Connect to a Wireless Network in Vista

Before you start

Objectives: learn how to connect to wireless networks, how to manage existing and how to create new wireless networks.

Prerequisites: you have to have a wireless NIC installed.

Key terms: network, wireless, connect, security, option, type, list, ad, click, hoc, select, wpa, icon


Notification Area

When trying to connect to wireless networks the first place we can try is the notification area, which is located in the lower right-hand corner. We will click on the icon with two monitors. This icon tells us that we are connected to the network, but in our case this is a wired network.

 Notification Area

Notification Area

List of Networks

To see which wireless networks are available we can click on the ‘Connect to a network’ option. We can also do a right-clik on the icon and select the ‘Connect to a network’ option. We can also go to the Start Menu and select ‘Connect To’ option. When we do that, we will see a list of available networks, including wireless networks.

 List of Networks

List of Networks

Notice that we have a drop down arrow which we can use to filter different types of networks in the list. Here we can select between Dial-up, VPN and wireless connections. Also notice that we have a refresh button which we can use to refresh our list ov available wireless networks.

Vista will rank available wireless networks based on their signal strength. On the left side we can see the SSID of the network. In the second column we can see if the network is security enabled. Security enabled wireless network can use WEP, WPA or WPA2 configuration. In the last column we see the signal strength. When we put our mouse over some network, we will see a little window in which we can see the SSID, radio type, signal strength and also the security type of the wireless network.

 Popup Window

Pop-up Window

In our case we can see that the security type is WPA2, which is good. In contrast to that, we could have WEP, which is easily cracked using some Linux tools. Also notice that the radio type is 802.11g. The wireless connection that we see (H1 Telekom) is infrastructure network, and we can see that by the icon of the network. We can also have an ad-hoc (peer to peer) network. The ad-hoc icon is shown on the picture (SSID: ad-hoc-new).

Ad Hoc Network

Ad Hoc Icon

If the network is not using any security method, we will see that in the second column. The icon will also have a small yellow shield on it.

 Unsecured Network

Unsecured Network

When we try to connect some unsecured network, we will get a warning because our information will be visible to others on the network.

 Connecting to Unsecured Network

Warning About Unsecured Network

Connecting to Wireless Network

When connecting to a security enabled network we will be prompted for a WEP or a WPA passphrase. In our example we will try to connect to H1 Telekom network.

 Security Key

Security Key

When we set up a wireless network we have an option to save all the necessary settings for clients to a USB flash drive. If we had this kind of USB flash drive we would insert it at this point and it would automatically set up the connection for us. This is great if we don’t want to share the passphrase with end-users.

So, we simply enter the network key, click on the Connect button, and we will be connected to the wireless network (if the key is correct of course).

Management of Wireless Networks

Now, let’s see how can we manage our network connections. To do that we will go to Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, and then select ‘Manage network connections’ option from the menu on the left.

Management

Network Connections

Notice that in our case we have three network connections. Two of them are wired, and one is wireless connection. One connection doesn’t have a cable plugged in, other connection is currently connected, and a wireless connection is disconnected. Interesting option that we have here is Bridge Connections. If we right click wireless connection we can select the ‘Bridge Connections’ option.

Bridge Connections

Bridge Connections Option

This allows us to combine different types of networks (like wireless and wired networks) into one logical network. When we do that, clients on the wireless network will be able to access our wired network and clients on the wired network will be able to access clients on the wireless network. Important thing to know is how to see the properties of the wireless connection. To do that, right-click it and select the Properties option. There we can edit TCP/IP settings for our connection.

Now, let’s go back to Network and Sharing Center and let’s select the Manage Wireless Networks from the left. Here we can set a lot of options for our wireless networks. Notice that we already see one wireless network in the list. That’s because we have connected to that network previously.

Wireless Networks

Wireless Options

Let’s click on the Profile types option that is available here.

 Profile Types

Profile Types

By default, all users in Vista can connect to any wireless network that has been set up. We can change this so that users can only use and modify connections that they made themselves. When we do that, there might be some loss of connectivity when we change form one user that has access to some connection, to another user which doesn’t have access to that particular connection.

Creating New Connections

Let’s close that and click on another interesting button which is the ‘Add’ button.

 Add Connection

Add New Network

Here we have three options. The first option allows us to see a list of networks that are currently available and let’s us connect to one. This will open the same window which we already saw when we tried to connect to a wireless network. The second option (Manually create a network profile), is used when we don’t see the wireless network in the list of available networks (it is hidden, it is not broadcasted), but we know the SSID and security key of the wireless network. This way we can manually configure and connect to hidden wireless network.

 Manually Connect

Manually Connect

So, we need to know all of the parameters of the wireless network. When it comes to security types, ‘No authentication (Open)’ means that there is no security set on the network. WEP type is better then nothing, but it is easily cracked. With WPA-Personal and WPA2-Personal we will use a passphrase to secure our network. With those two types we can also select the encryption type which can be TKIP or AES. 802.1x security type uses certificates to secure the network connection. In our case we have entered SampleSSID as our network name, the security type is WPA2-Personal, encryption type is AES, and we have entered our passphrase. This connection will be saved for all users on our computer and everyone will be able to use it. If you don’t want that, you should go back to the ‘Profile types’ windows and change the settings. One other important thing is to choose the ‘Connect even if the network is not broadcasting’ option. When we choose that we will be able to connect to the wireless network which doesn’t broadcast its SSID. That’s it. If all settings are correct, that connection will be listed as the connection that we can connect to.

Create an Ad Hoc Network

The third option to add a network is to create an ad hoc network. This is used to create a temporary wireless network which we can use to connect computers without using any Access Point (peer to peer network). When we click Next, we will have to choose the network name, security type and security key if necessary.

 Ad Hoc

Ad Hoc Parameters

In our case the network is called ‘peer-wireless’, security type is WPA2-Personal, and we have entered our passphrase. We will also choose to save our network. When we click Next, other people will be able to connect to us, to this wireless network, if they know the security key. Notice that we can also turn on Internet connection sharing if we want others to access Internet trough our computer using this ad hoc network.

 Ad Hoc Ready

Ad Hoc is Ready

If we go to Start > Connect To, we will see our newly created ad hoc network. Notice the ‘Waiting for users to connect’ status.

 List of Networks

List of Networks

Remember

Vista will rank available wireless networks based on their signal strength. We should only connect to secured networks. When connecting to a security enabled network we will be prompted for a WEP or a WPA passphrase. When we set up a wireless network we have an option to save all the necessary settings for clients to a USB flash drive. Bridge Connections option allows us to combine different types of networks (like wireless and wired networks) into one logical network. By default, all users in Vista can connect to any wireless network that has been set up on our computer. We can connect to a network which is not broadcasting if we know all all of its parameters. Ad hoc network is peer to peer network.

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