What is an internet hotspot? Most people with even a small amount of technical knowledge will be able to answer that question in this day and age. An internet hotspot is simply a broadband/fibre connection that offers wireless internet access, and they are literally everywhere these days. Many shops/shopping centers, food and drink outlets, hotels and various other businesses/industries offer free or paid internet access via a hotspot. Even ISPs sometimes offer nationwide hotspots as an inclusive or optional part of your internet package.
Creating a hotspot on your computer is actually quite easy but with an ordinary hotspot your protection consists only of the WEP or WPA WiFi key, you have to tell everyone the key to give them access. If you want to refuse someone access, the wireless key needs to be changed and a new one resent to those other users who still are allowed to connect. Have you ever wondered how to create a login page on your hotspot like businesses and commercial services do? This way everyone will be able to connect to the hotspot but when they try to browse the web, they’ll be presented with a page that requires a username and password login before the wireless internet can be used.
There are various methods to create wireless hotspots that incorporate a login page (also known as a captive portal) but many of them are complicated to set up. Some require you to use Linux, others need extra access points connected via a second LAN adapter. You can also use specialized routers for this task or use a router that has a customized firmware but not everyone can use this method. There used to be a Windows application called 2Hotspot which made it very easy to create a login page for your hotspot, sadly that project died many years ago.
In this article we’re going to show you how you can easily create a wireless hotspot with a login page, but the great thing is you need nothing special apart from a WiFi enabled PC or laptop and and a wired/wireless connection to the internet! It does require 2 pieces of free software installed on your computer but needs no special networking knowledge to setup. The guide below is for Windows Vista, 7 and 8 only, it’s not really a good idea to use a hotspot like this on Windows XP because it will be more vulnerable to exploits after support ends in April 2014.
Installing a Hotspot Onto Your Computer
This first step is needed to turn your computer into a wireless hotspot that the other computers on the network will connect to. It basically takes the place of a hardware access point meaning you don’t need to use any extra hardware. Other hotspot creation software may work but we found this program the easiest to setup and use.
1. Download WiFi Creator and then install it.
2. Launch WiFi Creator and making sure Automatic configuration is selected, either leave the settings at default for now or give the hotspot a new name and a new 8 character or more password. Then select the network adapter that connects to the internet from the dropdown, this can be either a wireless or wired adapter.
3. Click “Set up and Start Hotspot”. A new virtual network adapter will be created using the Microsoft Virtual WiFi Miniport Adapter and and the adapter that connects to the internet will now be set up to share the internet with the new connection.
If you didn’t want to actually setup a login page, you could stop here and give users the network key entered into WiFi Creator, although that obviously defeats the object of the article. Do note that WiFi Creator uses WPA2-PSK WiFi encryption which some older wireless adapters might not work with.
Installing Software to Create a Login Page
Setting up an additional login page requires the software to sit in between the adapter that acts as the access point and the adapter that accesses the internet to intercept web traffic and redirect to the login page before allowing access. There are very few free Windows applications that can do this without the need of external access points or extra hardware, here are the quick setup guides for three applications that can do the job, each has its own plus and minus points.
What makes ARPMiner useful is the fact it’s very easy to configure while offering enough to get a simple login page up and running. There are more advanced options such as RADIUS accounting but they are only available in the paid versions which start at $220.
1. Download ARPMiner and then install it. After installation, launch ARPMiner making sure the WiFi Creator hotspot is already running. You need to make sure TekpSpot.exe is allowed in your firewall from the ARPMiner Program Files folder which is the proxy/DNS service used. Or for testing, temporarily disable your firewall.
2. Go to the Users tab and create a new hotspot user. In the boxes at the bottom enter a name, password and session duration in seconds. Although the user will get logged out after the time is reached, they can simply log back in, so the timer will not block expired users. Press Add/Update to add the user to the system.
3. Click on the Settings tab then click NAT underneath. This sets up the Internet Connection Sharing which was done by WiFi Creator earlier, but if ARPMiner tries to set things up differently, it won’t work. Make sure the adapter which connects directly to the internet is set as the Public Network and the Virtual WiFi Miniport adapter created by the hotspot program is the Private Network. Click Save and then click the Start button icon to start the ARPMiner service.
4. Now go to a computer you want to connect up to the network and look for the hotspot you created earlier, then connect to it, the default SSID is “MyHotspot” and the default pass is “12345678”. You can also of course connect to the hotspot from other internet enabled devices like smartphones and tablets.
5. Now open a webpage in a web browser and you should be redirected to the ARPMiner login page instead, where any credentials can be entered that were created in the Users tab in step #2.
6. After pressing Login you’ll be redirected to the Session Information page which will tell how long the session lasts and when it was created. The web can now be browsed until the time runs out when you will be asked to login again.
The state of user sessions can be viewed from the Sessions tab in ARPMiner where you can see the MAC/IP address, which username is in use and when the current session expires. To disable the login box simply use the Stop button in the Settings tab. Custom login pages can be created if you know html and a file called login.html needs placing in the ARPMiner Program Files folder, read the docs for more details.
Microsolut has a huge array of functions and incorporates a full hotspot billing system if you want to go down that route. One major drawback is the free version only allows 2 concurrent users online which may be an issue if you plan on making your hotspot system support several users browsing at the same time.
1. Download Microsolut and install using the default options, it will take a while. Make sure your WiFi Creator hotspot is up and running.
2. Launch the program and when the login popup appears, simply press Login. The username and password for the server can be re-configured later.
3. Click Setup -> Web server on the left menu and in the IP Address drop down in the Web server tab select the “192.168.137.1” address and click Save.
4. Go go Connections -> Monitor and in the Adapter name drop down, select the adapter that was created by the WiFi Creator hotspot software. In our case it’s “Wireless Network Connection 4”, you can check the name in the Network and Sharing Center. Click Save.
5. To quickly test your hotspot, click Start Hotspot and if a Firewall popup appears, click to allow it. Go to General -> Accounts, a TEST user is already configured which users of your network can freely access for up to 5 minutes to quickly try out. The options for the TEST user are outdated though and need changing. Click TEST and then Modify, then enter a positive number in the “Expire in” box. Untick Print Ticket and press Save.
6. Using a device which is to connect to the hotspot, find the WiFi connection like in ARPMiner step #4. Open a webpage in the web browser and you should be greeted by the login page which is setup to accept the TEST user, tick the box to accept the terms and click Go. A Welcome window will show the limits of the account and then you’re ready to browse for around 5 minutes before the account expires. Unlike ARPMiner, this 5 minute usage is MAC address controlled and you can’t get another 5 minutes until the MAC is cleared from the Test Access settings window.
Although we’re simply showing you here how to configure Microsolut to work as a simple hotspot, there are tons of extra options such as creating a completely custom login page, speed/bandwidth/time limiting, setting up computers and websites to either give users free access or no access at all, URL filter to block keywords such as adult/illegal content, and a comprehensive payment system. If 2 concurrent users are not enough, paid options start at €39 to increase that to 15 users.
MyHotSpot is by the same developer as WiFi Creator we are using to create the virtual access point, and is perhaps the most complicated to setup because it’s geared squarely at being used as a full payment system. But with time and patience, it’s also a very powerful and effective program, and best of all, it’s freeware!
1. Download MyHotSpot and install it, a reboot is required. Make sure your WiFi hotspot is running after the restart.
2. Launch the program and at the Network Configuration window, make sure Automatic is selected and choose the adapter that connects to the internet at the top drop down menu and the hotspot below. Click Next.
3. Enter a city and country at the next window and when asked to enter a username and password, simply click Login.
4. Here, we’re going to enable a simple test login to verify the connection works. Click on the Edit menu -> Hotspot Configuration -> Access, then click the blue Advanced setting button. Tick “Enable guest-login”, adding a password is optional, click Close.
5. Like the previous hotspot software you need to now go to a device which can connect to the hotspot, such as another computer or tablet, connect to it (remember the default is “MyHotspot” and “12345678”), and then try to open a webpage. You should be greeted with the MyHotspot default login page…
6. Simply type in username “guest” and a password if you entered one and click to login. If you have set things up correctly, a success window will appear.
There are more advanced settings to tweak the access rights as well as options to edit and design the login page, setup free access URLs which appear on the right of the login window, MAC address whitelisting to bypass login and SMS authentication. There’s also a simple Firewall which can block file sharing by default and the Web Filter is preconfigured to block well over 100 social networks, the user will receive a “BLOCKED” page in their browser if it’s enabled.
Unfortunately, MyHotSpot is setup to work with tariffs and payments which is fine if that’s what you want, more problematic if you just want to use access logins for time or bandwidth usage. What you will need to do is go to Edit -> “Tariffs and Security” and set all tariff rate options to zero money and then create a user from there. Once set correctly, it does work quite well. The icons down the left of the main window will show the log and information about who’s connected and duration/traffic used.
Additional Notes: One slight issue the captive portal tools above have is they won’t popup their login page if you are trying to access a secure page first, such as Google. A standard HTTP website will trigger the login though. As we mentioned earlier, none of these tools are really a one size fits all solution and trying them out is probably the best way for you to decide whether the program does exactly what you want.
Also, you need to remember this article uses a standard networking setup of a WiFi adapter and optionally a LAN adapter on a single PC/laptop with a standard router. If your own setup is more complicated, extra adjustments may need to be made to the above settings. As a final warning, do be aware that some ISPs don’t allow you to make profits from their service or allow cybercafé type hotspots to be setup with residential broadband packages, your account can be terminated if they find out. Make sure you’ve read any terms/usage agreements to make sure your ISP allows it.