Recommend a wireless NIC for security testing

I recently bought a notebook PC, and was quite annoyed to find that Intel has magically removed the ability to change the Centrino N 130 wireless adapter's MAC address.

Before the nutters get in here with accusations of "illegal" activity, I feel obligated to point out that there is nothing "illegal" about changing the MAC address on my own property. Briefly, I want to pose my notebook as a hypothetical attacker, trying to bump one of my other wireless devices off the router by assuming its MAC address. I don't really know what would happen if I did this, because, like I said, Intel artificially crippled the Centrino N 130 through its Windows 7 drivers. Rather paternalistic of them.

Another benefit of the proposed experiment: showing the futility of MAC filtering in keeping out the "bad guys." I have been convinced of this for some time, but been simultaneously unable to demonstrate it to my own satisfaction. There is no substitute for actually trying something, rather than just reading about it.

I am also a little annoyed at the Centrino N's (lack of) performance. I have yet to have it connect at greater than 72 Mbit/s, even while sitting less than 10 feet from the router with a clear line of sight.

FWIW, my router is a NetGear WNR3500v2. N wireless is enabled. As far as I know, this router is capable of supporting a full 300 Mbit or so 802.11n wireless connection, as long as the wireless NIC on the other end is doing its part (which mine doesn't).

With all that in mind, can someone suggest an N-capable wireless NIC that is not purposely crippled by its manufacturer? I would prefer an internal mini-PCIe card, but Intel seem to be the only ones making those. Even a G-capable or USB device would probably serve the purpose, if that's all that's available.

Workarounds for the existing wireless NIC would be welcome, if there are any. I don't think there are, as I've been unable to get it to cooperate under Ubuntu 10.04 as well as Windows 7.


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I thought I was losing my mind. The Dell XPS 15z's WiFi also uses a Centrino-N card which is absolutely horrible. The reception is just terrible. It was so bad, I literally had to go on the roof of a building at a hotel while everyone else was in their room easily accessing the Internet. Even then, I had reception problems. I had written the problem off as a design flaw - maybe it was a built-in antenna on the laptop case or something. I couldn't believe Intel could make such a shoddy product. On the Dell XPS 1330 I upgraded the wireless NIC to a Intel WiFi Link 5300 AGN: - Intel 533AN_MMWG2 5300 Ultimate N Wi-Fi Link Network Adapter IEEE 802.11n (draft) Mini PCI Express Up to 450Mbps Wireless Data Rates WPA
As you can see, the product has been discontinued. However, the reception is fantastic. As for changing the MAC address, I don't see the option specifically in the driver settings. I would need to investigate further using Intel's tools or a 3rd party program. How are you changing the MAC address? In any event, this wireless card was far superior to the Centrino N in terms of options, reliability, range, and signal reception. It comes with a slew of options with the device driver. Right now, costs are a major factor for me, or I would see about trying to swap out the Centrino N card for something else. It seems like the range just isn't there -- at all --. Mind you the 5300N cards were Draft Wireless-N and could switch from N to a/b/g mode. Still, I can tell the connection quality is superior for whatever reason.

Now, my problem differs from yours in that I don't care about changing the MAC - but this was a good upgrade from a built-in Wireless-G card. Looking at it objectively, I am left to wonder if the system internals on newer notebooks aren't the cause of this problem. In some cases, the case of the notebook can act as a giant conductor for the WiFi card if the system is the result of good product design. From all indications, newer Dell laptops and Intel-based Sandy Bridge systems have their components very much internalized. That is to say the systems seem to be built without much forethought to future expansion or modular design. If that inhibits signal, that could be my problem too.

Nonetheless, I believe any commercial card you can pick up at a place like NewEgg might have MAC changing features. I only wish I could give you a real answer in this respect. It seems the Centrino-N is lacking in many areas - perhaps due to the design quality or goal of saving battery life. But who knows.

It sure is nice to get a reply from a rational, thinking human being. The last time I asked about this topic, I got exactly one, "Huh? Why would you want to do that?" and the next "reply" was a witless moderator banning me from the forum for "illegal activity."

No big loss; the quality of replies there was sub-par on other topics, as well. Still, it's a shame when people can't handle certain subjects like adults. I don't understand people freaking out because someone might possibly do something "evil" with certain information, somewhere at some time - it seems like a lot of extra effort to be that high-strung.

I am not shocked to hear you had problems with a similar wireless card in a Dell. Dell's consumer-line gear seems to have attained barrel-bottom status in recent years.

However, I wouldn't necessarily indict the entire Centrino N product line, at least not on that basis. I simply ended up with the cheapest, least-capable model, the 130. Other models in the line, so Intel claims, offer superior reception and data rates. Some of them are also dual-band, capable of using channels in both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Apparently, it is this ability that makes them able to attain higher data rates of 300 Mbit - 450 Mbit.

For typical Web-browsing and other stuff you'd normally do on a public WiFi connection, really even an old "g" connection is fine. 54 Mbit/s is way faster than the Internet connection you're using in the background, almost universally. But it may not be sufficient for transferring files on a home/work LAN.

I haven't had any reception problems, but it's a bit disappointing to see gear that supposedly does "n" wireless limited to a lot less than the nominal "n" data rate.

As for the issue of MAC address changing, Intel started crippling their products a few years ago. Excerpt from their webpage:

Intel® WiFi Products - How can I change the MAC address for my wireless adapter?

The Media Access Control (MAC) address for Intel® wireless adapters cannot be changed.
The MAC address is a unique identifier for each network adapter, wired or wireless, and cannot be modified or changed as it is hard-coded on each device.
Some third-party software applications are capable of "spoofing" an adapter MAC address to a different address. However, this feature is not supported nor recommended by Intel due to security considerations.
Since the 12.x wireless driver package, the possibility of "spoofing" the MAC address was blocked to prevent this type of practice.
This is completely ridiculous corporate-speak, and doesn't even attempt to explain the supposed "security" benefit to the user of removing a feature. I have no patience for being treated like an idiot, whether it's by Intel or a clueless forum moderator. I'm certain the "bad guys" have already figured out a way around this supposedly "unalterable" MAC address issue, so I am rather frustrated that it has been made artificially hard for me, as one of the "good guys."

The current driver package for Intel wireless NICs is 14.x. So, no matter which of the current Intel Centrino line you purchase, you're going to get crippled gear. So I'm searching for a wireless NIC that hasn't been Nerfed. I might have to get something older, perhaps "only" 802.11g-capable, to carry out the research I wrote about above. I might even have to run Windows XP to do what I want to do, as drivers for older gear may not have been updated recently.

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