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posted by n1 on Friday June 13 2014, @08:16AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the investing-in-infrastructure dept.

John Biggs writes at TechCrunch that Comcast is quietly turning on public hotspots in its customers' routers, essentially turning private homes into public hotspots. Comcast customers get free Wi-Fi wherever there is a Comcast box and the company gets to build out a private network to compete with telecoms. Fifty thousand users with Arris Touchstone Telephony Wireless Gateway Modems essentially basic modems that cable providers drop off at your home have already been turned into public hotspots in Houston, and there are plans to enable 150,000 more.

But concerns are being raised about this service. In addition to using customers' electricity for their service, some say that in areas that have lots of apartment buildings and multi-tenant dwellings within close proximity of one another, performance will slow down. Those routers are transmitting on the same channels for their 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals, leading to RF competition. "Comcast's FAQ about Xfinity's hotspots doesn't go into any details about channels and bands," writes Samara Lynn, "but the company should be clear about how adding these hotspot networks affects the performance of existing WLANs-especially in business use."

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  • (Score: 3, Funny) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Friday June 13 2014, @09:01AM

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Friday June 13 2014, @09:01AM (#54866) Journal

    Anyone else pine for the times when you bought something and then it was, you know, yours..?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @12:07PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @12:07PM (#54912)

      You didn't buy it, you're leasing it for the low low price of $8 a month. Of course, you can buy your own, but they don't tell you that.

    • (Score: 2) by Tork on Friday June 13 2014, @04:23PM

      by Tork (3914) on Friday June 13 2014, @04:23PM (#55033)
      When did you buy a copy of the internet? Did it come on a floppy?
      --
      Slashdolt Logic: "23 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 14 2014, @12:43AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 14 2014, @12:43AM (#55156)

      You must be too young to remember the days of Ma Bell, when owning (or at least plugging in) your own phone was prohibited, meaning your only option - assuming you wanted a phone - was to rent a phone from the telco.

      This situation, at least in terms of ownership of the equipment, is similar, but not as bad, because (as far as I know, correct me if I'm wrong) all those Comcast customers are at least allowed to buy their own modems if they want to.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by clone141166 on Friday June 13 2014, @09:04AM

    by clone141166 (59) on Friday June 13 2014, @09:04AM (#54867)

    Pretty much the kind of idea I've come to expect from Comcast. If it's evil, exploitative and generally a bad idea you can bet Comcast is going to be involved.

    Ignoring the cable/wireless congestion issues, having random public users able to access and push traffic through your home router... that's not a disaster waiting to happen at all. I love that they are going to charge users an extra $6/month for the privilege of being exploited. Could Comcast possibly be any more evil?

    • (Score: 1) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @12:30PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @12:30PM (#54917)

      In exchange for allowing Comcast to configure your home router as a hotspot, you gain access to similar hotspots in other neighborhoods across the country. If this were a grass-roots initiative to add an Open Source SID to dd-wrt, share bandwidth for travelers, and stick it to the broadband monopolies, I think the response would be very different. After all, plenty of people run TOR nodes.

      Now, it's definitely shitty that Comcast has decided to 'just do' this, rather than explain the options to their customers and let the opt in-or-out of bandwidth sharing, but for the 99% of us who don't continuously saturate our upstream and downstream links, a second subnet with its own SID and no route to my own home network SID seems like a small inconvenience. Especially if it means I can use 'free' wifi rather than cell minutes when I'm visiting friends.

      • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Friday June 13 2014, @04:33PM

        by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Friday June 13 2014, @04:33PM (#55041) Homepage Journal

        Especially if it means I can use 'free' wifi rather than cell minutes when I'm visiting friends.

        Your "friends" won't let you use their signal? You have shitty "friends". You also have a shitty carrier, my minutes and data useage are unlimited, and I only pay $40 per month.

        --
        Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @01:10PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @01:10PM (#54930)

      > having random public users able to access and push traffic through your home router

      Are you sure?

      The public traffic is completely isolated from your traffic. It has its own bandwidth allocation and its own network. It can't get into your home network and you can't get onto the network it uses unless you connect to the public hotspot yourself.

      This is a non-issue. The only thing that comcast did wrong here is to fail to anticipate that people will over-react to anything they do because they are such a hated company.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by LookIntoTheFuture on Friday June 13 2014, @01:27PM

        by LookIntoTheFuture (462) on Friday June 13 2014, @01:27PM (#54935)

        I don't think it is an over-reaction. They may say that it is impossible to connect to your home network through an xfinitywifi AP, but, how do you know? Say a vulnerability is discovered that allows the two "networks" to talk to each other. Would it be fixed? Would you even find out about it? This is Comcast. They didn't become the most hated company for nothing. At the very least, this move decreases security for those who lease their equipment from Comcast.

        • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @01:52PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @01:52PM (#54945)

          > They may say that it is impossible to connect to your home network through an xfinitywifi AP, but, how do you know?

          Since CATV is a broadcast medium you can make the exact same argument about every other user on the segment. You can also argue that the router might also be vulnerable to attacks over the internet, such exploits have been discovered in off-the-shelf routers, and that would make you vulnerable to all potential attackers in the world rather than those who are just physically proximate.

          In other words your hypothetical is just one among many and while nothing is impossible the marginal increase in risk is quite small, certainly not in proportion to the level of freak-out.

          • (Score: 2) by LookIntoTheFuture on Friday June 13 2014, @03:24PM

            by LookIntoTheFuture (462) on Friday June 13 2014, @03:24PM (#54998)

            It is one more attack vector. That is all.

            • (Score: 3, Interesting) by LookIntoTheFuture on Friday June 13 2014, @03:46PM

              by LookIntoTheFuture (462) on Friday June 13 2014, @03:46PM (#55010)

              Well, maybe two. What's to stop someone from creating their own AP called xfinitywifi and capturing everything that is transmitted and received? A VPN would solve this, but how many people have actually even heard of it?

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @09:57PM

                by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @09:57PM (#55132)

                > What's to stop someone from creating their own AP called xfinitywifi and capturing everything that is transmitted and received?

                How is that any different from any other wifi network? Anyone can impersonate a wifi access point and snoop the traffic. Certainly that is not an increased risk to the guy with the router in his house.

    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Friday June 13 2014, @04:30PM

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Friday June 13 2014, @04:30PM (#55039) Homepage Journal

      Indeed (and not just Comcast, they're all sociopathis organizations). I dumped AT&T and got connected to Comcast when AT&T more than doubled the price, and my notebook wouldn't connect -- my own Cisco router was completely drowning out the Comcast router. With my own router I could get a signal on my phone 2 or 3 houses away, with the Comcast router it barely reaches the sidewalk by the street.

      So not only will I have a weak signal, it will be worse if others latch on to it. Odd, Comcast advertises their superior speed, but pages loaded faster on DSL (probably because of the cheap assed router).

      There was a silver lining to the Comcast router -- my Cisco was apparently spewing harmonics because when it was on I couldn't pick up channels 49 on my TV (I blame my cheap digital tuner that should be able to filter it out but doesn't).

      If you want to use your own router, you'll have to cover the Comcast router with foil, because the modem is built into the router and that's the only way to disable its wifi, short of vandalizing Comcast equipment by opening it and cutting the lead to the antennas.

      --
      Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
    • (Score: 1) by overtech on Friday June 13 2014, @08:55PM

      by overtech (2184) on Friday June 13 2014, @08:55PM (#55121)

      Not only that they will charge you a $8 a month to rent the router.

  • (Score: 2) by lhsi on Friday June 13 2014, @09:19AM

    by lhsi (711) on Friday June 13 2014, @09:19AM (#54871) Journal

    I'm sure BT have had something similar to this for a few years. The home router has two connections, one secured and the other one needing a log in that anyone can access. If you have one of these (or just a BT account, I'm not sure of the details), you can sign in to any of the ones that need a log in.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Jaruzel on Friday June 13 2014, @09:37AM

      by Jaruzel (812) on Friday June 13 2014, @09:37AM (#54874) Homepage Journal

      Yup, it's called FON. A typical BT HomeHub broadcasts two SSIDs, one is yours, and controlled by you, and the other is a FON public hotspot controlled by them. Anyone with a BT broadband account can use any FON hotspot they find, simply by connecting to it, and logging in with their FON credentials. The FON hotspot is bandwidth throttled, but the summaries point also applies, what about the customers electricity, and the frequency congestion ?

      I *think* the customer can turn of the FON hotspot, not sure tho, and certainly the people with it around me haven't.

      More info: https://www.btfon.com/ [btfon.com]

      -Jar

      --
      This is my opinion, there are many others, but this one is mine.
    • (Score: 2) by n1 on Friday June 13 2014, @12:33PM

      by n1 (993) on Friday June 13 2014, @12:33PM (#54918) Journal

      I may be behind the times, only found out about this the other week (BT isn't my ISP). I am worried how robust the security is though, really not a fan of using my router for public traffic, especially assuming it's on by default for those less technologically inclined.

      • (Score: 1) by present_arms on Friday June 13 2014, @03:01PM

        by present_arms (4392) on Friday June 13 2014, @03:01PM (#54982) Homepage Journal

        My sister is on BT and i used her FON hotspot just to test, and 2 different IPs according to whats my ip. used her account so it cost me nothing to find out

        --
        http://trinity.mypclinuxos.com/
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by mcgrew on Friday June 13 2014, @04:37PM

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Friday June 13 2014, @04:37PM (#55043) Homepage Journal

      The home router has two connections, one secured and the other one needing a log in that anyone can access.

      My own (now unused) router has two connections, but the non-network connection still needs a password. Of course, it would be easily configured to have no password.

      --
      Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @10:38AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13 2014, @10:38AM (#54888)

    they say that if somebody uses the public wifi part of your router that it will not effect the bandwidth you signed-up for.
    there's some new "multipath" TCP/IP thingy for Linux that allows to use multiple connections at the same time.
    so if your device has wifi, ethernet and 3G then the traffic can be "split-up" evenly over all those connections ...
    now let's see : )

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by bradley13 on Friday June 13 2014, @10:42AM

    by bradley13 (3053) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 13 2014, @10:42AM (#54889) Homepage Journal

    In principle, this is not a bad idea. The devil is in the details, and TFA is short on those.

    Having generally accessible wifi is a good idea. Given Comcast's massive presence in many cities, this could potentially provide city-wide public wifi. What's not to like?

    - Is Comcast smart enough to turn on only a few units in densely populated areas?

    - Does this impact the bandwidth of the individual customers, i.e., do they still get what they pay for?

    - Is private WLAN well-secured against public intrusion?

    - Can individual customers opt-out of providing public access?

    FWIW: I personally refuse to have a provider's router with wifi; I insist on a wired-only version. In one case, installing for a neighborhood sports club, the provider couldn't (or wouldn't) do this, so I physically unscrewed the antenna. Then I take a wired router, and put up my own WLAN access point behind it.

    --
    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
  • (Score: 0, Redundant) by Horse With Stripes on Friday June 13 2014, @11:08AM

    by Horse With Stripes (577) on Friday June 13 2014, @11:08AM (#54898)

    It's Crapcast, so I didn't RTFA.

    What about the IP address? Would any internet traffic coming from your new WiFi sharing hotspot use the same IP as your service? Is this plausible deniability for downloads, crank emails, etc?

  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday June 13 2014, @11:13AM

    by kaszz (4211) on Friday June 13 2014, @11:13AM (#54900) Journal

    A sheet of tin foil [timeinc.net] or metallic insect mesh and this issue is readily fixed ;-v

    Antenna removal is of course most efficient but mesh will do to and give you ventilation. So long ComCrap!

    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Friday June 13 2014, @04:41PM

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Friday June 13 2014, @04:41PM (#55045) Homepage Journal

      Comcast owns the router and you can bet if you open it up and disconnect the antenna, it's going to cost you when Comcast pisses you off enough to dump them. That $20 router will probably cost you $200. Tinfoil is the way to go; cover Comcast's router with foil and plug your own router into it.

      --
      Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Saturday June 14 2014, @02:01AM

        by kaszz (4211) on Saturday June 14 2014, @02:01AM (#55170) Journal

        Usually the antenna is external.. ;)

        • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Saturday June 14 2014, @04:34AM

          by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Saturday June 14 2014, @04:34AM (#55208) Homepage Journal

          Don't try to bullshit me, it's blinking at me now. Have you even seen a wifi router? NONE are external.

          Did I just bite trollbait?

          --
          Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
          • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Saturday June 14 2014, @04:59AM

            by kaszz (4211) on Saturday June 14 2014, @04:59AM (#55212) Journal

            Have a search on "WiFi router" and look at this example:
            WiFi router [ab9il.net]
            (They also tip on Yagi usage [ab9il.net])

            Certainly the models may differ and the antenna may be internal. But the case is still valid. Disable the antenna to get rid of the problem.

            • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Saturday June 14 2014, @01:44PM

              by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Saturday June 14 2014, @01:44PM (#55291) Homepage Journal

              Unfortunately your first link led to a 403, but the second was interesting. However, it was about range extenders rather than the routers themselves; in the photos there are two boxes, the router with and internal antenna and the extender with an external antenna attached to the extender.

              But yeah, just disable the antenna. If it isn't your hardware, well, Good ol' Mike to the rescue with his cage (did Faraday come up with that concept or was it just named after him? Radio was way after his time).

              --
              Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by TheCastro on Friday June 13 2014, @11:28AM

    by TheCastro (4449) on Friday June 13 2014, @11:28AM (#54903)

    but not easily. You have to call comcast and talk to someone in their IT department or tech support (not all of them know how to though) and they can disable the wi-fi for other comcast customers, I don't think it's truely "public wi-fi". I had all the comcast modem/routers wi-fi turned off because I use my own router and there's wasn't compatiable with the ones I was using to extend my network through out my house and around it. I live in the country so I don't really have a concern about others using my internet, but I was concerned about having competing routers in my house.

    • (Score: 2) by TheGratefulNet on Friday June 13 2014, @01:49PM

      by TheGratefulNet (659) on Friday June 13 2014, @01:49PM (#54942)

      are people missing the obvious, here?

      I signed up for comcast a year ago when I moved. I went to my computer store, bought one of the 2 'modems' that are recommended and I specifically made sure there was no wifi on it. that adds cost and no way I'd tie radio+router together on the comcast side of the lan. on MY side, I can do what I want and I run my own AP. they do not have access to it and its just another lan mac address station that they see, just like any other end node.

      you can return the combo box you rented from them and just buy your own docsis modem and get one that is just a router, not a router+radio.

      its just that simple. sure, you should not have to do this but then again, why would anyone get a combo box from the vendor when docsis (standards) was there to ALLOW you to buy your own gear and not have to go to the vendor like the olden days.

      even dsl is standard so you can buy any dsl modem and use it on your phone/dsl line. its stupid to rent from the ISP. that is a 10+ yr old business model that no one should be forced into anymore.

      --
      "It is now safe to switch off your computer."
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by GlennC on Friday June 13 2014, @02:07PM

        by GlennC (3656) on Friday June 13 2014, @02:07PM (#54956)

        You and I, along with many of the Soylentils and Slashbots, know to do this.

        Jane Doe and Joe Sixpack, however, don't. Comcast is taking advantage of this.

        As for me as a Time-Warner customer, I've put their equipment into bridge mode and put my own router and Wi-Fi in.

        --
        Sorry folks...the world is bigger and more varied than you want it to be. Deal with it.
        • (Score: 1) by jmc23 on Friday June 13 2014, @04:59PM

          by jmc23 (4142) on Friday June 13 2014, @04:59PM (#55048)

          You're missing the fact that Jane Doe and Joe Sixpack don't have irrational paranoid fears stuck up their ass and really don't give a shit.

          • (Score: 2) by LookIntoTheFuture on Friday June 13 2014, @07:20PM

            by LookIntoTheFuture (462) on Friday June 13 2014, @07:20PM (#55098)
            "You're missing the fact that Jane Doe and Joe Sixpack don't have irrational paranoid fears stuck up their ass and really don't give a shit."

            This is why things like identity theft are rampant. Good for them though. Fuck giving a shit about security.
            • (Score: 1) by jmc23 on Friday June 13 2014, @09:23PM

              by jmc23 (4142) on Friday June 13 2014, @09:23PM (#55125)

              The opposite is not always true.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by http on Friday June 13 2014, @03:17PM

    by http (1920) on Friday June 13 2014, @03:17PM (#54992)

    It's not a "public" hotspot. It's a "Comcast customer" hotspot. You log in to their network with your Comcast credentials. Now Comcast gets to track many of its customer's movements also.

    A similar project is underway in my town by the local cable monopoly. Judging from friends who use it, the coverage is both good and substantial. The poison pill is, it provides a mild "why bother" disincentive for businesses downtown to provide wifi. My inner paranoid curmudgeon says that tracking is the least of worries, that the real long term plan is to make running a genuine public no-login hotspot appear at least unusual, if not outrightly suspicious.

    I'm curious as to how Ios 8's new MAC randomization scheme will work with it.

    --
    I browse at -1 when I have mod points. It's unsettling.
    • (Score: 2) by joshuajon on Friday June 13 2014, @03:34PM

      by joshuajon (807) on Friday June 13 2014, @03:34PM (#55004)

      As I understand it the MAC randomization is only used for the network scanning. The wifi NIC probably transmits the correct MAC when actually connecting to a network. If that is not the case I sure hope this feature can be turned off.