Cablevision Follows Comcast Down The Compulsory WiFi Hotspot Rabbit Hole

from the hot damn dept

Less than a year ago, Comcast was sued over its WiFi hotspot program, which essentially turned residential customers into hotspots for other Comcast customers or hotspot subscribers. Comcast used this to make a great deal of money off of its own residential customers. The problem was that Comcast didn’t see the need to have customers opt-in to this program and was perfectly happy using customers’ electricity and, in some cases, bandwidth to power the service. That and the fact that the opt-out settings on the router controls were given to bouts of amnesia made the company look pretty crappy, but, hey, you know, Comcast.

Well, now it appears that Cablevision will find itself fighting in court over the exact same thing. Paul Jensen, a Cablevision customer, has sued the company on grounds that it violated the CFAA, gained unjust enrichment, and trespassed.

Consequently, unsuspecting customers who used Cablevision as their internet service provider now had “outsiders” piggybacking off their home Wi-Fi networks once individuals were within the range of the signal emanating from their home. Jensen contends that Cablevision never asked for his consent to use his home network to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. Jensen also points out that Cablevision’s customer contract never mentions the existence of the secondary network they are providing to the public when they leased a router to him.

Not only did Cablevision act without his authorization, Jenson further asserts the company’s actions have compromised his internet speed, put him at greater security risk and increased his electricity costs.

Why any company thought it could get away with something like this without legal blowback is completely beyond me, but why Cablevision thought it could skate after Comcast already faced legal action is a complete mystery. Like many other ISPs, Cablevision makes good money in renting routers and modems to customers. (Update: as our always helpful and informative comment section has pointed out, Cablevision supplies their smart router for the hotspot service free to ISP customers, though that doesn’t change the rest of the post). This sort of news should serve to do nothing other than compel anyone who wishes to remain a Cablevision customer to buy their own router and modem. All because Cablevision couldn’t be bothered to properly inform customers of the plan and give them an option to opt-out?

Oh, and as for that opt-out ability:

This increased traffic also heightens the residential customer’s security risk since strangers are connecting to the internet through the same wireless router, Jensen says. He says when he called Cablevision to request that they remedy the situation, he was told that the wireless router he paid Cablevision to use could not have the Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspot feature turned off.

“Cablevision configures the routers it leases to consumers so that the Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspot cannot be disabled. Thus, consumers wishing to opt out of broadcasting a secondary Wi-Fi network from their homes are left with no recourse other than to buy an entirely new wireless router, costing anywhere from $50 to $200.” the complaint says.

Charging Giving customers for equipment that can’t opt-out of a service that only enriches the seller, not the customer? That sounds more like a pyramid scheme than an ISP to me.

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Companies: cablevision, comcast

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Comments on “Cablevision Follows Comcast Down The Compulsory WiFi Hotspot Rabbit Hole”

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76 Comments
Anonymoussays:

US vs Europe...

My ISP recently has implemented a similar system. Differences? Well, starting from the fact that it’s 100% opt-in and all users that opted in can use any thus-generated hotspot for free. There’s also a nice perk: 10% increase of offered speed… a real, measurable[] one instead of one on paper.

[] That said, the accuracy of my ISP’s speed limits is somewhat questionable, as I regularly clock in at 180/39Mbps instead of 120/30Mbps that I pay for.

Richardsays:

One thing gained

Charging customers for equipment that can’t opt-out of a service that only enriches the seller, not the customer?

One thing the customer does gain is another option for plausible deniability when faced with a copyright infringement accusation based on an ip address.

Yes I know that it is supposed to be configured so that the address of the party accessing the hotspot wil show up rather than the hotspot host BUT that assumes that all the s/w is working correctly – and how likely is that?

rasz_plsays:

Re: Re: One thing gained

One thing the customer does gain is another option for ?
>plausible deniability when faced with a copyright
>infringement accusation based on an ip address.

No. It doesnt work like this. Hotspot network is an additional, SEPARATE, VLANed one. Traffic goes thru different IP, doesnt count towards data caps (its us so Im assuming there are caps), and you need to login using unique identifier.

Roger Strongsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: One thing gained

Hotspot network is an additional, SEPARATE, VLANed one. Traffic goes thru different IP,

Which is why when police track someone sharing child porn to that IP, and they ask Cablevision for it’s physical address and they’re handed YOUR physical address, you’ll be able to defend yourself in court.

Sure, police will give you the pavement taste test, you’ll be perp-walked in front of the local press and you’ll be bankrupted by legal fees. But you’ll have nothing to worry about in court.

Richardsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: One thing gained

No. It doesnt work like this. Hotspot network is an additional, SEPARATE, VLANed one. Traffic goes thru different IP, doesnt count towards data caps (its us so Im assuming there are caps), and you need to login using unique identifier.

Yes – but as I said ASSUMING that the s/w is all working correctly that is ….

streetlightsays:

Re: Re: One thing gained

If I remember correctly, for Comcast the hotspot address is different from that of the household’s address. Furthermore, the user must sign in to the hotspot using their Comcast account so if Comcast is keeping records they can know who used the hotspot, when and for how long.

Sheogorathsays:

Re: Re:

As a reminder, why the hell should people have to pay up to $200 extra for what the cable company is contractually obliged to supply? The obligation may be only to provide a router (depending on the contract), but the expectation of the customer deciding its security level is heavily implied and is understood by both parties.

Mason Wheelersays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As a reminder, why the hell should people have to pay up to $200 extra for what the cable company is contractually obliged to supply?

Because, as AC pointed out, they aren’t obligated to supply it for free, and given the rental rates they tend to charge, buying your own router will almost certainly pay for itself pretty quickly. Given that, why would anyone not want to buy their own?

PlagueSDsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yep. I purchased my own cable modem. Paid about $120 for it. It’s already paid for itself 5 times in saved lease charges from my ISP.

I also have a separate wifi router. That way I know I control the security settings. The ISP can change any setting they want on you modem when they configure it for their network.

New Mexico Marksays:

Re: Re:

I recommend (where possible) owning / managing your own modem/router. The biggest downside is that if you are technically competent, you will find yourself near apoplexy as the first tier support insists on trying to re-troubleshoot your internal network for obvious ISP issues.

I recently spent 45 minutes on the phone with TimeWarner (India, apparently). I told them the problem, the root cause, and the solution in the first minute of the call. The rest of the time was spent fighting their asinine attempts to troubleshoot my internal network (which I had done through different procedures already). When I finally got a second tier support on the line, it took about two minutes for him to note the ALARM on the circuit, and apply the solution that I had recommended at the beginning of the call. They would neither confirm nor deny the root cause (changes earlier that day in my neighborhood that knocked service out for a while), but I’m pretty certain that was correct too.

I guess the positive part of this is that if I didn’t own my own equipment, I would be completely at the mercy of their clueless technicians. That is truly a nightmare scenario.

And yes, I tried the “shibboleet” backdoor several times with no success.

sumquysays:

am i the only one who doesn’t have a problem with this?

the complaint itself is just riddled with factual errors. like he keeps insisting that the router connected to “his” network. my understanding is that this is a separate network that shares an access node. not the same thing. as for the electricity costs, what is that? a dollar a month?

i feel that people often complain about anything, and if you add a dose of ignorance, they start claiming moral authority too!

Berenerdsays:

Re: Re:

The router has 2 DMZs. One for the Customer and one for the roaming customer. This DMZ can be breached almost as easily (At least the comcast ones) as WEP keys. If the user was doing home banking and investment or working from home, information can easily be accessed. Not only that but there is no Metering. A roamer could quite literally take all of your bandwidth. You would call Comcast and complain and they would say “There is nothing wrong on their end, it must be you” and you would be unable to prove otherwise.

AWsays:

Re: Re:

So a company with a government provided monopoly of the only viable source of “high speed” internet can force you to either purchase your own equipment in addition to paying for their equipment or let their equipment cost you extra money with no benefit to you and you don’t have a problem with this? There is something fundamentally broken in you. Especially for someone touting a Guy Fawkes mask. You’re either a troll or a waste. This is exactly the kind of thing you should be complaining about. It’s not about losing your favorite flavor of coffee at the convenience store. It’s a new vector of attack, it exposes you legally, limits your bandwidth, and costs you money.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

Even if it is an extra dollar a month, that’s an extra dollar a month he shouldn’t be paying. 12 bucks a year may not sound like much, but I’m sure that most people could think of something else to do with it than pay for their cable company to let other people use their internet. Which, as mentioned, can also slow their internet down. Admittedly I’d need to do more research on what router they use to be sure, but most likely they’re simply using a router that can offer two networks at once. This is becoming fairly common in modern routers so people can have their home network, and offer a guest network for visitors. Such routers don’t have two internet connects though, meaning someone watching HD videos on Netflix using their connection would be chewing up their bandwidth, and I’m skeptical that Cablevision is giving it’s customers sufficient bandwidth to account for that.

Plus even if they are using a router that offers two wi-fi IDs, it still means other people connecting to their router. If there’s a security flaw that lets people gain control of the router, they’ll be able to get access to their network as well. This is a risk that Cablevision is refusing to let such customers choose to decline.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

I don’t have a problem with it. I think they are actually in a better footing than Comcast. Cablevision could easily argue that the pennies of electricity used is consideration for the free router. I honestly do not know anything about the router but I do find it hard to believe there is a major difference in the power consumption between 1 and 2 wifi chips in the router. I do have concerns about the security end of things. It is possible to design it securely so that the 2 networks are in no way connected but the track record of consumer facing routers and security is dismal.

Anonymous Cowardsays:

Not only is this lawsuit flawed, but so is this Techdirt article about it, as the author seems to have spent 0 min on researching any facts (and it’s clear how this is NOT Mike).

Fact: Cablevision provides their customers an OPTIONAL router at NO ADDITIONAL CHARGE. It’s not “leased” or “rented” to the customer, at all. This makes it quite clear who has sole ownership interest in this piece of equipment: Cablevision, and noone else. If the plantiff didn’t pay for any of the equipment or the bandwidth, and clings to an opaque notion that some portion of the electricity is somehow used for any function of the device that is not directly involved in delivering service to him, he has another one coming, once his “technical experts” discover that cable modems and digital settop boxes do a whole lotta things 24/7 that may or may not be related to his service. Mom! Mom! Mom! It downloaded a new program guide for channels I don’t watch without my permission, whee-whaaa!

Fact: (as someone who has seen the config setup for a customer) third parties do not join the customer’s wireless network (SSID). At all. All idle and spewing-from-the-mouth speculation about third parties compromising the security of a customers network are just that: spewing madly from the mouth, in a vacuum of facts. It’s a different SSID, the traffic leaves the CV SmartRouter via a different IP and NAT than the customer’s LAN.

Fact: bandwidth for the “optimumwifi” SSID is reserved separately and beyond what the customer is getting “up to”. In CV-land, that means the customer is getting MORE than what is advertised. As CV is operating with 8×2 and 8×3 DOCSIS channels throughout their footprint, delivering up to 300Mbps downstream, there’s no reasonable way to construe that this is slowing down the customer’s access (which tops out at 101 Mbps downstream advertised, thank you very much). General concerns about the totality of bandwidth in a node being lower due to Optimum WIFI traffic are as speculative and fictitious as they come: you could as well speculate on whether 2-3 more customers in the node stream Netflix in SuperHD, adding 20-30 Mbps of usage at random times, or 3 more people downloading a 40GB PS4 game the day it’s released: bandwidth on the node doesn’t belong to the sub, and the sub is not entitled to any of it, nor is he entitled to see the “network management” side of how the cable system operates. Seriously.

Derek Kertonsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Found the corporate shill.”

Baloney.

Please study up the difference between somebody arguing the corporation’s point of view with accurate facts and data versus someone spouting BS from the corporate PR dept.

Whether the above Anonymous Coward is on the Cablevision payroll or not does not change the fact that he added a lot of correct info to the discussion.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who posts a strawman like ” he has another one coming, once his “technical experts” discover that cable modems and digital settop boxes do a whole lotta things 24/7 that may or may not be related to his service. Mom! Mom! Mom! It downloaded a new program guide for channels I don’t watch without my permission, whee-whaaa!” while defending their company is a shill. Particularly with the ad hominem he mixes in.

Furthermore, while his information may be accurate he provides no references to verify what he says. I have little cause to just take his word for it.

Finally, in my experience the only people who get so worked up defending a company are either fanboys or shills. Normal employees of companies tend to be more level and grounded in their defense of their employer, rather than going on angry rants.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Oh, I’ve seen bigger rants sure. But like I said, usually when I see someone defending their company, they’re usually more level and coherent, up front about saying they work for they company, etc. And they don’t say non-sequiturs like “and it’s clear how this is NOT Mike” when the article says right at the start “by Timothy Geigner”. That sort of inability to grasp that the articles on Techdirt are normally written by different people is something I usually only see out of the resident trolls.

Add in him calling the person filing the lawsuit a child, while inventing a ridiculous strawman to dismiss, leaves me skeptical of all other words out of his mouth. Especially as it’s common for companies to claim that they provide sufficient bandwidth for advertised speeds, when they’ve actually greatly oversold their capacity.

Rikuosays:

Re: Re:

” It’s a different SSID, the traffic leaves the CV SmartRouter via a different IP and NAT than the customer’s LAN.”

How secure is this? I’ve got a hard drive that’s connected via ethernet cable to my modem. I know plenty of other people have entire NAS setups. What will Cablevision do if someone manages to hack the modem and gain access to the hard drives? There could be sensitive or private information on those drives. What damages does Cablevision offer if that information is compromised?

Derek Kertonsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Certainly a risk, as no software firewall can be perfect. However, that NAS, if connected on the LAN which is on the Internet, ALREADY has a very similar element of risk:

A hacker just needs to punch through the router from the public side to the LAN side. That’s not so different whether the hack comes from China or your driveway.

People need to understand that a home gateway router ALREADY has a public side and a private LAN side. That’s how you are connected to the Internet!! Adding wifi on the public side doesn’t make it any more public.

TKnarrsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As secure as your regular router is. Bear in mind that if you dig into the technical internals your router does not have a WAN port and 4 LAN ports. What it has is a 5-port switch. The firmware just configures 2 VLANs on the switch, usually assigning the 4 LAN ports and the WiFi interfaces to VLAN 1 and the single WAN port to VLAN 2. If there’s a way to breach the VLAN separation then your router’s already vulnerable to someone outside doing that and gaining access to the local VLAN through the WAN port. Which VLAN they start from won’t change the vulnerability.

Getting full control of this easily requires flashing DD-WRT, but since most router firmware’s a modified version of DD-WRT anyway someone with enough knowledge and patience (or someone using a packaged exploit kit) can pull an NVRAM backup from the router, edit the VLAN setup and other configuration items and load in the new settings without having to flash new firmware. And if the router’s running stock firmware it’s probably outdated and has unpatched vulnerabilities in it.

Derek Kertonsays:

Re: Re:

“They do not have the bandwidth to support their customers bandwidth demands”

No, for the most part they do. Most customers actually use a trickle of data (especially if averaged through the day), but have 30Mbps connections. Not a big deal to add some outside traffic on a “space available” basis. The system is designed to prioritize homeowner’s traffic.

“yet more proof” no, not really.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Most customers actually use a trickle of data (especially if averaged through the day), but have 30Mbps connections.

So why impose any data caps at all. The internet as a whole is self throttling, and reasonably good at sharing limited capacity on a fair basis, and in any case, data caps have little or no impact on peak bandwidth demands, and the customer connection also supporting public wifi could make for more stuttering during streaming, especially if several other people are trying to stream over the same connection.

Derek Kertonsays:

Contrast With Older Techdirt Articles on Open Wi-Fi

This is a fun article to contrast with earlier Techdirt articles on “Wifi piggybacking”, on which Techdirt took the opposite position:

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20071214/150940.shtml#c551

Although both cases deal with third parties and passers-by using a home’s WiFi/Internet connection, in the 2007 case it was the homeowner who may or may not have offered public access. In the current topic, it is the ISP that has chosen to offer public access.

Techdirt was in favor of the public access in 2007, because it was a rational assumption that the homeowner may have deliberately shared their Internet/power/bandwidth/wifi, but in the current case, that is almost certainly untrue.

I personally refuse to use Comcast premise equipment so I can retain control of my network. At my in-laws house, I disabled the public network on principle – nobody asked permission, and no tit-for-tat incentive was offered.

I like the concept of a blanket of wifi provided by home routers, like FON. But it needs to be consent-based.

Lord Binkysays:

What I don’t get is that for years people have argued the power costs incurred by increased traffic on always on systems like this was (comparatively) trivial, yet ISPs used that as a reason for their costs. Now they are in agreement with common sense when they offload those costs to the customer?

Getting really fed up with things like this. Then again I’m of the mindset internet should be regulated stricter than a 1920’s Bell Empire and turned into an outright utility (ROI of infrastructure and the importance to the nation’s future should be reason enough anyways).

Diagorassays:

Perfectly Secure

Is the software this runs on open source? Has it been subject to a formal security audit? Were secure programming best practices employed in its development?

My guess is that the answer to all three of those questions is “no”, which would mean that any assertions that there’s total separation between the public and private wifi VLANs should be taken with a couple of spoonfuls of salt until those conditions are met.

TKnarrsays:

Re: Re: Perfectly Secure

The software’s probably DD-WRT like seemingly every consumer-grade router uses these days, and the ISP’s just using the guest-network capability already built in. The VLAN separation’s built into the switch hardware, so I wouldn’t be so worried about that (any bugs there would also show up in the switch maker’s managed switches and they couldn’t let it go very long without sales tanking).

Anonymoussays:

This is perfect for fear mongering that it’s hard to believe the situation was not created for the spin. The primary issue seems to be not informing customers why they got their router for free.

Anyone with security concerns is going to want to configure their router and not expect a free one to do the same job that a $100 one does.

Derek Kertonsays:

Your Own Modem

Woot today only, the day this article is published:

http://www.woot.com/

Motorola DOCSIS 3 Cable modem for sale for $40.

Coincidence? Or divine fortune?

With the Comcast modem lease of $6/mo, you could pay off your modem in (insert mathy stuff) months!!

Every cable ISP subscriber should have their own modem, and a gateway router of their own choosing. But be sure to check first with your ISP that the modem you buy is supported. They need to be able to connect and interact with it, even if it’s yours.

Anonymoussays:

“That sounds more like a pyramid scheme than an ISP to me.”

Hyperbole doesn’t make it true. Pyramid schemes are a specific criminal fraud offense. Publicly accessible features that can’t be disabled on a router don’t qualify as a pyramid scheme even if the company issuing that equipment makes money off it at the customer’s expense.

Comcast’s system doesn’t use the customer’s allotted bandwidth directly, however, and the public service uses a separate IP address. The article doesn’t mention if Cablevision uses the same architecture which would make all charges but potentially unauthorized power use moot. And that could be easily addressed by any contracts the consumer is required to sign (but most never read). The power used by these devices is usually negligible as well. A few watts at most as set-top routers are deliberately designed to use minimal components necessary for the job. On top of that, the legal power limit for the unlicensed wifi frequency allocations is 1 Watt, most routers use considerably less.

Also, getting sued doesn’t automatically mean the defendant is automatically legally wrong. Just that the defendant pissed off the plaintive enough the plaintive filed a lawsuit.

DBsays:

I can see the concern here, but I don’t think that it is technically informed.

The additional power used is negligible. Supporting an additional network doesn’t require an extra WiFi chip. All of the ‘networks’ are supported with a single chip, which is multiplexed as needed. Yes, there is a tiny bit of extra power to broadcast an additional SSID, and to transfer the foreign traffic, but that is milliwatts for microseconds.

The traffic inside the router is likely transferred using an internal network switch, with the isolation largely handled by the hardware. Looking at the software used to configure the switch won’t be especially helpful for deciding that the system is secure. The hardware support also means that the effort to route foreign packets is negligible, as is the resulting power use.

Anonymoussays:

In my case, the cable modem is free from Charter, and their service is excellent. I own my own router, a Netgear WNDR3700, which has a button on the panel that allows me to easily turn the radios on and off. Unless I need WiFi for some reason (and I do occasionally) I keep the radios off. I did own my own cable modem, but it proved incompatible with Charter’s network, so they replaced it free.

The other point is that most users are only vaguely aware that they have a separate box that controls their WiFi. They have NO idea how it operates or how to set up security. They basically leave it the way the installation tech left it when he put it in.

Johnsays:

what about fraud?

Here’s my beef. My ISP, Charter, does this. I recently got a “Abuse” letter from them saying “Hercules” (or similar) movie was supposedly P2P from my account.

If the two networks are LAN side, how do they know which side created the infraction? I certainly didn’t pirate it. I have 3 roommates and I went to each of them, all saying they didn’t P2P. And, finally, I noticed the “infracting IP and port” wasn’t a P2P common port (Limewire, etc).

Jonathansays:

Get your own router.

Best to get your own router. If you are concerned about security and you want good controls get your own. Also if you want even better security don’t use wireless use ethernet cable to your own router or ethernet switches connected to your own router. The modem or modem/router that they provide may not the latest or the most user friendly. If you still want to stick with their equipment look at the back of the router or modem/router and look up the make and model number. Go to cablevision or comcast website look up the manual of their equipment and compare it to routers like asus, d-link, nether, or linksys and figure out what is best for you.

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