Book Review

Wireless Hacks, 2nd edition:
Tips & Tools for Building, Extending, and Securing Your Network

Rob Flickenger and Roger Weeks
O'Reilly, 2006, 440 pages


This is a how-to book on wireless networking, with tips on setting up bluetooth and wireless access points on Linux, Windows XP, and OS X, and tips on how to install and use various wireless networking apps, backed up by some basic information about wireless networking and wireless hardware. The projects in the first half of the book, such as selecting a wireless data plan, using a PDA as a wireless remote, setting up a wireless access point, and monitoring wireless traffic on your network, aren't what most people would really consider to be hacks, but they provide a useful overview of what software is available, and how to get things running. A typical example in the section on software is DriftNet, which is a sniffer that displays whatever images your users are viewing. It's a fairly clever idea (even if its usefulness might be questioned). Other software tricks, like tunneling your Web traffic through ssh, and using routine tools like arpwatch and nmap, are useful for any network administrator.

Although the authors include hacks for Windows, Mac OS, and even BSD, their expertise and interest are clearly Linux, and later projects use Linux almost exclusively. A fair amount of computer literacy is assumed, and root access is required for most of the software hacks. For example, one hack requires you to make changes to your name server.

The second half of the book mostly covers "hardware hacks". While the authors are clearly much less knowledgeable about the principles of microwave engineering than they are about computer software, they compensate by having a level of enthusiasm that is infectious. (They're not mechanical engineers either; motors are mounted using hot-melt glue, and circuit boards are attached with duct tape). These projects fit well within the definition of a hack: they are quick projects made to solve a problem, without regard for engineering niceties like durability, efficiency, scalability, and appearance. Of course, readers with engineering expertise could always design something better if they needed to.

Wireless hacks have come a long way since the CueCat; while some of these projects would appeal mainly to college students, a few of the projects are highly imaginative, and most of them are (as the kids say) way cool. The biggest downside of the book is that the writing style and English usage deteriorate toward the end of the book, where annoying PCisms begin to slip in. If the authors can fix this flaw, and if they can keep the contents up to date, future editions of this book could become a well-thumbed classic.

February 10, 2007 Back