by July 1, 2005 0 comments

While accessing a public hotspot on International airports, you must have noticed that though you’re able to connect to the wireless network easily, you can’t browse. That’s because the moment you open your Web browser, you’re confronted with a login screen. Only after you’ve paid, will you be given a username and password to login. After that, you can browse for the time you’ve paid for. Ever wondered how that is set up? Did you wish that you could also set up a separate WiFi hotspot in your office for your visitors, so that they can only access the Internet and not your wired network? Or perhaps you’re running a coffee shop, and would like to provide Internet access as an added service to your customers. In this article, we’ll show you how to do that, using a special Linux-based live distro called the Zone CD, which of course is freely downloadable and available under the GNU General public license. 

Zone CD acts as a wireless gateway between your wireless users and your wired network/Internet access. The gateway has many interesting features, depending upon which mode you run it in, open or closed. In open mode, Zone CD provides minimum features, such as redirection to a splash page the moment a visitor tries to access the Web; and content filtering, so that users don’t access objectionable websites. 


Applies to: Any organization implementing WiFi

USP: Quickly set up a protected Wi-Fi network with access control

Primary Link: 

Zone CD

Closed mode is where you can control who has access to the Internet and the wired network, for how long, along with content filtering, and much more. In this mode, however, you have to first register with Zone CD’s website, After that, you’ll have access to PublicIP’s Zone Control server. All configuration information regarding user registration, control, etc will then be stored in the Zone Control server’s database. This may not be a feasible option for an organization that has deployed WiFi to extend its network for its users, since the security of this network lies elsewhere. Let’s now get into how to set up Zone CD. 

There aren’t too many prerequisites to setting up Zone CD. All you need is a PC with at least 128 MB RAM, two network cards and a CD-drive. Plus, you would need either a floppy drive or USB port, depending upon whether you want to store Zone CD’s configuration to a floppy disk or a USB drive. You don’t need a hard drive in the PC. Plus of course, you’ll need a wireless access point or router, which the wireless users will connect to. If you plan to use Zone CD in the closed mode, then you must first register with and get a login for Zone Control. Keep a few Ethernet cables handy. Connect one of the network cards to this wireless router’s (called eth1) LAN port, and not the WAN port. Connect the other one to your Internet gateway router (called eth0). You must also switch off the DHCP server on your wireless router, in case it was enabled earlier. Otherwise, the setup won’t work. If your Internet router has DHCP running, then you can leave that running if you’d like. Also, ensure that your Internet connection is on before starting the setup. 

Setting up Zone CD
After doing all the connections and inserting a USB drive or floppy, configure your PC’s BIOS to boot from the CD. Insert the Zone CD into the drive and boot from it. When the Zone CD screen appears, press Enter to continue booting. Don’t worry about all the cryptic messages that appear on the screen, unless they say ‘error’ somewhere. Usually, the process is fairly smooth, unless the hardware is faulty or the Zone CD itself is corrupt. 

You can ‘co-brand’ your WiFi zone with your logo, name, contact, language and other preferences

If you’re setting up for the first time, then you will get a license agreement. Just press ‘Yes’ to agree and continue. Similarly, if it finds that the USB drive or floppy are not formatted properly, then it will try to format them. In case you have any important data on them, then back them up elsewhere prior to this. It will then ask you whether you want to run in the Open or Closed mode. If you choose the Open mode, then it will ask you to enter a URL to redirect all pages to. So when the wireless users try to connect, they will all be automatically be redirected to this URL. Next it will ask whether you want to enable or disable the content filter. It might be a good idea to enable this, as it will prevent anybody from accessing obnoxious websites. 

If you choose the Closed mode, then keep your Zone Control username and password handy, because that’s the first thing it will ask you to provide. You would also need to go to website to create a WiFi zone for yourself. Here, the site takes you through a wizard-driven interface to create a standard WiFi zone. The best part is that you can even add your own branding in it. So when a user tries to access the Internet over wireless, the first screen shows the login screen along with your company’s logo. 

In both the cases, it will ask whether you’re using static or dynamic IP for your LAN interface (eth0). You can give it an IP if you’re not getting it from the Internet router’s DHCP server. However, ensure that it’s on the same subnet. Next, it will ask you to provide the IP address for your Internet gateway. After that, you just have to provide the IP addresses of your primary and secondary name servers, and you’re done. 

Zone CD even has an option to automatically reboot, which is a pretty neat feature. It says that Zone CD could become unresponsive after prolonged usage, so it will automatically reboot daily. It anyways saves the configuration on the USB key or floppy, so it will use that to bring itself back up. It will ask whether you want to have Zone CD with a GUI interface or not. If you choose Yes, then it will run X Window and provide you a nice GUI. From here, you can run a Web browser, among other things. 

Lastly, if everything has gone well, Zone CD will play a weird musical tone from the PC’s built-in speakers to tell you that it’s up and running. 

We tested Zone CD on a number of PCs. In one particular case, Zone CD refused to run, and kept giving error messages. After close examination, we discovered that the problem was happening because the floppy drive was enabled in the BIOS, while we were using a USB drive to store the configuration. It worked very smoothly after we disabled the floppy drive. 

Anil Chopra

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