can send it information. This can be accomplished in several ways.
Using an IP (Internet Protocol) address is the traditional way to make your computer identifiable to others on the Internet. An IP address consists of four sets of (up to) three digits separated by decimal points. They look like this: 555.555.555.555. Large networks have blocks of these addresses that they assign to the computers on their local networks.
Small office and home networks may use DSL or cable access to the Internet. Typically, this type of access only includes a single IP address. So if you want to connect several computers to the Internet through these services, you need to assign different identities to each of your computers.
For SOHO users, NAT (Network Address Translation) is the way to assign separate computer identities to individual computers that connect to the Internet using a single IP address. The NAT service is usually provided by a router or gateway that goes between the Local Area Network and the Internet. It keeps track of each computer and routes the correct data to it even though it doesn't have its own individual IP address directly assigned to the Internet. Sometimes this device also provides firewall services to help protect the data on the computers from hackers trying to gain access through the Internet.
For most applications, computers are assigned an address by the router or gateway as they are turned on or plugged into the network. The router assigns these addresses on the fly, using a protocol called DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol).
When setting up your Wi-Fi network, you need to know that only one DHCP device can operate on the network. If you are installing a Wi-Fi gateway that provides DHCP directly between your computer and the Internet, there should not be a problem. However, if you are installing a Wi-Fi gateway on an existing network that already contains a DHCP router between the network and the Internet, you must make sure to turn off the DHCP function in the Wi-Fi gateway.
It's easy to determine if a computer on an existing network is set up with IP addresses or DHCP. Select My Network Places from the Start menu. Under Network Tasks, click on View Network Connections. Double-click on the Local Area Connection icon. This will show the Local Area Connection Properties window. Select Internet Protocol on the General tab and click on the Properties button. If the computer is using DHCP, the box next to Obtain an IP Address Automatically will be checked. If an IP address has been assigned directly to the computer, you will see the box next to Use the Following IP Address checked, along with the addresses assigned to the computer.
Before You Begin
How you install and secure your wireless system depends on which Windows operating system you are using. No matter which system you have, you should make sure that it has been updated to the latest version and that all applicable security patches have been installed. To check if your system is current, you can access the Windows Update feature through the Start menu or go to the Windows Update Web Site at windowsupdate.microsoft.com.
Be sure to read the documentation that came with your wireless equipment for detailed directions and to make sure your equipment is compatible with the operating system you are using. Check your manufacturer's Web site to make sure you have the latest drivers for your equipment and Windows operating system. If you are using Windows XP you may not need drivers, but it's a good idea to make sure.
Windows Operating Systems Before Windows 2000 or Windows XP
Wi-Fi can be installed on nearly any Windows system including Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. (Win 95 is problematic with Wi-Fi networks.) Make sure the equipment you choose is compatible with your operating system.
Windows 2000 and Windows XP can automatically detect and help configure your Wi-Fi equipment because many of the important drivers are already built in.
Previous versions of Windows require device-specific drivers. Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers supply these drivers along with detailed instructions on how to install the equipment for each operating system. Be sure to follow these instructions carefully to assure a successful connection.
If you are installing an access point on an existing LAN, be sure that the network is operating correctly before installation.
Windows 2000 and Windows XP
These operating systems were specifically designed to be compatible with Wi-Fi. If you have Windows 2000, be sure to upgrade to the latest Service Pack to take advantage of all Wi-Fi features.
If your Wi-Fi hardware is compatible with your operating system, just turn off your computer, install the hardware and boot up the computer again. Your operating system will detect and install your Wi-Fi equipment, and a wizard will launch to help you configure it. Be sure to read the documentation that comes with your Wi-Fi equipment so you will be ready for the questions the wizard will ask. Any drivers or software provided by the manufacturer should be on hand.
If you are using Windows XP or Windows 2000 (SP2 or later) and your Wi-Fi card is connected to your computer, an icon will appear in the system tray (Under Start, My Network Places, View Network Connections) that looks like a computer with a small vertical antenna. It's called the Wireless LAN Configuration Utility. You can click with your left mouse button at any time to check the status of the connection and adjust the configuration.
Windows XP has a Zero Configuration feature that makes Wi-Fi installation so simple your system may install everything without bothering you at all. It's possible that all you'll need to do is power down your computers, install the Wi-Fi cards, power up again and watch while the system configures itself.
Windows XP also will automatically detect any open or available Wi-Fi networks in the area, provide a list and allow you to connect.
Then, if your desktop computer was connected to the Internet, you could take a walk with your laptop to check your e-mail, surf the Net or read the latest news on your patio, upstairs or even across the street in that little neighborhood park.
Before you do, ponder this: anyone who installs a Wi-Fi card within transmitting distance can now gain access to your computer and all its services, including your Internet service. That's why at this point you need to think seriously about security. But don't worry - setting up a secure Wi-Fi connection requires only a few more steps.
This is a brief overview of Wi-Fi network security issues. For more detailed security techniques, search Securing Your Wi-Fi Network and Secure Wi-Fi.
Remember that Wireless LAN Configuration Utility that resides in your system tray (Start, My Network Places, View Network Connections). Left-click on it and you'll see almost everything you'll need to make your system more secure in the window that pops up. Here's a checklist of some things you can do to enhance your security:
For all systems
Any time you open up a computer to use on a network (particularly the Internet), you should think about changing access to some drives, files, directories and services on your computer to enhance security.
You can turn off sharing of any drive, directory, file or device on a computer. Open up Windows Explorer and right-click on the item you wish to change. A menu will appear. Choose Properties, then the Sharing tab. There you can choose whether or not to share the item. If you choose to share it, you can specify a password that will be required to access the item.
Some advanced users enhance security by using a different network protocol on their local wired/wireless network. Since the Internet uses TCP/IP protocol, the use of IPX/SPX protocol for such functions as file and printer sharing makes it very difficult for a hacker to gain access to these services. This change is not recommended for the faint of heart: it requires changing the protocol on all of your computers, and you'll need administrator access for every computer. Should you decide to try this, begin by clicking on Network Connections from the Start menu. Here you will install the new IPX/SPX protocol and provide bindings to enable it for use in file and printer sharing.
Windows 2000 and Windows XP both have extensive built-in help sections on the Start menu. If you need help, search for Wireless Networking or any specific network topic such as IPX/SPX and links to several network troubleshooting wizards will appear within the text. If you need more detailed troubleshooting instructions, try Microsoft's How to troubleshoot wireless network connections in Windows XP: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;Q313242.
Microsoft also has a Web site devoted to Wi-Fi. It can be found at www.microsoft.com/windows2000/technologies/communications/wifi/default.asp.
A final reminder: Don't forget to get the latest information and drivers from your hardware vendor before you begin any Wi-Fi installation.
- Keep your operating system, software and drivers up-to-date with the latest security patches. Get a virus program and use it.
- Change the SSID (Service Set Identifier) - found on the Configuration tab -from the default provided by the manufacturer. Change it to something that would be difficult to guess.
- Enable WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), on the Configuration tab, with the highest level of encryption your hardware will support. You'll need your equipment manufacturer's instructions if you're installing an access point. The Encryption tab allows you to create a WEP key pass phrase. This is similar to a password and should be changed from time to time, or immediately if you feel the key may have been compromised. You may be given an option of open or shared key. Shared key is the most secure option, since it performs an authentication check as well as encrypting data.
- A firewall is recommended for any computer or router that provides direct access to the Internet.