Is Comcast Inviting the Public Into Your Home or Office?
I eat lunch regularly at the Jason's Deli right down from my house, where I am always working with my iPad. Jason's does not offer wifi at this location, but for some weeks now, I have seen xfinity come up intermittently as an available network, and never understood why until today.
I generally stay on top of the services and policies of the major ISPs, but this one caught me off guard. I first discovered this in a Google+ post by Burton Kelso, known as The Helpful Technology Genius, and confirmed via a CNN Money article published in June. It seems that Comcast Xfinity Internet customers, who have a reasonably new router with wireless capability provided by Comcast, are offering public Internet service to their neighbors. This is a photo of the Comcast FAQ document taken by Burton:
As of June, CNN reported that Comcast had 3 million modems enabled for public service, and plans to add 5 million more by the end of the year.
Now, I appreciate Comcast's altruism in wanting to provide wireless Internet to the world, but I would prefer them not to invite people into my home without my knowledge. In fact, the security exposure appears to be reasonably limited. Their router prevents public users from accessing your network. Further, Xfinity users must authenticate, so when the FBI shows up at your door about something that came from your Internet connection, you can prove you did not do it. The range is limited as well, although one of your neighbors could be using you as their ISP.
This service does raise significant security and privacy issues. First, router vulnerabilities are found every day. Comcast may have the best of intentions, but a minor flaw in a new firmware version could leave your inside network open to others. Second, at some level, someone using your wireless will eat into your bandwidth. Finally, I would prefer that the FBI not show up at my door, even if I can prove I didn't do something.
My advice - if you are a Comcast customer with a wireless-capable router provided by them, check this Tom's Hardware article for the affected models, and follow their instructions to turn it off.