Setting up and securing your Airport Base Station

As Macintosh popularity grows, so does the use of Apple accessories. One such accessory is the Airport Base Station.

Now, you don’t need an Apple Airport Base Station to connect wirelessly – Macs connect to any 802.11a/b/g/n network that their network cards support. One reason why the Base Station is useful though is the built-in USB port for attaching a printer, Time Capsule or external Hard Drives.

You may think these extras would be difficult to configure, but don’t worry about that. In part one of this two part series, I’ll show you that setting up and securing your Airport Base Station is easy. Here’s all you need to do:

Discovering Apple’s Airport Utility:

If you’re familiar with wireless routers and AP’s, you know that most of them require you to go to a special web page to set them up. With a Base Station, you don’t do that. What you will do is use Apple’s special configuration utility – “Airport Utility”. So, once you’ve powered your Base Station on and connected the cables properly, you’ll want to open Airport Utility to begin setting it up.

To find Airport Utility, you will need to go into your Applications folder and open up the Utilities folder. Once opened, Airport Utility will attempt to find your Base Station through BonJour. Once it does, click on the Base Station to connect to it. If this is the first time you’ve connected and it’s never been set up, it will have an unfamiliar name beginning with the word Apple.

Note: If you’re in a crowded area such as a city, and there’s a few of them, shut yours off and note which one disappears. Try not to configure your neighbor’s wireless…

Basic Setup – Getting on the Internet:

Most Internet connections now are really easy to set up and don’t require any special settings. This is a big help from 7 years ago when a DSL user had to “dial-in” to start the connection. With that in mind, lets connect the Base Station to the internet.

Note: There is a automatic, menu driven setup wizard that walks you through connecting. Its really easy to use if you’re not technically inclined but we’re going to use the manual setup for this article.

Also Note: This article assumes that you already have a working internet connection.

1. Click Manual Setup at the bottom of the screen.

2. You will now see a Summary screen.

3. Click on the Internet tab.

Setting up your Apple Base Station

4. Click the “Internet Connection” tab.

Setting up your Apple Base Station

5. After “Connect Using:”, select Ethernet.

6. After “Configure IPv4:”, choose Using DHCP.

7. Optionally, change your DNS Servers to 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220 if you prefer to use OpenDNS.

8. If the IP and Router addresses set themselves and the light on the front turns green, you are all set.

Setting up the Wireless:

Now that your Base Station is connected to the internet, nothing says “Free WiFi for everyone” better than an open network. Additionally, nothing says “Hack me” better than one with the default ID and no password or the default factory password. Let’s change that and secure your connection.

1. In Airport Utility, click on Airport at the top.

Setting up your Apple Base Station

2. Within the Airport dialogue, click on the Base Station tab.

Setting up your Apple Base Station

3. Give your Base Station a name.

4. Secure your configuration by giving it a password.

Note: This password will protect your configuration from someone messing with it. It is not the password to connect to the network.

5. Make sure the “Set time automatically” box is checked.

6. You can use Apple’s timeserver if you like. (time.apple.com)

7. Set the appropriate Time Zone.

8. DO NOT check the “Allow setup over WAN” box.

9. Click on the Wireless tab.

Setting up your Apple Base Station

10. Give your network a name.

11. Select “802.11n (802.11b/g compatible)” so all your devices can connect.

12. I’d recommend changing the channel. 6 is the default on many devices but it’s up to you.

13. Choose “WPA/WPA2 Personal” for Wireless Security.

14. Set your wireless password.

Note: This is the password you will use to connect.

Additional Security Notes:

Now, many people use “MAC Filtering” but really that doesn’t secure anything. Especially if it’s an unencrypted network. It’s trivial to sniff out a packet and grab a working MAC address. IP restrictions are similarly useless. Not broadcasting the SSID isn’t secure either as many OS’s now show “Hidden Network” instead of the name.

What is going to secure your wireless are two things: WPA2 with AES encryption and a good strong password. An open network is obviously a free-for-all. WEP encryption can be easily broken in about 5 or 10 minutes. WPA with TKIP used to be solid but within the past few years, a way to break WPA has come out and its as easy to crack as WEP now.

Until WPA2/AES is cracked, it’s the only secure option. Use only WPA2 with AES. And obviously, don’t use a password that a third grader can guess within two tries. If you need help creating a strong password, click on the little key picture next to the password prompt.

Other Features:

The Airport Base Station has a ton of other features to it besides just connecting to the internet. In part two of this series, we’ll look at all the other cool features your Base Station can do as well as some more advanced features you may want to play with.

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