BOO! Stories of wireless HORROR

In the spirit of this spooky season, I wanted to address some Wireless Horror Stories – potential issues and problems with wireless. Remarkably, I’ve had a hard time finding stories of real horror. Especially in the last few years, during which time wireless has become more prevalent and therefore implements more smoothly. The usual response from libraries has been “the wireless project went just fine." So much for horror... When I give classes or presentations on wireless in libraries, everyone seems to expect far more gore – many more examples of systems crashing because of adding wireless, or massive security intrusions due to going ‘wi-fi’. I’m afraid I have to disappoint the Stephen King fans! In reality, the "horror stories" generally come from poor planning, lack of information, or from unstable or ill-equipped infrastructure--all can be managed. I now present you with three stories for your frightening pleasure! The Problem of the Keys One library in my state set up their wireless fairly early for a library of its size. They were concerned about security, so initially set it up with WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy – an older form of wi-fi security), requiring the entering of a "key" (a string of numbers and letters) by any patron who wanted to use it. They would change the key every day or two, which meant patrons had to come up every day or two to get a new key. They had "no idea it would be so popular right away" and were quickly overwhelmed at their small library. They started changing it every month or so, but still had a lot of new users to provide with keys. Finally "we just decided that our network gave enough security with firewalls and anti-virus protection, so we opened it up!" This was a common chain of events in the olden days of early wi-fi in libraries. The Helpful (?) Patron This story comes from the director of another, even smaller library, who told it to me sheepishly on condition that I wouldn’t reveal her name or location. She was approached a few years ago by a well-meaning and frequent patron who said he really wanted to be able to use wireless at her library. He would donate a wireless router and "hook her up" on his own time. "It’ll be easy, and then anyone can use it!" He seemed to know what he was doing, so she told him to go ahead. She normally gets IT support from a guy in town, who was away when this happened. When he got back and saw the router attached directly into the network – and here’s the scary part – on the inside of the firewall broadcasting out, thus providing access that bypassed their security (!) – he, understandably, flipped out. He unplugged the router and ran to the director’s office. Chastised, the director worked with him to create a safe plan for providing wireless. Solution on a Stick! This one isn’t scary so much as funny. My buddy Joe is a librarian at a small academic library. Their IT department set up an access point, which was great. However, it would occasionally stop broadcasting (poor placement of the access point + bad equipment) and would have to be restarted. However... it was located in the ceiling tiles. So as not to have to climb up there every time, they came up with an ingenious solution, which entailed, as I understand it, a bit of PVC pipe, an extension cord, and a stick! Wireless is nothing to be afraid of – it does, however, have to be planned for and managed.


Thanks, Louise!

Glad that as more libraries use wireless and share knowledge about how to do so, that the horror stories are few and far between. However, the 2nd story about bypassing the firewall did send shivers up my spine :-)