eXtensions - Thursday 31 March 2022


Thursday Notes: Going back to the Apple Airport Extreme; Meta Hypocrisy

By Graham K. Rogers


I do not often go back once I have updated, although I do prefer working with film more than digital photography these days. I had updated to a WiFi 6 router some months ago but was not happy with certain aspects. After looking at comments on security and other questions, I brought the Apple Extreme Router out of retirement and had it back working within minutes. An Oscar for CODA which is still not available here although it is listed: content unavailable. Meta paid for an attack campaign against TikTok for some of the same things it was doing. Some protect-the-kiddies hypocrisy being waved by Zuckerberg & Co here.

Although I have been using a WiFi6 router for a few months, I had been wondering for while if I should go back to the Airport router. I made the move back this week. It was fairly smooth, with a couple of hiccups. While I was considering this I began to look for a WiFi6 replacement for the Netgear router I currently use. It almost did what I want: speeds are good; there are enough Ethernet ports plus a USB port for connecting an external device for access to settings. However, there was another problem regarding security I did not like at all. The Airport Extreme router uses the IEEE standard 802.11ac. WiFi 6 is 802.11ax.

A couple of high-profile commentators have wondered if Apple should produce a suitable WiFi router as it did in the past. There was nothing wrong with the AirPort Extreme that I had. It ran from day one until it was superseded by the WiFi 6 router I bought; and when I put the Apple device back into service, it worked perfectly right away. Apple made a decision to cease producing this and many were (are) disappointed.

As a result of the articles by Dan Moren (MacWorld) and then Mark Gurman (Bloomberg), I re-evaluated the Netgear router I had then went looking for a replacement. I had a look online at a TP-Link Archer AX6000 that was on offer at $249. While the price would have been a little high for what I want, the specifications were far beyond my requirements. Apple's old Airport router had just the right amount of ports too. The Airport app made connecting and adjustments easy enough. I did check Keychain access on the Mac and found that the old (complex) password for the Airport was still there, so I expected that going back should be relatively straightforward.

Router on the shelves
D-Link router on the shelves

I also had a quick look in the shops in Bangkok city center and saw a couple of D-Link routers. These are widely used here, although I was not sure about security. A number of the routers on display were for older IEEE standards and not what I wanted at all. Two had WiFi6 clearly marked on the box so I looked closer. I took photographs of both. One had the ports and other specifications clearly set out and was priced at 1900 baht, while the other seemed a bit vague although I looked on all sides of the box. It was a little cheaper.

Like many modern wifi routers the Netgear and D-Link routers have four ugly antennae sticking out: something the Airport did not have. These were neatly installed inside the construction, although that would have caused some attenuation. Although I use the WiFi in a smaller condo, the Airport device had been able to cover all the rooms in a larger detached house and the signal was available some 50 meters from the house. Perhaps the antennae in these ugly modern routers can be folded away for condo use. I later saw an online article for another D-Link router that closely resembles the Apple Airport router: the AX1800 WiFi6 router.

This showed that the price was reduced on Amazon, but by the time I looked it was back to the $119 listing: about twice the price of the routers I saw in Bangkok. An extensive review of the device by John R. Delaney (PCMag) was fairly positive although mentioned that there was no malware protection. The testing reported in the article gave a good idea of how the signal could be accessed in the rooms of a house. Although the aesthetics of this router appeal to me - it looks just like the Airport apart from a few curly bits - I decided to hold off on this one.

Router on the shelf
Decommissioned Netgear router on my shelf

My main concern is security and the potential for attacks. Paul Wagenseil (Tom's Guide) in a story originally published in 2014 but recently updated, clearly makes this point, adding that the routers supplied by carriers are perhaps the worst. I had been aware of this which is why I always used the Airport downstream of the carrier-supplied device; and that was the same with the Netgear router that I have now replaced. Linksys routers were severely compromised a while back. The article has a long list of ways in which the security could be enhanced, although this was not my initial cause for concern about this router.

When I was looking for security problems on routers I found a series of links that included a number of references to Netgear and the complacency regarding security. There was particular mention of the Nighthawk 6700 router (I have the AX1800 - the same model number as the dissimilar D-Link) in a linked article by Bill Toulas (Bleeping Computer), but a number of points were suspiciously close to one of the areas I had been uncomfortable with. In another article, Paul Wagenseil (Tom's Guide) had a long list of security problems with several Netgear routers. My router was not listed but some of the security aspects outlined were uncomfortably close to what I had experienced and been unable to fix, particularly related to the administrative panel access.

The more I read about my current setup, the more I was sure that a change was necessary. I went looking because I had been unhappy with my choice. My online search to see if there were any problems with the D-Link router found nothing, while the more I looked the less happy I was with Lynksys and Netgear. All I could find initially about the D-Link router I am considering was the D-Link product page, which of course extolls the device.

Airport Extreme WiFi router The morning after reading all the horror stories and deciding against the Airport-like D-Link router, I connected the Airport Extreme to a power source and saw that it was still working. The Ethernet cable was next and the flashing orange light changed green immediately. I looked at the devices and saw that each recognised the network, although they were still connected to the WiFi 6 router.

I tried the iPhone first but that needed the password and although it was in the Keychain on the Mac, it was not recognised. I tried the Mac and that connected immediately. I then tried to scan the password from the Mac screen. Although it was entered on the iPhone, the gear wheel kept turning. On the other devices, however - iPad Pro and iPad mini - the access was immediate. I restarted the iPhone and that connected right away. On the Mac, Air Display of the iPads was working too.

I thought the remaining devices would need a bit more work. I started with the Apple TV and while it was reluctant to recognise the Airport WiFi password initially, after about 5 seconds that was also connected automatically. My Withings scales always need some juggling, but on the 3rd attempt I was able to copy and paste the password and the network was recognised, although I have managed to change the weight units to Stones and Pounds. Fortunately the metric equivalent is displayed on the iPhone and in the Health app.

Last on the list was the Philipps Hue bridge router that connects via Ethernet to the WiFi router. When I had added that to the Netgear device, it worked right away. When I went back to the Airport Extreme router there was some reluctance. I powered down all the WiFi devices. As they came back - carrier devices, followed by the Airport router - I expected the Bridge router to join the party, but only the power light came on. I took the Ethernet cable out of the bottom port and put it into the top one. All three Bridge lights came on immediately and I was able to adjust the lights from the iOS devices. I will check later to see if there is some dust or if a pin is bent.

CODA in the listings
Airplay on the Mac: iPad Pro (right and iPad mini)

Congratulations to Apple for the CODA Oscar win. Unfortunately that is still not available here even though it is listed in the iTunes Store on the iPhone and iPads (not on the Mac) and has been for a while. Each time I try to make the link, there is a warning and I am told that the content is unavailable. At least the CODA soundtrack is available here. It has 18 tunes from various artists and is priced at 189 baht. I shall certainly give that a miss, but in all honesty I would love to see the movie. The Oscars ceremony was memorable for other reasons, including the win for Belfast (not available here) and Dune, which is available.

CODA in the listings
CODA in the listings here but not available

Like Formula One since it was taken over by Liberty Media, the Oscars ceremony is becoming less and less relevant, particularly with the uneven way F1 deals with investors and circuits (e.g. Russia and Saudi Arabia). As the video app is not available here, I no longer watch this - bugger paying the local service over 1,000 baht a month for 20 or so races. I am happy to send my cash to Dorna for its excellent service and presentation of MotoGP races: the three top classes plus the Asia Challenge Cup for younger riders, as well as recorded videos of the previous races for several years. Liberty and Formula One cannot match that. There are also fewer prima donnas.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, does not like competition, so users have had to suffer the takeover and changes of such popular apps as Instagram, What'sApp and more. Not all developers are amenable to money although cash can make a difference in other ways. TikTok is a threat to the Zuckerberg empire and Meta also has its own problems that has brought it to the attention of politicians looking to apply some type of control or even split up the company: fingers crossed on that one.

Covered in The Guardian, Boing Boing (Rob Beschizza) and other sources, we are told that Meta paid a Republican company for an attack campaign in the press with letters and articles about the alleged threat from the app to young people. The stories were faked. One of the letters included a trend on TikTok that originated on Facebook. Beschizza writes, "Most of those viral local stories about teens smashing up bathrooms, slapping teachers and so on? They were either happening on Facebook itself or completely bogus."

In the Guardian article by Gloria Oladipo that outlines some of the details, she writes that Meta representative, Andy Stone, defended the campaign: "We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success."

The rank smell of hypocrisy.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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