Friday, June 27, 2014

Use your Chromecast/Roku on a Hotel WiFi

Chromecast and Roku are really wonderful devices which allow you to take all your media with you where ever you go. Especially, if you travel a lot, it's definitely way better to watch something on your Netflix subscription rather than paying exorbitant rates on the hotel's pay-per-view.

But there's a problem. Hotel WiFi's usually use web based authentication (i.e.) their wireless network is usually open and anyone can connect to it. Only when you try and open a webpage, they send you to an authentication page that asks for a username/password (which the hotel will provide you) and/or asks you to accept the terms and conditions.

The problem is that Chromecast and Roku do not have native support for such authentication. But fear not, in this post, i am going to write about a few ways in which you can work around this limitation to enjoy Roku/Chromecast on the hotel's WiFi network.

Find out your device's MAC Address

2 of the 3 workarounds that i mention requires you to know the MAC Address of your Chromecast/Roku device. Here's how you figure it out:

Roku
  • Switch it on
  • Navigate to Settings->Network->Wireless
  • On the bottom right, you can see the MAC Address of the Roku
Chromecast
  • Switch it on
  • Connect your phone to the hotel WiFi and authenticate it
  • Open the Chromecast Setup app on your android phone
  • Tap on devices and wait for it to scan
  • Tap on your Chromecast device in the list
  • Tap "Set Up"
  • Tap "I see the code"
  • Tap "Set Name"
  • The MAC Address of your chromecast will be displayed on the screen now. 
Workaround 1 - Call the Tech Support

Most hotels give you a small sheet of paper with your WiFi username and password. That sheet usually also has a "tech support" phone number. Here is what you can do: Call the tech support number and tell them exactly this: "I would like to use the roku media player device over the hotel WiFi. I wanted to check if you could whitelist the MAC Address of my device to by-pass the authentication page".

Depending on the mood and knowledge of the tech support person, he/she might say okay. But nevertheless, it's gonna take some time before the whitelist happens. And once the whitelist happens, you can enjoy Chromecast/Roku over the hotel WiFi.

Workaround 2 - Spoof your MAC and authenticate from your laptop

The whole web authentication system works around MAC addresses. Once you enter your username and password, your MAC and IP addresses are going to be whitelisted for a certain amount of time (about 24 hours) and your device will be allowed to access the internet in that time period.

One key weakness about this authentication mechanism is that MAC address is easily spoof'able. So we are going to to assign your Roku/Chromecast's MAC address to your laptop and perform the authentication like usual and then make use of that whitelist to access the internet from your Roku/Chromecast. Here are the steps (follow them precisely to the word):
  • Find the MAC address of your Roku/Chromecast using the steps above. Note it down.
  • Open the terminal (assumes linux).
  • Run "ifconfig" and note down the MAC Address of the laptop. [1]
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 down".
  • Disconnect from the WiFi network on the laptop.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 hw ether <mac address of roku>".
  • IMPORTANT: Turn off the Roku/Chromecast by unplugging it.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 up".
  • Connect to the Hotel's WiFi network on the laptop.
  • Open the browser and navigate to google.com (or any other website).
  • It will ask for authentication, provide username/password that the hotel gave you.
  • Type google.com again and verify that you can access Google.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 down".
  • Disconnect from the WiFi network on the laptop.
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 hw ether <mac address of your laptop from step [1] above>".
  • Run this command: "sudo ifconfig wlan0 up".
  • Now you can plug your Chromecast/Roku back in and connect to the Hotel's WiFi network on that. It should now be connected to the internet!
You will have to repeat these steps after the whitelist expires (usually about once a day).

Note: The above two work arounds will connect your Chromecast/Roku directly to the hotel's WiFi 

Workaround 3 - Set up your own WiFi network

Buy a portable WiFi adapter and use that to share your Hotel's WiFi through your own access point.

Hope this helps!

-Vignesh