Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Having Linux Wireless Troubles? Try WPA!

A few weeks ago, my father bought himself a brand new laptop. It was an Advent 7113 and he got a pretty good deal. Of course, it had Vista installed. He already knows about Linux because I've had him use it in the past. This time however, he wanted to stick with Vista to try it out. So I set up ZoneAlarm, ClamWin, connected to his wireless network and left him to it. Everything seemed to be going well.

And then it happened!

The inevitable "Can you come over and have a look at this laptop" phone call. I've had plenty of these calls in the past, so I wasn't too surprised when I received this one. What did surprise me though, was when the laptop started it booted straight into Ubuntu Feisty. Interesting!

It turns out my parents got tired of Vista after a couple of weeks because they were constantly being bombarded with pop-ups. They instructed my brother to wipe Vista and put Linux on it. He obliged by installing Ubuntu Feisty. I was called when they couldn't get connected to the wireless network. Nice!

Running lsusb revealed the laptop uses an inbuilt MSI 6877 WLAN usb card. The Network Manager application in Feisty could see the network but couldn't connect. It just sat there trying to connect for ever after accepting the WEP key. I had a bad feeling about this and posts like this one on the Ubuntu forums didn't help.

I spent many hours trying various drivers, downloading them and building them. I tried every combination of iwconfig I could think of. Nothing worked! As a last resort, I was thinking of using ndiswrapper but Vista had been wiped from the machine and they didn't get an install CD. So, I couldn't find the Windows drivers for the wireless card. I was aware that the Vista drivers probably wouldn't work with ndiswrapper anyway. It would likely have to be the XP ones. Where would I get those? I really didn't want to use ndiswrapper if I could help it.

The fact that Feisty could see the network continued to niggle me. Why couldn't it connect? Why would someone write a driver that could see the network but couldn't connect? It made no sense. Perhaps it was just a very early version of the driver? It's doubtful that such a driver would make it into the kernel and end up in Feisty though! I downloaded the latest live CD of Gusty, just in case the driver had been updated. Still the same issue. I was getting tired of this! WHY WON'T THE DRIVER CONNECT?

OK, let's see what happens if I turn off all security on the router. BINGO! CONNECTED! A router without any security is not the answer but at least this is progress. So, I have one other option. Try WPA instead of WEP encryption on the router. Fingers, toes and everything else crossed while I enter the WPA passphrase and wait for the laptop to connect to the network. And it does! Wireless is working perfectly.

I've no idea why WPA worked over WEP and frankly I don't care! My parents have a fully functional laptop with the latest version of Gusty and I haven't had any calls since.

I'm off to update that post on the Ubuntu forums.


Anonymous said...

I have found that you may need to use the HEX version of your WEP passphrase - particularly if you are using a 40bit key and are using Knetworkmanager. It appears to only generates a 104bit key.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that the NetworkManager applet (or maybe NM itself) has a really hard time guessing what keying method to use when you set it to "automatic."

Recently at my son's school I was trying to test a wireless connection using WPA2. They keying choices were "Automatic" and something else (I don't remember). After multiple failures, re-re-re-re-checking the password, etc., I manually selected the one keying option, and it worked like a charm!

Not that I think your dad should go back to WEP. Stick with WPA.

xod said...

I ran into similar problems with a wifi PCMCIA card on my laptop, and then I found a pretty good solution.

Check out WICD:
It's a wireless and wired network manager for Ubuntu Linux. Its got an intuitive GUI, it's pretty much automatic, and it'll easily install on most any debian/GNU system.

Anonymous said...

I just got a Linksys WRT300N and my SUSE 10.1 Acer Travelmate wouldn't connect until I switched the router to WPA2 personal w/ TKIP or AES


Peter N. M. Hansteen said...

I've had similar experiences with Linux (or for that matter OpenBSD) working a lot better and, more importantly, giving useful debugging information even when it doesn't.

<plug type="shameless">
over in my own blog I have a couple of posts, here and here which illustrate the issues

and in case you were wondering or you're not inclined to read the blog posts, non-techie users are generally very happy with their Ubuntu, thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Never, never use WEP encryption on a wireless connection. WEP has been cracked since 2001 because of an internal error in the algorithm which gives you a 50% chance to break it at any given attempt. Any clueless script kiddie can crack into a WEP connection using freely available software. Always use WPA2.

Don't just take my word for it, google it or look it up in Wikipedia.

Jeff said...

I had a different experience. I had an old laptop at home running Windows 2K and I couldn't get it to connect to my wireless router at home using WEP. I stuck Mepis on it and couldn't believe it when it connected first time. The wireless setup on Mepis seemed so simple that I didn't think it would connect.

Miko said...

Hi, I had a similar problem but only this time it was on a desktop machine with Feisty installed. After going through everything (tutorials on the net, forums, etc), it turned out that the build-in knetworkmanager applet was having trouble connecting, so I disabled it and did everything manually (editing the network interfaces file) and bam! It worked.
Check out my post
on that one for more ;)

Kourosism said...

I'm still having difficulties with this one. I have exactly the same laptop, and am running the 7.04 release of Ubuntu... but no joy with regards to connection over WPA, WEP, or even an open network. The lappy can see the network, but when I try to connect to it, it will do it's little spinny icon thing for about ten seconds, and then give up. Bah.

Try to flattening the Eartg said...

so, is the problem of MSI 6877 solved?

i dont think we can push people not to use WEP.