Alternative Firmware for Wireless APs: Talisman

Last week I wrote about the alternative access point (AP) firmware OpenWRT (first URL below). Before that, I wrote about DD-WRT (second URL below). Both are good choices. If you recall, I mentioned that both of these firmware packages descended from Alchemy, which in turn descended from open source code published by Linksys.

This week I'll discuss Talisman, developed by Sveasoft, which is the descendant of Alchemy, also by Sveasoft. Unlike OpenWRT and DD-WRT, Talisman isn't free. Talisman has caused some controversy--mainly because Sveasoft took open source code, improved and changed it, and is selling the result. Also, as I understand it, some people think Sveasoft didn't publish the modified code promptly enough to meet the licensing requirement of the code released by Linksys. Of course this sort of behavior is a sore spot among some open source proponents, but in my opinion, it's not necessarily a bad reflection on Sveasoft. After all, Talisman is very good software.

Talisman currently works on ASUS, Belkin, Buffalo Technology, and Linksys APs and is available in four different versions: Micro, Hotspot, Basic, and VPN. The latter three are still in development stages, not officially released, but you can download beta versions. Several other versions (in addition to these four) are either in the planning or preliminary development stages.

The Micro version is for use in APs that have only 2MB of flash memory--most newer APs have more memory than that. Micro also supports only a subset of the features available in Basic, which I'll discuss in a moment.

The Hotspot version is designed to easily create public wireless hotspots, which can be completely open or can be made to require logon credentials. So when someone connects to the AP they'll be cable to just click-through to the Internet, if your hotspot allows free public access, or they'll be presented with your custom splash screen at which they can log on, if you require that. Hotspot also includes support for billing in case you want to charge for network access.

Talisman Basic includes support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and WPA2 encryption, Secure Shell (SSH), PPTP VPNs, Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) authentication, port triggering, Virtual LANs (VLANs), VoIP, a firewall based on ipchains, Quality of Service (QoS) bandwidth controls, and much more.

Like OpenWRT, the Talisman line includes an easy-to-use Web-based interface for administration. And you can of course add tools and packages such as a router advertisement daemon (RADVD), which helps automatic configuration for IP version 6 (IPv6)-enabled systems. Other add-ons include an SNMP daemon and a GeoIP package that facilitates IP address-to-country cross-referencing that can be used with the QoS feature to develop filters.

The Talisman VPN version might be very useful, especially if you need to connect offices. It supports the Basic features plus IPsec with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), DES, and Triple DES (3DES) encryption; MD5 and Secure Hash Algorithm 1 (SHA1) hashes; and a special section in the Web administration interface designed to configure IPsec tunnels.

Talisman is available via subscription for $20 per year. (You can also download the previous version, Alchemy, for free.) For that price, you get a copy of the firmware and access to the support forums. Because Talisman is commercial software, it's locked to specific MAC addresses. You must supply your routers' MAC addresses when downloading the firmware, and the firmware will operate only on those particular routers. You can enter up to five MAC address, so for $20 per year, it's a good deal. For more information about or to purchase Talisman, visit the SVEAsoft website

TAGS: Security
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