Before I return to our discussion of alternative firmware, I want to let you know about another portable Web browser. Last week, I wrote about Mozilla Firefox - Portable Edition and Torpark (see the article at the URL below). As I described, both these browsers can help protect your sensitive data by keeping it on portable media, such as a flash drive. A reader wrote to let me know about another portable browser that I didn't know existed: Opera@USB.

http://www.windowsitpro.com/Article/ArticleID/93664/93664.html

As the name implies, Opera@USB is based on the popular Opera Web browser and is designed to be portable. Like Firefox Portable and Torpark, Opera@USB helps protect your privacy by not leaving traces of its existence or activity on the computer you use it on. Opera@USB is smaller than the other two browsers, weighing in at under 8MB. The current version is based on Opera 9 and installation is very simple: Just unzip the download package to a directory and fire up the browser. You can download a copy at http://www.opera-usb.com

Two weeks ago, I wrote about DD-WRT (see the article at the URL below), alternative firmware for wireless access points (APs). One thing about DD-WRT that I didn't mention is that it's based on the code of another alternative firmware product, OpenWRT, which is our main topic of discussion this time.

http://www.windowsitpro.com/Article/ArticleID/93587/93587.html

The popular wireless router manufacturer Linksys developed a small Linux-based open source OS to drive its AP hardware. People took copies of this code and began tweaking it to fit their own needs. This trend gave rise to an alternative firmware product called Alchemy, which was also eventually published as open source. Alchemy led to a spinoff called OpenWRT, which in turn led to another spinoff called DD-WRT.

Unlike DD-WRT, OpenWRT is completely command line based. The standard distribution package doesn't include a GUI. This fact has its pluses and minuses. On the minus side, using a GUI is easier than remembering all sorts of commands and their associated parameters. On the plus side, not having a GUI makes the code base smaller, which can be a big deal when a given router has only so much storage and memory capacity. If your router has limited space or you prefer using a Linux command line, OpenWRT (downloadable at the URL below) is a good choice.

http://openwrt.org

Like DD-WRT, OpenWRT supports quite a number of routers. You can check whether your particular model is supported by reviewing the hardware table, which includes some hardware that's been tested and found to not work with OpenWRT.

http://toh.openwrt.org

OpenWRT supports many security features that you might find useful, including a firewall based on ipchains, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption, Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) authentication, and Dropbear Secure Shell (SSH) server. Add-on packages, such as OpenVPN (at the first URL below), are also available. If you need help configuring OpenVPN, visit the second and third URLs below.

http://openvpn.net/beta/OpenWRT/

http://p3f.gmxhome.de/OpenWRT/Configure-OpenVPN.html

http://martybugs.net/wireless/openwrt/openvpn.cgi

Other useful add-on packages are listed at the URL below and include a mini Asterisk VoIP server, The Onion Router (TOR) server, a PPTP server, the Chillispot hotspot creation package, and handy shell tools such as Fyodor's Nmap and Dug Song's dsniff auditing and penetration testing suite.

http://downloads.openwrt.org/whiterussian/packages

As with any alternative firmware, be sure that it will work on your hardware and that you're relatively comfortable that you can configure it to your needs before you try to load it. Be sure to read the extensive OpenWRT documentation, and if you have questions, use the forum at the OpenWRT Web site.