Up the Hill: WI-FI Gone Wild

Freshmen are often the culprits. Streaming into Old Campus every fall, they bring wireless routers in the hope of setting up wireless networks in their suites. Little do they know: every single one could beget rogue Wi-Fi.

In many places at Yale (Old Campus, the Branford dorm room in which I’m writing this), the internet may be accessed only through wired networks embodied by ugly Ethernet ports that lurk behind desks and bureaus. To access these networks, students can plug in equally ugly Ethernet cables — or, they can buy personal wireless routers. And while Yale students are often creative about naming their personal wireless networks (Do you want to join the wireless network “In SoViEt RuSsIa, NeTwOrK InTeRnEt YoU?”), very few are as authoritative when it comes to properly setting them up. Enter rogue Wi-Fi.

Healthy Wi-Fi works like this: first, a personal router plugs into your dorm’s wired network, requests an IP address from a server underneath Commons, and then acts as a middleman, assigning “mini” IP addresses to all the computers in its network. Once your laptop has an IP address, you are free to access the internet, i.e. now you can look at porn. When you enter “shaggit.org” into your browser, your laptop requests the information on said org (pictures, film clips…) through radio waves — the same radio waves that carry music to your car radio. Your personal router then relays the request through your dorm’s wired network to the Commons server. If the router is set up properly, the Commons server will send the requested information back through the same pathway. Internet for all.

This process relies on your router communicating correctly with the main server. If a router is improperly set up, however (you plug certain cables into the wrong ports, you check the wrong boxes in the software setup…), it could go rogue, assigning IP addresses to all computers in its reach even though it isn’t plugged into the wired network. The result: impotent IP addresses and no internet for anyone in your entryway. The consequence: we request porn, and it just doesn’t come.

Genevieve Tauxe ’07 is a veteran in the struggle against rogue wireless. A Computing Assistant (they’re now called Student Technicians, or STs) for two years before graduating from Yale, she now works as a technical assistant for the School of Art. When I visited her office, she asked that I make a public service announcement on behalf of her comrades still in the trenches.

“Could you please say somewhere that students should have STs set up their routers for them?” she asked. “Basically, the freshmen come and OC doesn’t have internet for a week.”

Tauxe explained that fixing rogue wireless often involves as much physical activity as technical.

“STs know that a rogue router’s out there because, suddenly, they’ll get a million emails saying, ‘Ah, my internet is down, help!’ The trick is finding the thing.” Room-to-room manhunts may be required to ferret out the culprit.

Aside from utter humiliation for whoever tries to set up Wi-Fi and instead breaks the internet, rogue wireless leaves no lasting damage once the STs readjust the router. That being said, it’s annoying for all involved. And as long as Yale students use personal routers, rogue Wi-Fi will be a problem. There is really only one solution. Universal Wi-Fi access.

From his corner office on the third floor of 221 Whitney Avenue, Joe Paolillo surveys the battlefield, looking over the Peabody toward central campus. Paolillo is the Senior Director of ITS Infrastructure at Yale, the head of a team that plans to bring universal access to Yale’s campus within the next 18 months. That means public wireless in every dorm room or, as ITS phrases it, “Wi-Fi to the pillow.”

“Before now it’s been too costly and too difficult to put access points everywhere on campus,” Paolillo explained. “Putting access points in these old stone buildings is time consuming and labor-intensive. But now access points have become inexpensive enough, and the demand has become great enough, that we think it’s worth it.”

Universal access would mean an end to rogue wireless. But it’s 18 months until we have it, and that’s if everything goes according to schedule. Until then, the battle against rogue Wi-Fi continues in the entryways and suites of Yale’s young scholars. For our email, for our porn — let STs set up your routers!

Comments

  • rfouracre

    I’m so tired of people putting down America. What I don’t understand about the OWS and people from MSNBC or HBO, if you don’t like America there are plenty of countries that would certainly love to have you.