CNET to the Rescue: Darren answers networking questions

This week, we dive deep into home networking. How to set up a NAS? Can I tell how much bandwidth my kids are using? And how come my laptop won't print on my networked printer? Darren Kitchen answers these vexing issues, and more.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

Today, it's a networking extravaganza. Our guest rescuer is Darren Kitchen, of Hak5, and the inventor of the WiFi Pineapple. We saved up networking questions for weeks for this show.

If you have a tech question for CNET to the Rescue, CALL US with your questions to get on the next show: 877-438-6688 or email rescue@cnet.com. No question is too basic, so if you've got a tech problem that's been getting under your skin, please call us and we'll try our best to help you out.

Watch this: CNET to the Rescue Ep. 32: Darren answers networking questions


Episode 32: Networking extravaganza

Some road tests

Rafe on powerline networking (and X10 lighting controllers)

Rafe on the Sprint Overdrive

Darren on the Asus laptop's bait-and-switch dual graphics cards

Networking questions

Joshua Wagner: I am considering buying a NAS enclosure to hook up to my router so I can share files and backup all the computers in my household over our wireless network. I have a few questions about this. 1) How does NAS work? 2) How easy is it to set up a NAS enclosure to my router? 3) Are there any recommendations for products that I should use to get this up and running?

Rafe: A NAS, or network attached storage device, works as a hard drive, but one that's connected over the network instead of to your computer directly. To your computer, it looks like a hard drive. Some are extremely easy to set up. See PogoPlug, for example. Personally, I'm looking at the Synology devices for my own home to replace my HP MediaSmart Server which is pretty much dead in the water. Also, be sure to listen to our recent Rescue on storage.

Darren: Go DIY -- FreeNAS or OpenFiler and a Norco server case.


Brad in Oakville: In our household we have a Linksys WRT54GS wireless router. There are two PS3s and four laptops that connect to it using Wi-Fi. If we exceed the monthly download limit set by our cable company then we must pay a per-GB fee which is quite high. Between myself, my wife, and my two teenage children, we can not come to an agreement as to who the bandwidth hog is! Everyone claims that it can't be them. I have my suspicions, but I need proof.

I searched the Web for a tool that would enable me to track how much bandwidth each device is using. I was surprised to find that this isn't as easy as I would have thought. Unless I'm missing something, the only potential solution is to upload new firmware such Tomato or WRT to the router. It seems that there are features in this firmware that might, and I stress might, allow me to do what I want. I would have thought that this sort of management feature would be a standard featrure in new routers. I've taken a look at a couple of new Linksys products and its not clear if I can track bandwidth usage the way I want.

Any ideas? I can't believe that we're the only household to have this question. I'm open to purchasing an new router if needed, but I just want to be sure that whatever I do will help uncover the hog among us. << p="">

Rafe: You're right, you would think it'd be built in to routers, but it's not. You can check out the Gargoyle wireless router for starters, though. Make sure to assign all computers static IPs. Or, on your computers, see these apps: Networx on Windows; SurplusMeter on Mac. The PS3 is not slurping up that much bandwidth unless the kids are streaming movies, and downloading several multi-gig game demos a day. It does a fair bit of phoning home, but nothing that would run up his allotment.

Also look into running all the traffic through a machine with Bit Meter 2.

Darren: Look into flashing your router with OpenWRT, or dump that toy router and build a real one on your own with Untangle or Smoothwall.


Sasha500: I have a desktop, laptop, one printer and a wireless router. How do I set all of these to work together, and most importantly, how to print from my laptop. Everything is connected by cable except the laptop. I have tried but cannot get it set up correctly.

Rafe: Sounds like the laptop is not on the same subnet as the wired network. First, make sure your laptop is connecting to the router and not another access point. Assuming it is, make sure that your router isn't set up to wall off wireless users -- some do so for security reasons, or even have a second zone. You'll have to go into your router configuration and make sure it's treating your laptop the same as your wired devices.


Cory Glenn: I use SSL and HTTPS whenever possible, my question is: Everyone's cable modem is on the same line so how can we be sure that our non-encrypted packets reach their destination securely?

Darren: It's a bit of a myth that shared cable or DSL lines are inherently insecure. The DOCSIS cable modem spec uses encryption.


Jake: We made the jump to laptops only in our house. Looking for an easy way to add in a large-ish external drive that we can both save to. Is just as easy as plugging it into the back of my Linksys WRT router through a stretch of Cat 5? Or is there a some other way that you can recommend?

Rafe: Sure, if your router has a USB port for connecting an external drive, give that a shot. Or try the PogoPlug as a gateway to the drive.


Jeff from Olympia WA: I've never had cause to get into routers yet since I've never had more than one machine at a time. I recently upgraded my laptop, so now I have two. I am going to hook my old one up to my CRT TV with the S-Video out so I can get some online programming. My wireless is from a module plugged into my DSL modem. Is there a way to connect the two without a router so the one at the TV has access to the library saved on the external drive on my new one? If not, what is my next step.

Rafe and Darren: You can connect computers to each other with a crossover cable, or share one computer's Internet connection with another, but why bother? Just connect everything to the router. It's what it's there for.


Other questions

Hans in Geneva NY: I'm hoping you can help me with this question. I am going to be purchasing a new desktop computer and netbook-type portable soon, along with getting a phone that I can tether to the netbook for when I'm out doing field work. I want to be able to use the netbook and phone when I'm out in the field during the growing season (I work for a university and visit a lot of farms - vineyards! - during the year), and then sync the netbook with my desktop when I am in the office once or twice a week. Am I better off staying within the Windows 7 or Apple "ecosystem" in order to keep everything as integrated and simple as possible? If so, do you think one would be better over the other? Or is it pretty easy to sync, for example, an iMac desktop with a netbook running Windows 7 and an iPhone?

Darren: This isn't really is a platform issue, but rather a software issue. What do you want to sync?

Rafe: I agree. If you want to sync notes, then -- get your drinks ready -- use Evernote. If you need to see your desktop files on your mobile, look at a sync service like Dropbox.

Darren: Or just use Google Docs.


Steve Eli: I'm in the hunt for an Android app that would allow me to primarily send instant messages (not through SMS/MMS) and be able to transfer basic files pictures and video. This application needs to be able to run all the time, load on phone start, be preferably free, but not be a battery drain. Does this app exist?

Rafe Try TextPlus

Darren: We have a review IM apps...


Jayce: In response to the guy with the 2009 Hyundai Sonata and wanting to stream Bluetooth audio into his car, I have a solution to this. I use a Blackberry Stereo Gateway and plug it into my aux jack and then power it through my cigarette lighter, it could also be powered through the usb jack in his car because it just requires a mini USB cord to power it. The Gateway syncs with more than just Blackberries and this method has worked for me, so maybe it will work for him?


Remember to send your tech questions our way. Mail us at rescue@cnet.com, or leave a message at 877-438-6688.