Today, a colleague of mine asked for help with connecting her Amazon Kindle Fire to the university Wi-Fi network (which is linked to eduroam). Whilst I’m not an IT employee, I offered to help.
eduroam, for those who aren’t aware, allows staff and students at universities to access Wi-Fi at any other participating university. This includes almost all UK colleges and universities, and many others across the world. To do this, it uses WPA-Enterprise, with authentication using a username and password, rather than a Wi-Fi key like you would get on a home Wi-Fi network.
The problem was that the Kindle Fire couldn’t connect, despite the username and password being correct. And then I noticed that the time was wrong.
Problem 1: wrong date and time
The underlying cryptography behind WPA-Enterprise, and most other secure internet systems, is reliant on accurate clocks. For whatever reason, this Kindle Fire thought that it was about 3am in September 2010. Consequently, it couldn’t establish a secure connection.
So, I went to change the date and time.
Problem 2: you can’t manually change the date and time on a Kindle Fire
There’s no option to manually change the date and time on the Kindle Fire (although this may have existed on older devices). If you try to change the time, you get an error, telling you that your device will get the correct time from Amazon automatically. At best, you can change the time zone if this is incorrect, but this was no help when the clock was out by almost 8 years.
Problem 3: The Kindle Fire cannot automatically update the date and time without an internet connection
So now we’re at an impasse. We can’t get on the internet because the time is wrong, but Amazon has locked down the ability to change the date and time, and we can’t get the correct time from the internet because we can’t connect to the internet. ARGH.
Solution: use a second device as a Wi-Fi hotspot
Fortunately, I managed to solve this by using my iPhone as a personal hotspot. As this doesn’t require authentication via WPA-Enterprise, the Kindle Fire was able to connect, get onto the internet, and update the time on the device to the correct time. I was then able to disconnect from the personal hotspot, and connect to eduroam without any problems.
I can understand why Amazon have locked down the date and time settings, as, if they wrong, all your secure connections will fail. And considering that many web sites now use HTTPS all the time, this would break a lot of things. But it doesn’t account for when a Kindle Fire’s battery goes completely flat, and it resets to a default time. Which I assume is what happened in this instance.
I checked my iPhone, and Apple does let you manually override the automatic date and time that it receives when you’re online. I assume most Android devices are similar – by default, they set the time automatically but give the user the opportunity to override this if needed. Amazon’s decision, whilst understandable, is frustrating in edge cases like this one.