Buffalo AirStation G54 WBR2-G54 review
The automatic AOSS system makes strong WPA security easy to set up, but it's currently only available for AOSS-supporting Buffalo wireless clients.
Review Date: 16 Aug 2004
Reviewed By: James Morris
Price when reviewed: (£71 inc VAT); Delivery £5 (£6 inc VAT)
Security is a massive issue with wireless networks. You can just about get away with being lax on a wired-only LAN - stealing the signal from Ethernet cabling is too difficult to be worth bothering with. But wireless is a different story. The radio waves are sure to spill out of your building, ripe for 'war driving', where a hacker sits in a car nearby and tries to break into your WLAN.
Although WEP, (wired equivalent privacy) doesn't offer hack-proof protection, the new WPA (Windows protected access) standard rotates keys dynamically over time and will be virtually impossible to crack if set up properly. But therein lies the rub - setting up WPA isn't exactly child's play. This is where Buffalo's AOSS (AirStation OneTouch Secure System) comes in. Instead of fiddling with all the settings manually, this sets it all up automatically at the touch of a button.
The WAN connection is Ethernet-based, so the G54 is compatible with Ethernet cable or ADSL modems. The client adaptor we were supplied with for testing was the Wireless 54Mb/sec Desktop PCI Adaptor WLI2-PCIG54. The Shuttle system we installed it in already had a PCI WLAN card installed from another manufacturer, and we found the drivers conflicted. So we moved over to a Xeon workstation, which had never had a wireless adaptor installed, and setup ran smoothly.
Once the WLAN card is installed and the G54 router plugged in and powered up, the Buffalo client utility is used to site survey and detect the WLAN. After connecting to this, the two will be talking to each other but with no security turned on. Moving over to the Profiles tab of the Buffalo WLAN Client Manager 2 reveals an AOSS button. First, the button on the router needs to be pressed for three seconds or more until the AOSS light starts flashing. Then you press the button in the Client Manager.
The rest of the setup is entirely automatic. The client negotiates with the router to set up the various keys and protocols, downloads these as a new Profile, and then reconnects to the WLAN with the new profile. At the same time, the router restarts in AOSS mode. Once the client has re-established the connection with the router, WPA security is up and running. WPA-TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) is used, and there's no need for enterprise-level implementations such as a RADIUS server. However, Buffalo also claims that if the client adaptor only supports WEP, AOSS will set this up automatically as well.
Once the Buffalo AP and adaptor are in AOSS mode, other wireless clients can't connect. The SSID of the WLAN is still visible, but this can be disabled using the router's Web Configuration utility. This also gives access to the G54's broadband routing features. A DHCP server is built in, as is a firewall with packet-filtering and intrusion-detection capabilities. The WAN-facing MAC address can be spoofed to make it easier to connect to a cable modem service, which uses this for authentication. An IPSec path can be specified for VPNs, and NAT routing used to make certain services on client systems available on the Internet, such as web serving.
The G54 is otherwise a fairly standard 802.11g wireless broadband router, but AOSS puts it into a different league. It takes all the pain out of configuring WPA, making its use much more likely. In a wireless world where security is a necessity, that's very important. It's just a shame that AOSS is proprietary to Buffalo and only supported by its version 2 Client Manager.
Author: James Morris
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