Airport Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule

Apple has had for many years now their own wireless and wired routers. They have used the name Airport Base Station and Airport Extreme Base Station when referring to the router. They also offer a compact version called the Airport Express which has been marketed for streaming iTunes to audio equipment. The Airport Express has also found its way into the hands of the business traveler looking to have a quick and easy way of making a secure wireless network.

The current equipment from Apple can be seen here:


Airport Extreme Base Station


Airport Express


Time Capsule

The resemblance between the Airport Extreme Base Station and the Time Capsule is remarkable and almost impossible to notice at first glance. The functionality is also the same except for Time Capsule’s containing a server grade hard drive inside. Let’s briefly look at the capabilities of all 3, and then note the differences.

Where they are all similar
Each are 802.11a/b/g/n capable wireless routers. They all have a USB port which can have a printer attached for network printing. They are administered thru an application called “Airport Admin” and not a web interface like most routers. The application is available for both Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista. All of the devices can be joined to form a Wireless Distribution System (WDS), extending a single wireless network beyond the range of the normal single access point.

They all operate on the 5Ghz and the 2.4Ghz frequencies.

DHCP is offered as well as MAC address filtering.

The Airport Express has the ability to stream iTunes music to an audio receiver.

The Differences

Where the new Airport Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule differentiate themselves from all previous products is the following features:

The Airport Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule have 4 Gigabit ethernet ports, 1 for the Wide Area Network connection, and 3 for the local network. (or 4 for the local network if you so choose)

Dual Mode - They now have the ability to operate on the 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz band simultaneously


Image showing the configuration of Dual Mode in the new 7.4.1 firmware

Mobile Me - a USB connected Disk on the Airport Extreme Base Station or the disk of the Time Capsule can now be accessed directly thru Back To My Mac by simply configuring


Image showing the configuration of Mobile Me in the new 7.4.1 firmware

File Sharing - configuration of file sharing directly from a USB connected disk on the Airport Extreme Base Station or the disk of the Time Capsule. This includes configuring Guest Access, sharing over the Wide Area Network, and sharing with Windows clients.


Image showing the configuration of File Sharing in the new 7.4.1 firmware

Guest Network - Guest network is a new feature that allows for temporary access to a home network without requiring the owner to give out the main password. By allowing a person “guest” access to the network, access is restricted and the password can be different from the main access password.


Image showing the configuration of Guest Network in the new 7.4.1 firmware


The previous generation of Airport Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule can be firmware upgraded to offer this same functionality. The previous generation will not be capable of offering the Dual Band mode, but otherwise will have the same look and functionality.

Logging in the Airport Admin is minimal by default. The Airport Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule keep an extremely short history of activity as well. They can be configured to send their log to a client, however, in which case, a very verbose and long history of information will be available. In order to know if a log is being send to a client, you need to look in the Statistics tab. If the “Syslog Destination Address” has an IP address filled in, you need to find this entity.


Statistics tab in Airport Admin Utility

If you find yourself with a case that involves the Airport Extreme Base Station or Time Capsule, you will want to utilize the Support section of Apple’s website that specifically deals with the wireless solutions offered. We have only dealt with the most interesting features of the hardware and firmware from a digital forensics standpoint. You will want to garner a more complete understanding of the functionality as you complete your analysis.

As always, please email us with any questions or comments.

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