Splunking Wi-Fi DFS Events


One aspect of wireless networking that I’ve always struggled with is visibility into DFS events. Usually I catch them by chance by noticing two nearby AP’s on a site map using the same non-DFS channel, or maybe by casually looking through logs, but I’ve never felt like I had the reporting and alerting that should be in place for DFS events, because they can be very disruptive. An AP will abruptly change the channel it is operating on, and if it switches back, it may observe a “quiet period” of 60 seconds in which is does not transmit any data. Not good.

Enter Splunk.

Splunk is a powerful log analysis tool that you can think of as “Google for the data center.” It takes log data from almost any source and makes it as searchable as Google has made the web. For wireless network engineers, you can quickly and easily search syslog and SNMP data, build reports, and create alerts. Splunk Light is free and will process up to 5 GB of data a day, which should be plenty for most WLAN’s. It also runs easily on macOS if you just want to demo it locally.

Using Splunk I very quickly created this dashboard of real DFS data from SNMP traps coming from a Cisco WLC. It’s a little rough around the edges still (I need to figure out how to clean-up those AP names and channels), but it still shows me a lot of the valuable data.

Yes, DFS is a problem at this site.

I can easily create email alerts too, so that if a DFS event occurs an email is triggered, or if say 10 DFS events occur within 30 minutes an email is triggered.

How To

I installed Splunk on a Mac then setup the built-in snmptrapd to listen for incoming traps and log them to a file. For snmptrapd to interpret the SNMP traps from a Cisco WLC, download the Cisco MIB’s and copy them to /usr/share/snmp/mibs/. Then you can start snmptrapd.

Here’s the CLI one-liner to do that:

sudo snmptrapd -Lf /var/log/snmp-traps --disableAuthorization=yes -m +ALL

Next configure the WLC to send SNMP traps to the Splunk box by adding its IP address under Management -> SNMP -> Trap Receivers. While you’re there go to Trap Controls and turn everything on you want to analyze.


Even though DFS events only generate SNMP traps, it’s still a good idea to send syslog messages to Splunk too, so do that under Management -> Logs -> Config. Set the Syslog Level to “Informational” to get a lot of good data. “Debugging” is probably way too much. The Syslog Facility isn’t important.


Monitor the file snmptrapd is writing traps to to make sure it is working. Run this command on the Mac and you should see traps streaming in. If not you have some troubleshooting to do.

tail -f /var/log/snmp-traps

Now add the file to Splunk under Data -> Data inputs -> Files & directories, and you should be able to see the traps in searches.

Have a look at Splunk’s documentation on SNMP data for more setup help. Setting up syslog is easier. Under Data -> Data inputs -> UDP add UDP port 514 with the Source type “syslog.”

Once the data is coming into Splunk you can start searching it and creating fields. Search “RADIO_RC_DFS” (with quotes) to see all the DFS traps. From that search click “Extract new fields” and select the tab delimiter to parse the data. Give the AP name field a label, and then you can create visualizations of DFS events by AP name. Any search can also be used to trigger an alert, such as an email.

Cisco has published a WLC SNMP Trap Guide as well as a WLC syslog Guide that is helpful when working with this data. Find the messages you are looking for in those guides, then search for them in Splunk.

From there it’s all up to your own creativity. DFS events is just scratching the surface of Splunk’s potential. You can look at authentication events, monitor RRM, and there might be some interesting roaming analysis that can be done with this data as well. I’m sure there are some bright engineers out there that have taken this a lot farther. Please share your work!

Clear To Send Podcast Episode 62: K12 Wi-Fi Deployments

podcast_logoI recently had the pleasure of joining Rowell Dionicio on the Clear to Send Podcast to talk about Wi-Fi in K12 schools. Clear To Send is a great podcast about enterprise wireless networking and a great way to stay current with the Wi-Fi community.

We talked about K12 requirements, challenges, funding, my design process, security, and everyone’s favorite K12 subject, 1 AP per classroom!

After listening to the podcast, I thought about some other K12 Wi-Fi considerations that I didn’t bring up on the air.

  • K12 often has requirements for mDNS applications like Apple AirPlay for AppleTV or Google Cast for Chromecast. This is a challenge in an enterprise network because mDNS does not cross layer 2 boundaries. It’s important to consider that when designing a new WLAN and selecting the vendor. Many WLAN vendors do have features that can assist with relaying mDNS traffic between vlans. Be careful to limit this traffic to only the vlans where it is required.
  • Excessive multicast traffic can be a burden on channel utilization when it is not controlled. Many WLAN vendors have features that intelligently filter broadcast/multicast traffic, instead of always forwarding it out the AP radio interfaces at the lowest data rate. If you are dealing with mDNS or large subnets (common in K12) it’s worthwhile to understand how the WLAN can manage broadcast/multicast traffic.
  • MSP’s are a great way to get well-designed enterprise Wi-Fi into small to medium size schools that don’t have the internal resources to handle it themselves. MSP’s can be hired to support and operate the WLAN after installing it, which gives them an incentive that VAR’s who just sell the hardware might not have–to design the WLAN properly. E-Rate funding is now available to reimburse schools for managed services contracts with MSP’s.
  • eduroam is available for K12 schools, not just higher education. Check it out!
  • It’s hard to listen to the sound of your own voice.

I really enjoyed talking Wi-Fi with Rowell and I’d love to return to the podcast in the future. Maybe we can talk about healthcare Wi-Fi next? Thanks Rowell!

Have a listen here: CTS 062: K12 Wi-Fi Deployments – Clear To Send

802.11ac Encryption Upgrade


The security features provided by the IEEE 802.11 standard haven’t changed much since the 802.11i amendment was ratified in 2004, which is more commonly known by its Wi-Fi Alliance certification name WPA2. 802.11w protected management frames were introduced in 2009, but it is only recently that Wi-Fi chipsets for client devices have included support for it. WPA2 introduced the robust CCMP encryption protocol as a replacement for the compromised WEP-based encryption schemes of the past. CCMP utilizes stronger 128 bit AES encryption keys. As a general rule of thumb, if you aren’t using CCMP on a Wi-Fi network designed for security, you’re doing it wrong. It’s been out for a long time and older protocols have well-established weaknesses.

11acHowever, there are some new encryption changes in the 802.11ac amendment which have mostly flown under the radar. Besides 256 QAM, wider channels, and MU-MIMO, 802.11ac now includes support for 256 bit AES keys and the GCMP encryption protocol. Galois Counter Mode Protocol is a more efficient and performance-friendly encryption protocol than CCMP.

A few interesting nuggets from section 11.4 of the 802.11ac amendment:

The AES algorithm is defined in FIPS PUB 197-2001. All AES processing used within CCMP uses AES with either a 128-bit key (CCMP-128) or a 256-bit key (CCMP-256).


CCMP-128 processing expands the original MPDU size by 16 octets, 8 octets for the CCMP Header field and 8 octets for the MIC field. CCMP-256 processing expands the original MPDU size by 24 octets, 8 octets for the CCMP Header field, and 16 octets for the MIC field.

By the way, you can download the 802.11ac amendment or the entire 802.11-2012 standard from the IEEE here for free. For more on these security changes read sections and 11.4 of the 802.11ac amendment.

It seems odd that these changes were included in the 802.11ac amendment, and not in a separate security-focussed amendment like 802.11w and 802.11i. Nothing wrong with it, just unexpected. I’m curious to see if the 802.11ax amendment includes security changes as well.

Why the addition of 256 bit AES keys? It could have something to do with a few chinks in the armor of 128 bit AES keys. The current attacks appear to be impractical, but future attacks that take advantage of quantum computing may put 128 bit AES keys at risk. NIST thinks that larger key sizes are needed to defend symmetric AES keys like those used in WPA2 against quantum computer attacks, which they say will be operational within the next 20 years. I’ll take their word for it.

Because the amendment only specifies CCMP-128 as mandatory for RSN compliance, it’s very unlikely that we’ll see CCMP-256/GCMP-256 in use anytime soon. Further, enabling 256 bit cipher suites effectively disables support for all non-802.11ac clients as well as 802.11ac clients that only support the mandatory cipher suites (most of them?). That’s because CCMP-256 and GCMP-256 pairwise keys are only compatible with 256 bit group keys, breaking backwards compatibility with legacy clients. There are also a lot of 802.11n clients out there that aren’t going away anytime soon, so actually deploying CCMP-256/GCMP-256 will require a separate CCMP-256/GCMP-256-only SSID. Excited yet?

Further, I can’t find any documentation that suggests that infrastructure vendors have implemented CCMP-256/GCMP-256 at all, just a few slide decks here and there with an overview of the changes. These cipher suites appear to be optional, so I wonder if any VHT clients or AP’s actually support them today, and when they will in the future. The Linux Wi-Fi configuration API cfg80211 and driver framework mac80211 have added software support for it. That’s about all the implementation I have found. Perhaps PCS compliance or Wi-Fi Alliance certification will eventually force the issue, or perhaps it will go the way of 802.11n Tx beamforming and never be implemented. There are a lot obstacles to overcome before 256 bit keys become practical.

However, a VHT client can negotiate a GCMP-128 RSNA within a BSS that uses a backwards-compatible CCMP-128 group key, and the 802.11 standard does support multiple pairwise cipher suites within a BSS (remember TSN’s?). That allows the GCMP-128 pairwise cipher suite to be used alongside everyday CCMP-128 pairwise and group keys on real, production networks.

To tell if a BSS is using one of the new cipher suites in a packet capture, look at a beacon frame’s RSN information element. The cipher suite selector is always 00-0F-AC for the CCMP/GCMP encryption protocols, it’s the cipher suite type that distinguishes between the specific cipher suites. For example, 00-0F-AC:4 is the default CCMP-128, 00-0F-AC:9 indicates GCMP-256 and 00-0F-AC:10 indicates CCMP-256. Group keys for a BSS with protected management frames have their own suite type numbers. Look for multiple pairwise cipher suites to find support for the new stuff. Here’s the table of the new cipher suites. I’m on the lookout for 00-0F-AC:8 (GCMP-128), but I’ve yet to find a beacon frame with it advertised.

Table 8-99—Cipher suite selectors


Suite type  Meaning
00-0F-AC  4 CCMP-128 – default pairwise cipher suite and default group cipher suite for data frames in an RSNA
 00-0F-AC  6  BIP-CMAC-128—default group management cipher suite in an RSNA with management frame protection enabled
 00-0F-AC  8  GCMP-128 – default for a DMG STA
 00-0F-AC  9  GCMP-256
 00-0F-AC  10  CCMP-256
 00-0F-AC  11  BIP-GMAC-128
 00-0F-AC  12  BIP-GMAC-256
 00-0F-AC  13  BIP-CMAC-256

Interesting note that GCMP-128 is the default for a DMG STA, which is a directional multi-gigabit station defined in the 802.11ad amendment for operation in the 60 GHz band.

The standard limits the mixing of cipher suites so that the key sizes of the pairwise and group keys must match, and GCMP group keys can only be used with GCMP pairwise keys.



Hardening TLS for WLAN 802.1X Authentication

encryption_lockThis post outlines some configuration changes which can enhance the security of 802.1X EAP methods PEAP and EAP-TTLS, which use a temporary layer 2 TLS tunnel to protect a less secure inner authentication method. While EAP-TLS doesn’t create a full TLS tunnel, it does use a TLS handshake to provide keying material for the four-way handshake. It needs strong TLS too.

Standard 802.1X security best practices should also be implemented such as using strong passwords, disabling insecure EAP methods, disabling TKIP, proper supplicant configuration, deploying sha-2 certificates, and anonymous outer usernames. The focus here is the TLS tunnel exclusively.

Not all RADIUS servers can implement all of these suggestions, but some can certainly do more than others. My experience has been with Microsoft NPS and FreeRADIUS servers so that is what I’ll refer to when discussing specific implementations. I welcome input from Aruba ClearPass and Cisco ISE administrators on configuring those servers as well.

Why go through all the trouble? It turns out the same encryption techniques that are used by web clients and servers to protect data in HTTPS sessions are also used when EAP methods rely on a TLS encrypted session. Ask any web server admin, and they’ll tell you that not all HTTPS is created equally. The same vulnerabilities that web server admins deal with exist in TLS-assisted EAP methods used on the WLAN as well. There is a lot to be learned from the TLS best practices that are recommended for web server admins.

At the end of the day, the TLS session is all that stands between user credentials and would-be hackers. It needs careful consideration to verify that it is meeting current security standards.

Here’s what to do.

Disable SSL

We’re talking specifically about SSLv2 and SSLv3 here, not TLS, the collection of which is often referred to simply as “SSL.” SSLv2 and SSLv3 were cracked long ago.

Consider TLS Methods

TLS 1.2 is the most secure TLS method available, so why not disable TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1? Right now supplicant support for TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 is far from universal, and TLS 1.0 with strong ciphers is still considered secure. Keep TLS 1.0 enabled for now.

Disable Weak Cipher Suites

Cipher suites are the specific encryption algorithms that are used in a TLS session. Supplicants and servers support a broad range of them, and some of them are better than others. Many RADIUS servers have older insecure cipher suites enabled by default. This allows old supplicants that do not support newer cipher suites to still function. Unless you have older supplicants, you can disable many of these cipher suites to enhance 802.1X security.

A current listing of strong cipher suites can be found at Cipherli.st. While the website focuses on web server configuration, TLS is TLS.

Be aware that EAP-TLS requires TLS_RSA_WITH_3DES_EDE_CBC_SHA.

Microsoft NPS

Microsoft NPS relies on Schannel to provide encryption for TLS-tunneled EAP methods. In order to control the protocols Schannel uses, an administrator must alter these registry keys. Note that changing these keys affects all TLS functionality on the server, so if you run IIS or RDS with TLS, these changes will affect those applications as well. Proceed with caution. The registry keys can be found in:


A full listing of cipher suites supported by Schannel can be found here.

If the prospect of manually editing dozens of registry keys on a Windows Server doesn’t appeal to you, the good people at Nartac Software have developed an application that allows these changes to be managed in a user-friendly GUI interface. IIS Crypto allows you to make all of the registry settings necessary for this, while also including some handy templates including Best Practices, PCI, FIPS 140-2, and Defaults.

Here is IIS Crypto displaying the default Schannel configuration of a Windows Server 2012 R2 server. There is a lot not to like here…


And here is the Best Practices template. Note the obsolete protocols and cipher suites that are disabled, and the order in which cipher suites are prefered is updated as well.


Be aware that manually taking control of the Schannel TLS configuration means you’re in charge of it going forward. If Microsoft updates the default configuration, your manual config may still be in place. Stay up-to-date on new TLS vulnerabilities and periodically review your configuration for needed changes.


FreeRADIUS 3 is the current supported stable release and you should be thinking about upgrading to it if you have not already. SSLv2 and SSLv3 are not supported by FreeRADIUS 3, only TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, and TLS 1.2.

For FreeRADIUS to require stronger cipher suites, add this to the EAP-TLS configuration in the “eap” configuration file. Alternatively, specify a colon-separated list of specific cipher suites.

cipher_list = "HIGH"

Also be aware that  FreeRADIUS 2.2.6 and 3.0.7 and contain a critical bug that prevents successful TLS 1.2 sessions from starting. You should update these servers as soon as possible.

Harden Supplicants Too

Few 802.1X supplicants allow you to alter their TLS configuration. The best thing to do with supplicants is to routinely install system updates and retire clients that are EOL.

Documentation for the TLS capabilities of client supplicants is hard to come by. Microsoft published an update to Windows 7 and above to allow the use of TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 in its 802.1X supplicant, if configured manually for now. wpa_supplicant for Linux supports TLS 1.2 in version 2.0 and version 2.6 enabled it by default. TLS 1.2 is the default TLS version used in the supplicants for Windows 10Mac OS 10.11, iOS 9, and Android 6.0 (Update: It appears that Apple has deferred their decision to default to TLS 1.2 in iOS 9/ Mac OS 10.11 until a later release).

Lab it Up

To know definitively what a client supplicant is capable of, run a packet capture on TLS-tunneled EAP authentication and observe the TLS negotiation frames, or TLS handshake, that occur right after 802.11 association and EAP identity request/response frames.

The client will send a “Client Hello” frame in which Wireshark will mark as a TLS protocol frame. This frame includes the TLS version requested by the client along with its supported cipher suites. The TLS version is the highest version the client supports.


Next, the RADIUS server will respond with a “Server Hello” frame which specifies the TLS version and cipher suite to be used during the TLS session, and includes the server certificate as well. The server will choose the best cipher suite that both client and server support and the highest TLS version that both support as well.


A few more frames are exchanged to setup the TLS session, and then EAP authentication takes place within the encrypted TLS session. It’s these first two frames that are of most concern when documenting client TLS capabilities.

This is also a useful technique to use to verify that highly secure TLS encryption is occurring in production.

Chrome OS Wi-Fi Diagnostics


In the K-12 market Chromebooks are the most common devices used in 1:1 programs. If you are designing high density Wi-Fi networks for Chromebook 1:1 programs, it helps to know how to access their Wi-Fi statistics, logs, and networking tools. This knowledge is valuable for troubleshooting day-to-day Chromebook Wi-Fi issues as well.

The Basics

Despite its simplicity, Chrome OS, the Linux variant that Chromebooks run, does have some useful diagnostics tools that can help troubleshoot Wi-Fi problems. Most of these tools are included in the crosh shell, which you can open by typing Control-Alt-T. Here are some of my go-to crosh networking commands that don’t require an explanation.



This command provides some good Wi-Fi stats like retries, MCS index, and also RoamThreshold, which is the SNR at which this Chromebook will attempt to roam to a new BSS. Hopefully, one day we’ll be able to modify this value on enterprise-managed Chromebooks through the Google Apps admin console.

crosh> connectivity show devices

  Address: 485ab6######
  BgscanMethod: simple
  BgscanShortInterval: 30
  BgscanSignalThreshold: -50
  ForceWakeToScanTimer: false
  IPConfigs/0: /ipconfig/wlan0_0_dhcp
  Interface: wlan0
  LinkMonitorResponseTime: 3
  LinkStatistics/0/AverageReceiveSignalDbm: -61
  LinkStatistics/1/InactiveTimeMilliseconds: 8002
  LinkStatistics/2/LastReceiveSignalDbm: -62
  LinkStatistics/3/PacketReceiveSuccesses: 63919
  LinkStatistics/4/PacketTransmitFailures: 25
  LinkStatistics/5/PacketTrasmitSuccesses: 34432
  LinkStatistics/6/TransmitBitrate: 52.0 MBit/s MCS 11
  LinkStatistics/7/TransmitRetries: 60969
  Name: wlan0
  NetDetectScanPeriodSeconds: 120
  Powered: true
  ReceiveByteCount: 1610461765
  RoamThreshold: 18
  ScanInterval: 60
  Scanning: false
  SelectedService: /service/5
  TransmitByteCount: 133127986
  Type: wifi
  WakeOnWiFiFeaturesEnabled: not_supported
  WakeToScanPeriodSeconds: 900


This command is very useful in troubleshooting 802.1X issues. It shows more layer 2 details on all the BSS’s that have been discovered. In this case, /service/12 is an 802.1X network that the Chromebook is associated with, and /service/15 an open network also in range.

crosh> connectivity show services

  AutoConnect: true
  CheckPortal: auto
  Connectable: true
  ConnectionId: 2069398120
  Country: US
  DNSAutoFallback: false
  Device: /device/wlan0
  EAP.AnonymousIdentity: anonymous
  EAP.Identity: <username>
  EAP.InnerEAP: auth=MSCHAPV2
  EAP.KeyMgmt: WPA-EAP
  EAP.RemoteCertification/0: /OU=Domain Control Validated/CN=<cn>
  EAP.RemoteCertification/1: /C=US/ST=Arizona/L=Scottsdale/O=GoDaddy.com, Inc./OU=http://certs.godaddy.com/repository//CN=Go Daddy Secure Certificate Authority - G2
  EAP.RemoteCertification/2: /C=US/ST=Arizona/L=Scottsdale/O=GoDaddy.com, Inc./CN=Go Daddy Root Certificate Authority - G2
  EAP.RemoteCertification/3: /C=US/O=The Go Daddy Group, Inc./OU=Go Daddy Class 2 Certification Authority
  EAP.UseProactiveKeyCaching: false
  EAP.UseSystemCAs: true
  Error: Unknown
  GUID: 5137BA48-0424-41B0-B5DE-29A427084925
  HTTPProxyPort: 34599
  IPConfig: /ipconfig/wlan0_1_dhcp
  IsActive: true
  LinkMonitorDisable: false
  ManagedCredentials: false
  Mode: managed
  Name: <SSID name>
  PassphraseRequired: false
  PreviousErrorSerialNumber: 0
  Priority: 0
  PriorityWithinTechnology: 0
  Profile: /profile/chronos/shill
  SaveCredentials: true
  SavedIP.Mtu: 0
  SavedIP.Prefixlen: 26
  SavedIPConfig/2/Mtu: 0
  SavedIPConfig/5/Prefixlen: 26
  Security: 802_1x
  SecurityClass: 802_1x
  State: online
  Strength: 35
  Tethering: NotDetected
  Type: wifi
  Visible: true
  WiFi.BSSID: 00:11:74:##:##:##
  WiFi.Frequency: 5240
  WiFi.FrequencyList/0: 2412
  WiFi.FrequencyList/1: 2462
  WiFi.FrequencyList/2: 5240
  WiFi.FrequencyList/3: 5320
  WiFi.HexSSID: ########
  WiFi.HiddenSSID: false
  WiFi.PhyMode: 7
  WiFi.ProtectedManagementFrameRequired: false
  WiFi.RoamThreshold: 0
  WiFi.VendorInformation/0/OUIList: 00-03-7f

  AutoConnect: false
  CheckPortal: auto
  Connectable: true
  ConnectionId: 0
  Country: US
  DNSAutoFallback: false
  Device: /device/wlan0
  EAP.KeyMgmt: NONE
  EAP.UseProactiveKeyCaching: false
  EAP.UseSystemCAs: true
  Error: Unknown
  HTTPProxyPort: 0
  IsActive: false
  LinkMonitorDisable: false
  ManagedCredentials: false
  Mode: managed
  Name: <SSID name>
  PassphraseRequired: false
  PreviousErrorSerialNumber: 0
  Priority: 0
  PriorityWithinTechnology: 0
  SaveCredentials: true
  Security: none
  SecurityClass: none
  State: idle
  Strength: 44
  Tethering: NotDetected
  Type: wifi
  Visible: true
  WiFi.BSSID: 7c:69:f6:##:##:##
  WiFi.Frequency: 5320
  WiFi.FrequencyList/0: 5240
  WiFi.FrequencyList/1: 5320
  WiFi.HexSSID: ##########
  WiFi.HiddenSSID: false
  WiFi.PhyMode: 7
  WiFi.ProtectedManagementFrameRequired: false
  WiFi.RoamThreshold: 0
  WiFi.VendorInformation/0/OUIList: 00-10-18


This command brings up a lot of valuable information including a dump of the latest full channel scan and the Wi-Fi chipset’s capabilities, among other useful data.

crosh> network_diag --wifi

iw dev wlan0 survey dump:
Survey data from wlan0
 frequency: 2412 MHz
 noise: -92 dBm
 channel active time: 63 ms
 channel busy time: 49 ms
 channel receive time: 45 ms
 channel transmit time: 0 ms
Survey data from wlan0
 frequency: 2417 MHz
 noise: -93 dBm
 channel active time: 62 ms
 channel busy time: 47 ms
 channel receive time: 41 ms
 channel transmit time: 0 ms
Survey data from wlan0
 frequency: 2422 MHz
 noise: -92 dBm
 channel active time: 63 ms
 channel busy time: 4 ms
 channel receive time: 0 ms
 channel transmit time: 0 ms


Survey data from wlan0
 frequency: 5220 MHz
 noise: -94 dBm
 channel active time: 124 ms
 channel busy time: 0 ms
 channel receive time: 0 ms
 channel transmit time: 0 ms
Survey data from wlan0
 frequency: 5240 MHz [in use]
 noise: -94 dBm
 channel active time: 15723 ms
 channel busy time: 513 ms
 channel receive time: 185 ms
 channel transmit time: 3 ms
Survey data from wlan0
 frequency: 5260 MHz
 noise: -94 dBm
 channel active time: 85031 ms
 channel busy time: 84907 ms
 channel receive time: 84907 ms
 channel transmit time: 84907 ms


iw dev wlan0 station dump:
Station 00:11:74:##:##:## (on wlan0)
 inactive time: 5444 ms
 rx bytes: 11797197
 rx packets: 38419
 tx bytes: 1703260
 tx packets: 9779
 tx retries: 14295
 tx failed: 43
 signal: -58 dBm
 signal avg: -60 dBm
 tx bitrate: 24.0 MBit/s
 rx bitrate: 300.0 MBit/s MCS 15 40MHz short GI
 authorized: yes
 authenticated: yes
 preamble: long
 WMM/WME: yes
 MFP: no
 TDLS peer: no
iw dev wlan0 scan dump:
BSS 00:11:74:##:##:##(on wlan0) -- associated
 TSF: 61418055#### usec (7d, 02:36:20)
 freq: 5240
 beacon interval: 100 TUs
 capability: ESS Privacy SpectrumMgmt ShortSlotTime (0x0511)
 signal: -60.00 dBm
 last seen: 847370 ms ago
 Information elements from Probe Response frame:
 Supported rates: 24.0* 36.0 48.0 54.0 
 DS Parameter set: channel 48
 Country: US Environment: Indoor/Outdoor
 Channels [36 - 36] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [40 - 40] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [44 - 44] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [48 - 48] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [52 - 52] @ 23 dBm
 Channels [56 - 56] @ 23 dBm
 Channels [60 - 60] @ 23 dBm
 Channels [64 - 64] @ 23 dBm
 Channels [100 - 100] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [104 - 104] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [108 - 108] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [112 - 112] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [116 - 116] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [120 - 120] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [124 - 124] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [128 - 128] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [132 - 132] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [136 - 136] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [140 - 140] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [144 - 144] @ 24 dBm
 Channels [149 - 149] @ 30 dBm
 Channels [153 - 153] @ 30 dBm
 Channels [157 - 157] @ 30 dBm
 Channels [161 - 161] @ 30 dBm
 Channels [165 - 165] @ 30 dBm
 Power constraint: 3 dB
 BSS Load:
 * station count: 2
 * channel utilisation: 4/255
 * available admission capacity: 31250 [*32us]
 HT capabilities:
 Capabilities: 0x9ef
 SM Power Save disabled
 RX STBC 1-stream
 Max AMSDU length: 7935 bytes
 Maximum RX AMPDU length 65535 bytes (exponent: 0x003)
 Minimum RX AMPDU time spacing: 8 usec (0x06)
 HT TX/RX MCS rate indexes supported: 0-15
 HT operation:
 * primary channel: 48
 * secondary channel offset: below
 * STA channel width: any
 * RIFS: 1
 * HT protection: no
 * non-GF present: 1
 * OBSS non-GF present: 0
 * dual beacon: 0
 * dual CTS protection: 0
 * STBC beacon: 0
 * L-SIG TXOP Prot: 0
 * PCO active: 0
 * PCO phase: 0
 VHT capabilities:
 VHT Capabilities (0x338001b2):
 Max MPDU length: 11454
 Supported Channel Width: neither 160 nor 80+80
 short GI (80 MHz)
 RX antenna pattern consistency
 TX antenna pattern consistency
 VHT RX MCS set:
 1 streams: MCS 0-9
 2 streams: MCS 0-9
 3 streams: not supported
 4 streams: not supported
 5 streams: not supported
 6 streams: not supported
 7 streams: not supported
 8 streams: not supported
 VHT RX highest supported: 0 Mbps
 VHT TX MCS set:
 1 streams: MCS 0-9
 2 streams: MCS 0-9
 3 streams: not supported
 4 streams: not supported
 5 streams: not supported
 6 streams: not supported
 7 streams: not supported
 8 streams: not supported
 VHT TX highest supported: 0 Mbps
 VHT operation:
 * channel width: 1 (80 MHz)
 * center freq segment 1: 42
 * center freq segment 2: 0
 * VHT basic MCS set: 0xfffc
 WMM: * Parameter version 1
 * u-APSD
 * BE: CW 15-1023, AIFSN 3
 * BK: CW 15-1023, AIFSN 7
 * VI: CW 7-15, AIFSN 2, TXOP 3008 usec
 * VO: CW 3-7, AIFSN 2, TXOP 1504 usec
 RSN: * Version: 1
 * Group cipher: CCMP
 * Pairwise ciphers: CCMP
 * Authentication suites: IEEE 802.1X FT/IEEE 802.1X
 * Capabilities: PreAuth 1-PTKSA-RC 1-GTKSA-RC MFP-capable (0x0081)
 * 0 PMKIDs
 * Group mgmt cipher suite: AES-128-CMAC
iw dev wlan0 link:
Connected to 00:11:74:##:##:## (on wlan0)
 freq: 5240
 RX: 11797197 bytes (38419 packets)
 TX: 1703260 bytes (9779 packets)
 signal: -58 dBm
 tx bitrate: 24.0 MBit/s

 bss flags: short-slot-time
 dtim period: 1
 beacon int: 100

That’s a lot more Wi-Fi data than most other platforms make natively accessible.

Additionally, to view most of this data without crosh, use this internal Chrome URL. Just enter it into the address bar and hit enter.


Areas of interest for Wi-Fi data:

  • network-devices – same output as the “connectivity show devices” crosh command
  • network-services – same output as the “connectivity show services” crosh command
  • wifi_status – same output as the “network_diag –wifi” crosh command
  • lspci – you can see the Wi-Fi chipset hardware here (more on that later)
  • network_event_log
  • netlog

Viewing Logs

You can start logging Wi-Fi events using this crosh command.

crosh> network_logging wifi

Old flimflam tags: []
Current flimflam tags: [device+inet+manager+service+wifi]

method return sender=:1.1 -> dest=:1.146 reply_serial=2
Old wpa level: info
Current wpa level: msgdump

View the resulting device event logs at this internal Chrome URL: chrome://device-log/

Run this command to view the kernel log, which includes a lot of Wi-Fi events. I wish there was a –follow option, but currently there is not.

crosh> dmesg

A restart will return the Chromebook to normal logging levels.

And if you really want to bury yourself in logs, go to chrome://net-internals/#chromeos, click Wi-Fi to enable debugging on that interface, let the “capturing events” count creep up while you perform a task, then click “Store debug logs” to save a debug-logs_<date>.tgz archive in your Downloads folder. Be warned, the signal to noise ratio is very low with this approach. Google provides a log analyzer that you can upload these files to, but I’ve never had the need to go that far down the road. This is best used if you need to submit logs to the Google Apps Enterprise Support Team or a hardware manufacturer.

Advanced Wi-Fi Analysis with Developer Mode

But wait, there’s more! If you can put a Chromebook into Developer Mode, you can run packet captures and break into the Linux bash shell. Most enterprise-managed Chromebooks will have this mode disabled for obvious reasons, but it’s easy enough to move your test Chromebook into a test OU and disable this and other restrictions for testing purposes. (That’s IT testing, not high-stakes student testing! Make sure your OU’s clearly differentiate the two.)

Packet Capture

First, determine which channel’s frequency you’d like to run the capture, and also if channel bonding is in use. The internal URL from above will work for this as well as the “network_diag –wifi” crosh command. The frequency of the currently associated BSS is displayed at the end of that output here.

iw dev wlan0 link:
Connected to 00:11:74:##:##:## (on wlan0)
 freq: 5240
 RX: 11797197 bytes (38419 packets)
 TX: 1703260 bytes (9779 packets)
 signal: -58 dBm
 tx bitrate: 24.0 MBit/s

 bss flags: short-slot-time
 dtim period: 1
 beacon int: 100
Screenshot 2016-05-09 at 2.37.00 PM
Disable the Wi-Fi NIC here.

Now turn off the Wi-Fi NIC in the GUI so it can be put into monitor mode.

You can now run the packet capture using the crosh command below.

Optionally, specify a secondary channel above or below the primary if you are doing a 40 MHz 802.11n capture by appending the “–ht-location <above|below>” flag.


crosh> packet_capture --frequency <frequency in MHz>

Capturing from phy0_mon.  Press Ctrl-C to stop.
^CCapture stored in /home/chronos/user/Downloads/packet_capture_7K08.pcap

You’ll get a pcap file complete with Radiotap headers if the hardware supports it saved in the Downloads folder which you can send to another machine to do analysis. If the Chromebook is all you have available, you can upload the pcap to CloudShark for analysis.

Wi-Fi Troubleshooting in Bash

Once you’ve got Developer Mode enabled, you can use the bash shell and follow the network log (or any other log) as things happen. This is my preferred way to troubleshoot Chromebook Wi-Fi issues in real time.

crosh> shell
chronos@localhost / $ tail -f /var/log/net.log

Now go do something to the Wi-Fi connection and watch the log scroll by.

A few Linux networking commands you may already know are available here as well like ifconfig, arp, and netstat.

Wi-Fi Chipset and Driver Information

While you’re in the bash shell, you can also determine the Wi-Fi chipset hardware in use. The output of this lspci command will only show the Wi-Fi adapter and the driver it is using. The basic output of lspci is included in chrome://system, but this method allows you to get more data. Add a -v flag or two to see even more.

crosh> shell
chronos@localhost /sys $ sudo lspci -nnk | grep -A2 0280

01:00.0 Network controller [0280]: Qualcomm Atheros AR9462 Wireless Network Adapter [168c:0034] (rev 01)
        Subsystem: Foxconn International, Inc. Device [105b:e058]
        Kernel driver in use: ath9k

This Acer C720 Chromebook has a Qualcomm Atheros AR9462 and uses the ath9k driver.

Run this command to discover the Wi-Fi chipset driver version. This is helpful if you want to know if the Wi-Fi chipset drivers were updated during a system update.

crosh> shell
chronos@localhost / $ sudo ethtool -i wlan0

driver: ath9k
bus-info: 0000:01:00.0
supports-statistics: no
supports-test: no
supports-eeprom-access: no
supports-register-dump: no
supports-priv-flags: no

In this case no version number is reported, perhaps because the OS is using a generic Atheros driver that is packaged with the Linux kernel.

Below is the output of the same commands on an HP Chromebook 11 G4 running Chrome OS 41. This machine has an Intel Wireless-AC 7260 chipset and the driver and firmware-version are listed.

crosh> shell
chronos@localhost / $ sudo lspci -nnk | grep -A2 0280

01:00.0 Network controller [0280]: Intel Corporation Wireless 7260 [8086:08b1] (rev c3)
        Subsystem: Intel Corporation Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 [8086:c070]
        Kernel driver in use: iwlwifi
crosh> shell
chronos@localhost / $ sudo ethtool -i wlan0

driver: iwlwifi
version: 3.10.18
bus-info: 0000:01:00.0
supports-statistics: yes
supports-test: no
supports-eeprom-access: no
supports-register-dump: no
supports-priv-flags: no

The driver version appears to just be the Linux kernel version. The firmware-version is the chipset driver version.

Interestingly, after updating this HP Chromebook to Chrome OS 50, the Wi-Fi chipset firmware-version changed… but went down.

crosh> shell
chronos@localhost / $ sudo ethtool -i wlan0

driver: iwlwifi
version: 3.10.18
firmware-version: 16.229726.0
bus-info: 0000:01:00.0
supports-statistics: yes
supports-test: no
supports-eeprom-access: no
supports-register-dump: no
supports-priv-flags: no

An inspection of the iwlwifi version history shows that this driver is actually newer than the previous version. Before version 16 it was the third number in the version that indicated what major branch it came from, so version was actually from the version 10 branch. Thankfully, that’s cleared up in newer versions of the driver so that the first number is the version branch.

It’s good to see that Google includes Wi-Fi chipset driver updates with Chrome OS updates. This is especially nice as system updates are downloaded and installed automatically to Chromebooks. Personally, I’ve seen system updates resolve odd Chromebook Wi-Fi problems and it’s possible the newer drivers are the solution.

Making RRM Work

There’s been a lot of good discussion within the Wi-Fi community recently about the viability of radio resource management (RRM), or the automatic selection of channels and Tx power settings by proprietary vendor algorithms. At Mobility Field Day 1 there was this excellent roundtable.

Personally, I usually fall into the static design camp, for many of the same reasons as others. I don’t want RRM to change the carefully tuned design I put in place and create an unpredictable RF environment, I’ve seen RRM do some very peculiar things like put adjacent AP’s on the same channels or crank up the Tx power of 2.4 GHz radios in an HD environment, RRM doesn’t disable 2.4 GHz radios when CCC is present, and it doesn’t plan DFS channels properly. Still, I’ve tried to keep an open mind.

Static designs have their limitations too. Statically designed WLAN’s can’t react to new neighboring networks contending for the same airtime, or new sources of RF interference that weren’t there when the static design was developed. It’s a real benefit of RRM that it does automatically correct for these problems.

Let me propose a hybrid approach that uses static design to handle the things that RRM does poorly, while still allowing RRM to react to the changing RF environment.

Static Design Elements

  • Tx power levels should be statically assigned. Once finely tuned as part of the design process, why would they ever need to change?
  • Excess 2.4 GHz radios in high density environments should be manually disabled because RRM simply won’t do this.
  • DFS channels should be statically planned. RRM can clump DFS channels near one and other, resulting in a 5 GHz dead zone for clients without DFS support. Also, because of these clients, DFS channels should only be used when non-DFS channels are all already deployed. Therefore, statically plan DFS channels when needed in areas where non-DFS channels create secondary coverage, and let RRM dynamically plan the other bands. It’s less likely to have a neighbor or transient hotspot appear in the DFS bands anyway.
  • Set channel channel bandwidth statically. The design process includes considering the capacity requirements of the WLAN to determine the appropropriate 5 GHz channel bandwidth. RRM algorithms don’t know what your capacity requirements are. 2.4 GHz should always be 20 MHz.

Things Left to RRM

  • 2.4 GHz channel planning, once excess radios are disabled. Channels 1, 6, and 11 only, of course.
  • 5 GHz channel planning, once DFS channels are statically assigned.
  • That’s all.

The benefit of this approach is that it addresses many of the shortcomings of RRM while still retaining its main benefit: the WLAN can dynamically react to RF interference and transient neighbors by moving affected AP radios to clear spectrum. The things that RRM can’t do or does poorly are simply removed from its control.

Even within these constraints, there are still some vendor’s RRM algorithms I trust more than others. And even those I trust enough to try this with, I’d still want to monitor regularly to make sure the WLAN hasn’t turned into the RRM trainwreck the I’ve seen all too often when RRM is given free reign.

This is How Wi-Fi Actually Works

I decided to write this blog because there appears to be a very common misunderstanding about how Wi-Fi works among end-users and even many network administrators as well. Instead of repeating myself, I can share this link with folks that need a little lesson in 802.11 operation.

Wi-Fi is does not work like AM/FM broadcast radio.

Well, in some ways it does, Wi-Fi radios transmit and receive radio frequency energy (RF) just like AM/FM stations do, but it’s operation is much more complex. If you are stuck in the AM/FM radio analogy, you’ll make several mistakes with Wi-Fi, such as:

  • Coverage is considered, not capacity. Again, if Wi-Fi were a one-way radio broadcast like AM/FM radio, you’d only need to provide a strong “Wi-Fi signal” for everything to work well. This leads you down this next path.
  • The “Wi-Fi signal” (using this term might be a tell that the person speaking is stuck in the AM/FM radio analogy) is too low, so crank up the AP’s transmit power to make it louder.
  • Every problem is thought of as an infrastructure problem, client radios are not considered when troubleshooting.
  • Getting hung up on the vendor’s name that is on the access point, without considering what is much more crucial, the overall design that went into the network.

How Wi-Fi Actually Works

Wi-Fi is not a one-way broadcast from AP to clients like AM/FM radio. This is not how Wi-Fi works:

Nope. Not like this.


It’s a network. The AP and clients connected to it must all be able to transmit and receive to and from each other, more like this:

Note that while the intended destination of a transmitted frame is usually just one other radio, real RF transmissions radiate in all directions, and are heard by all clients.


Because they are all operating on the same channel, each client or AP must wait for the others to stop transmitting before it can transmit. It works just like Walkie Talkie radios. Only one radio can transmit at a time, everyone else must listen and wait. Additionally, they all need to be close enough to hear each other so that they do not transmit overtop of each other, causing interference that corrupts the communications. The channel they are using is what’s called a shared medium.

If they can’t all hear each other, they will transmit overtop of each other which results in corrupted frames (not packets, Wi-Fi operates at layer 2) that must be retransmitted. The bigger the cell, the worse this problem becomes (the hidden node problem). So when you crank up the transmit power of an AP to increase its coverage, you exacerbate this problem, because the AP is now serving clients that are further apart from one and other.

In many networks, the majority of Wi-Fi clients are smartphones with low-power radios and meager antennas. They already have difficulty hearing other clients further away in the cell. For networks like this, performance can be greatly improved by lowering the transmit power of the AP rather than increasing it.

Further, because the channel is a shared-medium, it has limited capacity. There is only so much available capacity to transmit in a single channel. Faster clients can transmit, well faster, and therefore use less of that capacity, known as airtime. Older or cheaper clients that are slower use more airtime to transmit the same amount of data. It doesn’t matter what vendor’s name is on the access point, airtime is airtime. Once a channel is saturated, that’s it. You can’t add more clients to it without leading to degraded performance. You can’t alter the laws of physics. At this point you need to add another AP to utilize the capacity of a different channel, or replace slow clients with faster ones.

Regardless, it’s worthwhile to intuitively understand the nature of Wi-Fi networks, so that these common pitfalls can be avoided. Many other Wi-Fi best practices that I haven’t outlined here stem from this foundational knowledge. Based on this, can you think of other things that might affect Wi-Fi performance?


This is a simplification of 802.11 operation meant to give those new to the subject a casual understanding of how it works. Sometimes 802.11 frames are broadcast, one-way-only, from the AP to all clients in the network. Some management frames and broadcast frames from the wired network are broadcast this way. The important point to remember is that this is the exception, not the rule, and if all clients cannot hear each other, there is still the possibility that this broadcast traffic could be corrupted by another client transmitting over it.