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posted by martyb on Saturday May 14 2016, @06:43PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the sudden-outbreak-of-common-sense dept.

Ars Technica has an article about Linksys committing to maintaining open source firmware usage for the WRT series of routers. This is a follow up to a previous story that ran when the original announcement regarding FCC (Federal Communications Commission) enforcement of 5.8 Ghz part 15 device requirements came out. At least there remains one well known product that decided to implement the requirement in a way that is consumer modification friendly. From the article:

Any 5GHz routers sold on or after June 2 must include security measures that prevent these types of changes. But router makers can still allow loading of open source firmware as long as they also deploy controls that prevent devices from operating outside their allowed frequencies, types of modulation, power levels, and so on.

This takes more work than simply locking out third-party firmware entirely, but Linksys, a division of Belkin, made the extra effort. On and after June 2, newly sold Linksys WRT routers will store RF parameter data in a separate memory location in order to secure it from the firmware, the company says. That will allow users to keep loading open source firmware the same way they do now.

[Continues...]

Though I disagree with this notion

Although Linksys has proven that open source firmware can still be used under the new FCC rules, it's clear that options for open source users will be more limited than they are today. Kaloz wishes the FCC had taken a different approach, one focused on punishing people who cause interference without preventing legitimate uses of network hardware.

Is the suggestion that the Doppler weather radar in use at airports is less important than getting cat pictures from the comfort of your couch and not having to run an extra Ethernet cable? Because Delta Flight 191 is why these airport Doppler weather radar systems exist at all. Do we punish before or after the crash? As well I don't think there is an appreciation for just how hard it is to find malfunctioning transmitters: it can be done but with significant amounts of work. The FCC is not funded for this level of enforcement right now. Everyone must share the very finite electromagnetic spectrum. I don't have a problem giving life and safety critical systems priority over cat videos.

As a quick experiment locate your WiFi router and check the verbiage. I'm sure everyone has seen the part 15 text but probably never paid attention to it. You will find This device may not cause harmful interference as well as this device must accept any interference received. That's because the weather radar, by design, gets to break you but you don't get to break it.


Original Submission

Related Stories

The Accident which Made the WRT54G Legendarily Popular 15 comments

Ernie Smith, an editor at Tedium, has explored the historical events which led to the Linksys WRT54G router becoming so popular. It rose to fame because of an undocumented feature which, once discovered, led to great interest in the wider ICT [*] community.

Mikas caught something interesting, but something that shouldn’t have been there. This was an oversight on the part of Cisco, which got an unhappy surprise about a popular product sold by its recent acquisition just months after its release. Essentially, what happened was that one of their suppliers apparently got a hold of Linux-based firmware, used it in the chips supplied to the company by Broadcom, and failed to inform Linksys, which then sold the software off to Cisco.

In a 2005 column for Linux Insider, Heather J. Meeker, a lawyer focused on issues of intellectual property and open-source software, wrote that this would have been a tall order for Cisco to figure out on its own:

The first takeaway from this case is the difficulty of doing enough diligence on software development in an age of vertical disintegration. Cisco knew nothing about the problem, despite presumably having done intellectual property diligence on Linksys before it bought the company. But to confound matters, Linksys probably knew nothing of the problem either, because Linksys has been buying the culprit chipsets from Broadcom, and Broadcom also presumably did not know, because it in turn outsourced the development of the firmware for the chipset to an overseas developer.

To discover the problem, Cisco would have had to do diligence through three levels of product integration, which anyone in the mergers and acquisitions trade can tell you is just about impossible. This was not sloppiness or carelessness—it was opaqueness.

Bruce Perens, a venture capitalist, open-source advocate, and former project leader for the Debian Linux distribution, told LinuxDevices that Cisco wasn’t to blame for what happened, but still faced compliance issues with the open-source license.

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Nerdfest on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:04PM

    by Nerdfest (80) on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:04PM (#346137)

    I get the distinct impression that claiming that there are enough people modding routers to interfere with radar is an excuse. If this was a big enough problem, they would actually be putting out public notices and tracking down people boosting signals and changing frequency bands. I can't help but feel this is purely about ensuring all routers have NSA approved firmware.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:22PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:22PM (#346140)

      It just requires the FCC wanted to expand the scope of their jurisdiction, just like they have in the past.

      That is the problem with bureacracy, it is like a cancer that wants to take over the whole of the organism without consideration of the consequence that it will die when the hosts stops functioning sufficiently to provide it sustenance.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:33PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:33PM (#346144)

      Their 'solution' is total bullshit, too. Instead of doing what you suggested and just hunting down the people who boost their signals beyond what is allowed, they mandate something that probably causes a lot of collateral damage. This isn't exactly surprising, since the government has a track record of doing this (like with mass surveillance).

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Scruffy Beard 2 on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:44PM

      by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030) on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:44PM (#346147)

      Am I the only one that tries to reduce my power output instead of increasing it in the face of interference from nearby neighbours?

      I have found that Netgear equipment does not really have an option for doing that.

  • (Score: 2) by bitstream on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:23PM

    by bitstream (6144) on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:23PM (#346141) Journal

    What kind of limitations will these new FCC protections cause in devices that still allow user loaded firmware? And if RF parameters are located in a separate block. What prevents the firmware or other means to point the machine loading to another section or simple "poke" (outb) the RF unit directly? There's some essentials missing in the summary.

    Any thanks Linksys. Good work *thumbs up*
    Let's hope the free market will enlighten the other manufacturers (TP-Link etc).

    Imre Kaloz, a key OpenWrt developer says, "have been made by lawyers who had not too much technical knowledge." (arstechnica.com). Guess radio amateurs that have permission for altered RF parameters just lost a cheap way to accomplish their mission.

    Btw, what kind of unit is "Ghz"? The only unit science uses is GHz for frequencies.

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 14 2016, @08:57PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 14 2016, @08:57PM (#346160)

      There's some essentials missing in the summary.

      Hmm ... maybe the details are in TFA? It's called a summary for a reason: it answers sum questions.

  • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:38PM

    by RamiK (1813) on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:38PM (#346145)

    Then Faraday cage the terminals and forbid boarding with any electronic devices. Even with all the budget in the world, the FCC has no jurisdiction outside the US so foreign bought devices could still operate outside the allocated bandwidth and interfere with safety equipment.

    --
    compiling...
    • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Saturday May 14 2016, @10:11PM

      by JNCF (4317) on Saturday May 14 2016, @10:11PM (#346183) Journal

      Hmm, I wonder how well sensitive electronics function on the inside of an ungrounded Faraday cage that has other electronic devices bombarding the outer surface. I believe that the inner and outer surfaces are supposed to easily affect each other if the cage isn't grounded, but I don't know the details. Somebody who has a better idea of how fucking magnets work should correct me if I'm wrong, or explain that what I'm talking about isn't going to be strong enough to mess anything up under normal airplane conditions.

      • (Score: 1) by Arik on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:36AM

        by Arik (4543) on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:36AM (#346217) Journal
        "I believe that the inner and outer surfaces are supposed to easily affect each other if the cage isn't grounded" [citation needed]
        --
        If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by RamiK on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:54AM

        by RamiK (1813) on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:54AM (#346223)

        The whole point is to isolate the internal electromagnetic field from external fields. Since the internal field of a conductor is zero, the exterior for a conductive sphere will take the point charge. That is, nothing will get through.
        Here: video.mit.edu/watch/faradays-cage-3625/

        As for the grounding, it's purely a safety and regulatory issue. The charges will still arrange on the external surface so the internal field will still be isolated.

        --
        compiling...
        • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Sunday May 15 2016, @06:24PM

          by JNCF (4317) on Sunday May 15 2016, @06:24PM (#346492) Journal

          The whole point is to isolate the internal electromagnetic field from external fields. Since the internal field of a conductor is zero, the exterior for a conductive sphere will take the point charge. That is, nothing will get through.

          This is hyperbole, as I'm sure you're aware. Compasses work inside of faraday cages. A strong enough field will get through.

          As for the grounding, it's purely a safety and regulatory issue. The charges will still arrange on the external surface so the internal field will still be isolated.

          But the charge will stay on the outside surface of the ungrounded cage. If it were grounded, the charge would quickly disperse into the ground. My understanding - rightly or wrongly - is that the electromagnetism on the outside surface affects the electromagnetism on the inside surface, and viceversa. This basically doesn't happen with a grounded cage because the electrons don't stay long enough to matter. I'm totally open to being wrong, but I'm not convinced that I am from the video you linked. In the video, there is no significant charge on the inside surface of the ungrounded faraday cage. To show the interaction I'm talking about, you would need a significant source of electromagnetism inside of the cage as well. I'm not at all surprised that the foil on Benjamin Franklin wasn't visibly disturbed.

          • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Monday May 16 2016, @07:38AM

            by RamiK (1813) on Monday May 16 2016, @07:38AM (#346738)

            hyperbole, as I'm sure you're aware.

            Without going into the static vs. dynamic models, I can generalize and say it's a force so a huge field like the earth's will need a huge power source to cancel out completely in low frequencies. Regardless, here's a static analysis: https://people.maths.ox.ac.uk/trefethen/chapman_hewett_trefethen.pdf [ox.ac.uk]

            the charge would quickly disperse into the ground.

            When saying grounding, we're talking about standard PEN earthing systems... Not a physical pole stuck in the ground. There's a regulatory 5-20Ohm between the ground electrode and the power source. But it's a complicated subject so instead, lets simplify our model and say we're not grounding the power source by using coils (like an arc welder). That will mean the circuit never closes through the ground if touching the cage. It's not actually how emp shielding is done in practice but it's the most I'm willing to cover in a single paragraph. You can look up the real circuitry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthing_system [wikipedia.org] .

            --
            compiling...
        • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Sunday May 15 2016, @06:44PM

          by JNCF (4317) on Sunday May 15 2016, @06:44PM (#346496) Journal

          Here's an interesting on-topic excerpt from the Feynman Lectures, via user atyy on an also on-topic physicsforums.com discussion [physicsforums.com]:

          http://www.feynmanlectures.info/flp_errata.html "Volume II, page 5-9 now says
          “…no static distribution of charges inside a closed grounded conductor can produce any [electric] fields outside” (the word grounded was omitted in previous editions). This second error was pointed out to Feynman by a number of readers, including Beulah Elizabeth Cox, a student at The College of William and Mary, who had relied on Feynman’s erroneous passage in an exam. To Ms. Cox, Feynman wrote in 1975,[1] “Your instructor was right not to give you any points, for your answer was wrong, as he demonstrated using Gauss’s law. You should, in science, believe logic and arguments, carefully drawn, and not authorities. You also read the book correctly and understood it. I made a mistake, so the book is wrong. I probably was thinking of a grounded conducting sphere, or else of the fact that moving the charges around in different places inside does not affect things on the outside. I am not sure how I did it, but I goofed. And you goofed, too, for believing me.”"

  • (Score: 2) by jmorris on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:53PM

    by jmorris (4844) on Saturday May 14 2016, @07:53PM (#346149)

    The vendors are using this excuse to do what they want to anyway. Think it through, just how much does it cost to put the country specific params into the radio? Every PC WiFi adapter manages to avoid this problem, tablets aren't causing problems, even when rooted. If the only way to make a WiFi capable device safe was to seal it up entirely then the PC would be illegal, open source itself would be banned, etc.

    But yea, in the end open source, software defined radio and top down spectrum management are indeed on a collision course. And no I don't have an answer.

    • (Score: 2) by Arik on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:30AM

      by Arik (4543) on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:30AM (#346214) Journal
      "But yea, in the end open source, software defined radio and top down spectrum management are indeed on a collision course. And no I don't have an answer."

      Top down spectrum management is, of course, walking dead.

      It'll kick and scream and throw a lot of tauntrums, it will do a lot of damage, but it's still doomed. This and every attempt change that will cause real problems for legit users while at best minimally slowing down black-hats.

      --
      If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Appalbarry on Saturday May 14 2016, @08:05PM

    by Appalbarry (66) on Saturday May 14 2016, @08:05PM (#346151) Journal

    Admittedly have not gone and researched micro-bursts and Doppler radar, but "Is the suggestion that the Doppler weather radar in use at airports is less important than getting cat pictures from the comfort of your couch and not having to run an extra Ethernet cable? Because Delta Flight 191 is why these airport Doppler weather radar systems exist at all. Do we punish before or after the crash?" is just plain over the top.

    Did I miss the story where some guy with a modified home router actually came close to bringing down a commercial airliner? Or am I confusing it with the guy who turned on his cel phone on the plane and came close to bringing down a commercial airliner?

    I certainly have enough years in broadcasting to understand that interference happens, and can come from unexpected places.

    I'll even go so far as to say there are valid reasons why any radio transmitting devices bigger than a Disney microphone need have standards and regulations to prevent interference.

    But there are a multitude of good, solid, everyday issues to demonstrate the need for regs - we don't need to conflate things to imaginary plane crashes to make the point.

    • (Score: 2) by bitstream on Saturday May 14 2016, @08:30PM

      by bitstream (6144) on Saturday May 14 2016, @08:30PM (#346154) Journal

      Want to bet on near crashes or is it fine to avoid go into the Murphy around the corner territory?

      Both smartphones and Linksys obviously have a solution. So it's possible to have both locked radio parameters and open source USE of the packets transceived.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Hairyfeet on Sunday May 15 2016, @05:55AM

      by Hairyfeet (75) <bassbeast1968NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday May 15 2016, @05:55AM (#346323) Journal

      I'd say if a home router can take down an airliner? We got bigger problems than home routers, like fixing our fricking planes!

      Of course I'm sure many others smell the bullshit as well as I do, I'm betting its just a way for them to try to insure every router sold in the US is pre-backdoored for our STASI...err "homeland security agencies". My guess is in a year or two some hacker will announce "all the routers are backdoored" and release code which will let black hats have a fucking field day and our government will just go "La la la, can't hear you" and pretend it wasn't them that did it.

      --
      ACs are never seen so don't bother. Always ready to show SJWs for the racists they are.
  • (Score: 2) by Rich on Saturday May 14 2016, @09:20PM

    by Rich (945) on Saturday May 14 2016, @09:20PM (#346164) Journal

    Could anyone with a solid understanding of the physics enlighten me a bit? As I understand it, with an omnidirectional antenna (as routers should have?!), the radiated energy evenly spreads into three dimensions. Therefore, reception energy at a certain distance would be the product of the radiated energy times the third root of the distance to the receiver.

    Which would mean, even at the maximum power the antenna drivers can cope with (in the tens, or maybe low hundred milliwatt range), the effective range of the sender would be hardly larger (e.g. much less than a magnitude) than at its regular power. So moving the router closer to any "threatened installation" would be much more of a danger than the piddly increase of broadcast power?

    Do I misunderstand that, or is it in fact like I imagine?

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by c0lo on Saturday May 14 2016, @10:04PM

      by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Saturday May 14 2016, @10:04PM (#346178) Journal

      It's only square root - Gauss law says that the flux of energy from any closed surface matches the total energy emitted. As such, if assuming the energy distributes evenly of the surface of a sphere sphere surrounding the emitter, as the surface of the sphere increases with the square power of its radius, the flux received by any surface element of that sphere decreases with the square root of the radius.

      Some more detalls:
      1. the energy is also absorbed, so you want to modulate the square root formula with an exponential decay. Not much of absorption in pure air but it will be non-negligible for a rainy day
      2. it's very easy to transform an omnidirectional router in an unidirectional one: see cantenna [wikipedia.org]. I imagine that if the emitted power level and frequency can be varied, a router could be easily and cheaply modified into a jamming device.

      --
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
      • (Score: 2) by Rich on Sunday May 15 2016, @02:21AM

        by Rich (945) on Sunday May 15 2016, @02:21AM (#346250) Journal

        Ah yes. I mixed that up with the nuclear blast calculations we've got to deal with from time to time on here; there the energy gets absorbed along the way, while radio waves (mostly, with your mentioned exceptions) flow freely and only spread out on the growing sphere (or whatever pattern a particular antenna gives). Obvious in retrospect.

        Now, to put the numbers together, do you (or anyone reading) know what power limits are imposed by the software and what power the chipsets (or complete routers) are actually capable of? That'd give us a grasp on the actual severity of the issue; even with "only" square root distance and the exponential decay, a fourfold increase in power would less than double the range, which i wouldn't consider very frightening, given that WLAN already degrades when moving two rooms away from the AP.

        (And no, Pringles cantennas don't count in the calculations, as they're not covered by the software limitations we discuss here : )

    • (Score: 2) by Scruffy Beard 2 on Saturday May 14 2016, @10:10PM

      by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030) on Saturday May 14 2016, @10:10PM (#346182)

      Real antennas are not isotropic. The antenna "gain" you see on data-sheets refers to how much the antenna radiates in a specific direction over an isotropic antenna.

      And the received power diminishes in proportion to the surface area of the sphere of radiation, not the volume.

    • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:40AM

      by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:40AM (#346220) Homepage Journal

      An omnidirectional antenna's broadcast pattern is more like a donut than a sphere. That is, the base and the tip if the antenna don't transmit as much as the length of the antenna. But, visualizing the broadcast pattern as a sphere isn't going to make a huge difference to your statement.

      --
      Taking bets: When does Biden's approval rating reach 15%?
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by VLM on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:36PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Sunday May 15 2016, @12:36PM (#346396)

      That's not too far off but there's other problems.

      One is relative distance problems. So one due with a bluetooth earpiece 100 feet away from the dish at the nexrad site has a zillion times stronger signal than someone 30 miles away (probably below the horizon) with a 30 dB illegal amplifier. This comes up a lot with "RF causes teh cancer" discussions where the RF from a neuron a tiny fraction of a mm away is much stronger than a phone a couple inches away.

      Another problem is freq band, I mostly use 5 ghz at home because my phone and access point support it and it seems much less congested. There is a small problem with interfering with nexrad in that nexrad is "S-band" and my home wifi is I guess in "C-band". As a side note its funny that when I started out in electronics all the textbooks and stuff were apologetic "sorry about using the legacy WW2 classified radar band names but that was only 30 years ago so gimme a Fing break" and here it is 2016 and people still drop band names in casual conversation. Anyway, much like an AM broadcast transmitter doesn't interfere too much with TV reception or whatever aside from anecdotes about front end overload or IMD products, there isn't a very serious concern. Like two airplanes crossing paths but one is in the landing pattern at a thousand feet over the airport and the other is passing thru at flight level 350, there really isn't a serious danger of collision.

      Modulation is an issue. The nexrad scientists have a fascination with weird polarization, and your wifi is unlikely to be interesting. "unjamable" military spread spectrum radar works about the same way. I donno the nexrad modulation scheme and filtering scheme but its probably too smart to jam. Remember, wifi and microwave ovens and ISM band in general was not invented yesterday although thats a journalistically useful false belief. Its not a new issue and not a real problem.

      Technical skill is an interesting problem. Most people dumb enough to break the law and use illegal amps instead of better antennas are probably too dumb to use the amp correctly and are going to distort the output such that they get a very loud unusable signal, which makes the problem kind of self limiting. The problem with CB linears is the modulation scheme and general technology is tolerant of shitty amp design making cheap interference producing CB linears a profitable industry sector. Not so much wifi, for a variety of boring EE reasons. You can't just stick an old bipolar transistor biased class C on a wifi and expect to decode the other end, just don't work that way.

      The final problem is directivity. If your antenna can point down to a fraction of a degree like a nexrad, the worst a non-military attacker can do is make a funky looking spear along that one specific bearing. If you have megawatts and billions of dollars budget THEN a military ECM pod can generate insane interference levels at megawatt power outputs to make noise on the radar. I could try to jam my local nexrad and I've got the gear and knowledge to do it but it'll show up as a line going over my house when they zoom in... how long would I last, maybe a couple hours or days at most? And operationally a line does nothing. If you have a team of a hundred jammers working together probably half are FBI or Saudi agents anyway so you got non-technical issues. Its just not feasible as an overall systemic attack.

  • (Score: 2) by dltaylor on Saturday May 14 2016, @11:49PM

    by dltaylor (4693) on Saturday May 14 2016, @11:49PM (#346207)

    They implemented a usable solution for changing the firmware, by preserving all of the radio control data.

    The headline should be "Linksys WRT Routers have workaround for FCC rules and open source firmware".

    • (Score: 2) by dmc on Sunday May 15 2016, @03:42AM

      by dmc (188) on Sunday May 15 2016, @03:42AM (#346268)

      +1, glad to see at least one comment nailed what motivated me to log in after reading the daily digest. There is some whack psyop media/journalism spin going on with respect to technology security especially when the FCC is involved. Specifically, it is the word 'despite' in the headline that makes it a BS headline. One could better substitute the words 'complying with' for 'despite'. But perhaps the submitter tried that first and ran into a silly headline maxlength situation... I mean f'ing seriously folks - "company makes relatively minor extra effort" did not need to be sensationalized here, unless... someone is trying to spin something to diseducate the public (or succeed in getting a few extra clickbait headline victims). Do I smell the NSA around here somewhere...

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 16 2016, @10:11PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 16 2016, @10:11PM (#347057)

        It seems to me that there are many more people who will defend the FCC to the death, even when they violate the constitution and/or write rules that end up affecting many innocent people in a negative way. There are, of course, workarounds for these rules, but in practice, this will reduce the amount of routers that allow you to install your own firmware.