What do you do with that old router lying around your house? HACK IT! Today everything in our house seems to want internet access. It isn’t just our computer, tablets, and phones any more. Today your TV, XBox, Playstation 3, and your Blu-Ray player need to get online. One of the biggest challenges is getting internet access across your house or maybe you even need to hard wire your device to a router.
The other day I went over to a friend's house to help them hook up a Blu-ray player in their game room on one side of the house to a wireless router on the other side of the house. He had tried on his own with his old router and the signal didn’t reach so he went to the store and purchased a new router thinking it would reach. I went over hooked up the next router went up stairs, fired up the Blu-ray player and NOTHING!
What we needed was a repeater in between the new router and the Blu-ray player. Let the hacking commence. He had a fairly new WRT54(something) router that we just replaced. I think Linksys makes a pretty good router out of the box. It does what most people want, take a connection from your modem and shoot it through the air. But what if you want to take the wireless connection from one router and boost it through your house or even allow your device to plug into router #2 and get internet from router #1.
I am going to walk you through a very simple process to supercharge your old router and turn it into a very powerful device. Your router is actually a computer with a basic operating system running a web server. When you go to your browser and type in 192.168.1.1 you are taken to a web interface that allows you to configure all the settings of your router. What we want to do is change out your OEM firmware with a Linux based program call DD_WRT. This is a free open-source program that opens up all the functions of your router and allows you full control to customize your settings anyway you want.
The following steps are going to look complicated and confusing, but if you follow these easy steps you can easily perform this hack on your own router.
You will not have internet access through most of this process. Make sure you download all the files you will need before you disconnect your router from your modem and begin the firmware flash.
Step 1: Go to the DD_WRT website and verify that your router is compatible with the software. If you have a Linksys router there is a very good chance it is.
Step 2: You will then need to download the software components you will need to flash your old router with the new firmware. I am upgrading a WRT54GS so I downloaded the files “vxworkskillerGSv7-v3.bin” and “dd-wrt.v24_micro_generic.bin” You will also need to get a copy of TFTP for Windows to get the firmware uploaded to the router.
You can skip this part but I want to explain a little bit about the relationship between your computer and router so you will understand what we are doing here. Your router has an IP address. An IP address is basically that devices direct dial number, when you put it in you will get that device. By default Linksys and Netgear use 192.168.1.1 and DLink uses 192.168.0.1. You can go into your routers firmware settings and change this number to whatever you want and if you have more than one router on your network (which we will when we are done with this) you will want to change one of them to 192.168.1.2 so you can access it again. If not you will have two routers with the 192.168.1.1 IP address and your network won’t know how to resolve your request.
Built into your router traditional is service called DHCP. DHCP is used to assign an IP address to all the computers or devices that join your network. Again if you have two routers on your network you want to make sure only one of them has DHCP enabled. Having two can cause a real mess. Your computer can get an IP address two different ways. The most common method is an assignment from a DHCP router. The DHCP server has a pool (ex. 192.168.1.100 - 192.168.1.125) from which to assign addresses. The second method always done by servers (and routers) is manually assigning an IP address. I give all my servers addresses under 100 to keep them out of the pool.
Step 3: At this point you will be disconnecting your internet from your router. You will keep your router plugged into the power cord and you will connect one ethernet cable from your computers network card to one of the ports on the router (NOT THE INTERNET or WAN PORT).
Step 4: You now need to manually set your computer’s IP Address to ensure you will always be in communication with the router throughout the configuration process. You will need to enter the ‘Network and Sharing Center’ on your Windows machine. This can be found by going into the Control Panel or usually by right-clicking on the network icon in the system tray near the clock and clicking ‘Open Network and Sharing Center’.
At this point you will want to click on the link that says ‘Local Area Connection’ You will then open the LAC Status box. You will need to click on properties, then select ‘Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and select properties. You will want to select the radio button that says ‘Use the following IP Address’ and you enter: IP Address: 192.168.1.12 (doesn’t really matter the last number as long as it isn’t 1 and below 255). You will then enter the Subnet Mask: 255.255.225.0. Default Gateway: 192.168.1.1, this is the address for your router. Click OK, then Close, then Close and you are ready to move on.
Step 5: Open your favorite internet browser and go to http://192.168.1.1 enter your username: (Linksys blank by default) and password: (admin by default). If you have never been in here and seen this before this is the stock firmware that comes with your router. Here is where you enter all your WiFi, security, and other information to configure your router. You will click on the Administration Tag and then Firmware Upgrade, then select Choose File and select the “vxworkskillerGSv7-v3.bin” file and click start upgrade. Once the upgrade has completed unplug the router for 30 seconds and then plug it back in.
Step 6: Locate the TFTP file you downloaded at the beginning of the instructions. Open the program, in the Server field type in the Router’s IP address “192.168.1.1”, in the password use your default password (for Linksys “admin”) and then select the DD_WRT file to flash the firmware (in my case “dd-wrt.v24_micro_generic.bin”). Hit Upgrade and you are done!
You can now open your browser window and point to http://192.168.1.1 again and you will be greeted by an entirely different screen than before. It will usually ask you to supply a new username and password when you first login to secure your new router. Once you do that then begin exploring your new super-powerful router.
At the beginning of the post I described a common problem of a wireless signal that is not strong enough to reach across the house. We took the router we just hacked put it into ‘Repeater Bridge’ mode and put it in between the new router and our destination. To see how to turn your router into Repeater mode click here.
Once you start exploring your router if you have any questions about the features, you can find most of the answers at the dd-wrt wiki page.