The Problems with Comcast “Free Wifi”

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Helping or Hurting Customers?

Comcast has recently announced it is enabling a “Free Wifi” to be broadcast from its customers home routers. It has enabled the functionality on 50,000 of these devices, and plans on turning it on millions more by the end of the year.  Anyone who has a Comcast home internet subscription will be able to connect to the hotspot, named “xfinitywifi”,  by logging in with their Comcast ID.

At first glance, this seems like a pretty good idea. It’s essentially free, Comcast is using its existing infrastructure and is provided with free electricity from its customers, since the router is already turned on. Comcast are expanding their coverage to its existing user base, allowing them access to the Comcast while they are away from home. However this leaves us geeks with quite a few questions.

Comcast claims that the new hotspot will not slow down the internet you are paying for, if you are paying for 150 Mbps, you will get 150Mbps even if your neighbors are connected to your line and are downloading the latest season of Game of Thrones.  So if we hold Comcast to their word,  where is the rest of the bandwidth coming from? There must be a separate channel, and if so, why is Comcast enabling this “free wifi” instead of offering increased bandwidth to its customers?  Furthermore, with Comcasts claims of network congestion,  where is all this extra bandwidth coming from?

Also, if Comcast assures us that the hotspot will not slow down our local internet, how is it transmitting the wifi? Since there are now two wireless networks on the same access-point, is throughput being halved? Unless there was a pair of previously disabled antennas in the unit, Comcast is undoubtedly sharing the antenas your home wifi and the public wifi, which will hurt performance of your internal network.

The Man-in-the-Middle Security Threat

Arstechnica published a very good article recently about the dangers that may arise out of this, specifically in the form of a man-in-the-middle attack.

When I killed the “attwifi” network after a few seconds, my iPhone promptly demonstrated the further risks of auto-connecting—it automatically reconnected with another network in the list of trusted networks on my phone: a hotspot called “xfinitywifi.” I had used an Xfinity hotspot while waiting for an appointment a few days earlier, and suddenly I was logged into a hotspot running on my neighbor’s cable modem.

Comcast’s Xfinity wireless hotspots present a Web page for login that requests a customer’s account ID and password, and each time you connect to a new hotspot it re-authenticates you. But if you’ve connected once during the day, the hotspot remembers your device and reconnects you without prompting.

Anyone with a smartphone would be wise to turn off the auto-connect feature on their phones, which will allow you to at least make a judgement call before your phone jumps onto one of these networks. But even that might not save you, because hackers have the tools to replicate the Xfinity login page,  and you may be unwillingly giving your login credentials to a hacker every time you attempt to login to one of these hotspots.

Author

Nicholas Fusco

Nick Fusco is a young IT Consultant and "geek"! As a contributing author on GBD, he covers all things tech and writes reviews for a variety of products and services.

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1 Comment

  1. Geek Brain July 3, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I also wonder about Copyright law? If you have an insecure wireless connection theoretically you can get dragged to court if someone uses it for piracy. How does it work if someone pirates using the Comcast wireless connection?

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