ISP giant Comcast has quietly implemented a plan to turn its home Wifi routers into public hotspots. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, as it would allow their customers to get online easily over a much larger area, no longer confined to the environs of coffee shops and airports.
But Comcast has embarked on this sweeping effort without offering users anything in return for participating. They did not ask permission or even notify them. Beyond that, the corporation has not made the public hotspot easy to opt out of, or provided any clear, technically useful information on the service, such as addressing security risks or how it might affect the paying customer’s own bandwidth. Perhaps they don’t know, or have other reasons for not doing so – such as many people opting out.
Alongside with the home user’s private Wifi spot, the gateways set up a parallel public one for other Comcast customers, called “xfinitywifi“. These customers will be able to log in for free using a smartphone, tablet, or other enabled device. And once they do, they’ll be automatically logged into all others also called “xfinitywifi”. What could go wrong? Potentially, quite a lot, apparently.
Comcast apparently began rolling out the service this summer, first testing it in Houston, but it is in effect in other major urban markets by now. So far there’s been little outcry, possibly because Comcast has been very quiet about it. Although serious issues have been raised about the service, answers have not been easily forthcoming. So many questions, in fact, that a class-action lawsuit has already been filed to stop the industry giant.
It’s not clear, for example, how this public hotspot affects paying customers’ service. It might slow it down and even interfere with the signal. And there are also significant security issues. What if a bad guy parks outside and uses it for illegal purposes? It’s not even clear that the home user could be distinguished from any other on the network, not to mention questions of actual liability.
Also, such a system would be just as vulnerable to spoofing and man-in-the-middle attacks as AT&Ts Wi-fi system, which we’ve previously warned about (after performing tests that indicate just how open it is). Disabling it is not easy, and may require Comcast’s technical cooperation. It is important to realize however, that the public Wifi network setup is limited to home users who use Wifi. And so far, only Arris TG852G or TG862G gateways have it implemented. Possibly the simplest advice for Comcast users who wish not to provide a hotspot to passers-by is to buy their own compatible router and not use one from the company.
The real problem with this whole scheme is not the intention but the high-handed arrogant corporate strategizing that leaves the home user, their main customers, in the dark. That’s one distinct advantage local ISPs have over their bigger cousins. Smaller providers like Southwest Cyberport not only deal with the giant corporations on behalf of customers, we know who pays our bills. Therefore when we furnish highspeed broadband like LightSpeed, you get exactly what you pay for.