WIRELESS MESH, or how to Get Internet Access When Your Government Shuts It Down -----
Does your government have an Internet kill-switch? Read our guide to
Guerrilla Networking and be prepared for when the lines get cut.
By Patrick Miller, David Daw, PCWorld Eddie Sage, waking times
Jan 28, 2011
These days, no popular movement goes without an Internet presence of
some kind, whether it's organizing on Facebook or spreading the word
through Twitter. And as we've seen in Egypt, that means that your
Internet connection can be the first to go. Whether you're trying to
check in with your family, contact your friends, or simply spread the
word, here are a few ways to build some basic network connectivity when
you can't rely on your cellular or landline Internet connections.
Do-It-Yourself Internet With Ad-Hoc Wi-Fi
Even if you've managed to find an Internet connection for yourself, it
won't be that helpful in reaching out to your fellow locals if they
can't get online to find you. If you're trying to coordinate a group of
people in your area and can't rely on an Internet connection, cell
phones, or SMS, your best bet could be a wireless mesh network of
sorts--essentially, a distributed network of wireless networking devices
that can all find each other and communicate with each other. Even if
none of those devices have a working Internet connection, they can still
find each other, which, if your network covers the city you're in, might
be all you need. At the moment, wireless mesh networking isn't really
anywhere close to market-ready, though we have seen an implementation of
the 802.11s draft standard, which extends the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard to
include wireless mesh networking, in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO
laptop. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless_mesh_network However, a
prepared guerrilla networker with a handful of PCs could make good use
of Daihinia ($25, 30-day free trial), an app that piggybacks on your
Wi-Fi adapter driver to turn your normal ad-hoc Wi-Fi network into a
multihop ad-hoc network (disclaimer: we haven't tried this ourselves
yet), meaning that instead of requiring each device on the network to be
within range of the original access point, you simply need to be within
range of a device on the network that has Daihinia installed,
effectively allowing you to add a wireless mesh layer to your ad-hoc
Advanced freedom fighters can set up a portal Web page on their network
that explains the way the setup works, with Daihinia instructions and a
local download link so they can spread the network even further. Lastly,
just add a Bonjour-compatible chat client like Pidgin or iChat, and
you'll be able to talk to your neighbors across the city without needing
an Internet connection.
Back to Basics
Remember when you stashed your old modems in the closet because you
thought you might need them some day? In the event of a total
communications blackout--as we're seeing in Egypt, for example--you'll
be glad you did. Older and simpler tools, like dial-up Internet or even
ham radio, could still work, since these "abandoned" tech avenues aren't
being policed nearly as hard.
In order to get around the total shutdown of all of the ISPs within
Egypt, several international ISPs are offering dial-up access to the
Internet to get protesters online, since phone service is still
operational. It's slow, but it still works--the hard part is getting the
access numbers without an Internet connection to find them.
Unfortunately, such dial-up numbers can also be fairly easily shut down
by the Egyptian government, so you could also try returning to
FidoNet--a distributed networking system for BBSes that was popular in
the 1980s. FidoNet is limited to sending only simple text messages, and
it's slow, but it has two virtues: Users connect asynchronously, so the
network traffic is harder to track, and any user can act as the server,
which means that even if the government shuts down one number in the
network, another one can quickly pop up to take its place.
You could also take inspiration from groups that are working to create
an ad-hoc communications network into and out of Egypt using Ham Radio,
since the signals are rarely tracked and extremely hard to shut down or
block. Most of these efforts are still getting off the ground, but
hackers are already cobbling together ways to make it a viable form of
communication into and out of the country.
Always Be Prepared
In the land of no Internet connection, the man with dial-up is king.
Here are a few gadgets that you could use to prepare for the day they
cut the lines.
Given enough time and preparation, your ham radio networks could even be
adapted into your own ad-hoc network using Packet Radio, a radio
communications protocol that you can use to create simple long-distance
wireless networks to transfer text and other messages between computers.
Packet Radio is rather slow and not particularly popular (don't try to
stream any videos with this, now), but it's exactly the kind of
networking device that would fly under the radar.
In response to the crisis in Egypt, nerds everywhere have risen to call
for new and exciting tools for use in the next government-mandated
shutdown. Bre Pettis, founder of the hackerspace NYC Resistor and
creator of the Makerbot 3D printer, has called for "Apps for the
Appocalypse," including a quick and easy way to set up chats on a local
network so you can talk with your friends and neighbors in an emergency
even without access to the Internet. If his comments are any indication,
Appocalypse apps may be headed your way soon.
Tons of cool tech are also just waiting to be retrofitted for these
purposes. David Dart's Pirate Box is a one-step local network in a box
originally conceived for file sharing and local P2P purposes, but it
wouldn't take much work to adapt the Pirate Box as a local networking
tool able to communicate with other pirate boxes to form a compact,
mobile set of local networks in the event of an Internet shutdown.
Whether you're in Egypt or Eagle Rock, you rely on your Internet access
to stay in touch with friends and family, get your news, and find
information you need. (And read PCWorld, of course.) Hopefully with
these apps, tools, and techniques, you won't have to worry about
anyone--even your government--keeping you from doing just that.
poster's note; for other methods see http://www.luckinlove.com/pcdead.htm
Patrick Miller hopes he isn't first against the wall when the revolution
comes. Find him on Twitter or Facebook--if you
have a working Internet connection, anyway.
David Daw is an accidental expert in ad-hoc networks since his apartment
gets no cell reception. Find him on Twitter or
send him a ham radio signal.
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