Sunday, January 4, 2015

Extending your home network... insecurely

I reorganized my house this week and gained a private office space, though one without a coaxial jack. This makes it impossible to immediately replicate my previous setup of a whooping three feet of CAT 6 between my main workstation and the FiOS router. Unfortunately a WiFi connection isn't an option as the box isn't compatible.

Options for connecting a new room to your home network

  1. Add CAT 6 Ethernet cabling: Doing this cleanly requires running cables through the walls and cutting holes for new outlet boxes with a face plate. Highly suggested if you own your house, but I'm in a rental. Pass.
  2. Reuse an extra wireless router as a wireless bridge: I tried this one for a few hours (hours that the wife was not happy I was spending!) but the only router I had sitting around was an Actiontec MI424WR Rev I which is not compatible with DD-WRT firmware.
  3. Power-line networking: Add a device to connect Ethernet networking over the existing power lines within the house. The guy I talked to at Best Buy recommended the Actiontec Powerline Ethernet Adapter Kit [PDF] over the WiFi extender I was looking at. At $39.99 instead of $99.99, I decided to try it.
Fast and easy...setup in less than 5 minutes
The box claims a quick and easy set-up, just plug the single adapter into the wall and wire it to the router. Plug the four port adapter into the wall near your machines and wire them up. So I did, and almost immediately my workstation was connected to the Internet... success! Or so I thought.

Verify that the network is up

Along with my main workstation, my office is home to a server which provides multimedia and intranet web hosting. Once I had Internet access, the next step was to check for the rest of the intranet machines. I navigated to (default MI424WR address) and the expected page pulled up, but my login failed. Double checking my password typing, the login failed a second and third time. More information needed now!

Check Windows' "Network" page

Under Printers there was a Lexmark, under Computer there was a name I didn't recognize. This is a problem, and one that needed addressed immediately! My workstation was connected to someone else's network.
**generic encryption key**

Ease of setup security hole

The problem was documented right there in the manual, the adapters come pre-provisioned with a default, generic encryption key. This is great for easy set up because you can just plug it in and go. It is bad for security because it means you can just plug it in and join any network that is already there! Turns out my neighbors already had expanded their network with a similar, compatible product. They plugged it in and it just worked. I plugged mine in and it just worked... with their existing network.

I don't understand why the manual in the box doesn't tell how to update the encryption key, it just directs you to their website. Which pretty much guarantees that a random person directed by their Best Buy clerk will never update it.

From the Actiontec website:
    How do I change the encryption key on a PWR500 Powerline Adapter?
    To reset and change the encryption key on the PWR500, follow the steps below:
  1. Plug the Adapters into electrical outlets on the same circuit.

  2. Press and hold the Security button on each unit one at a time for exactly 10 seconds. On the 10th second, let go of the button. When you release the button, the Power LED's will turn off very briefly and turn back on. The LK LED's will not turn back on at this time.

  3. Then on one of the units, press and hold the Security button for exactly 3 seconds. On the 3rd second, release the button. When you release the button, the Power LED will begin to flash.

  4. Now on the other unit, press and hold the Security button for exactly 3 seconds. On the 3rd second, release the button. When you release the button, the Power LED will turn off and back on breifly, and then the LK LED should be lit on both units. Provided the LK lights on both units are lit, the encryption key has been changed and the two Adapters are now connected on the same Powerline network with a new encryption key.

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