Recent news reports about a public initiative from Comcast have more than a few customers scratching their heads, and critics raising a cry of alarm. Last year, the cable television, phone, and internet service provider began swapping its customers’ home service routers with new ones that will allow strangers to connect to the customers’ wifi, basically turning their homes into public hotspots. On the surface, this is an incredibly frightening concept.
But when you actually investigate the process, this becomes a little less fearsome. Basically, the new routers contain two antennae and are set up to function as two completely separate networks. The company assured its customers that strangers cannot sit in their cars in front of a house and tap into the homeowner’s network. At best, a stranger who has a verified and paid-for Xfinity account and is using a registered device can connect to a separate internet connection thanks to the box sitting on your desk, but he cannot access anything on your network. It’s exactly as if he’d taken his laptop to Starbucks and was using their internet connection instead of your home.
The goal of the program is to create wifi clouds over entire cities, helping people stay connected to their existing Xfinity accounts. This is really great news if you have one of those accounts, because you can log into your own personal network no matter where you go and not have to pay extra for internet access.
Still, knowing that every great plan can have some undiscovered flaws, there are some things to be concerned about. Right now, Comcast assures the public that it is not possible for a hacker to access your internet connection and your sensitive data through this joint router, but that’s a big “if.” It’s a little reminiscent of “God himself can’t sink this ship,” and history remembers how that turned out.
It is slightly eyebrow-raising that Comcast has already verified the legal liability of having someone else connect through your router. The company has assured its clients that if an outsider commits any type of crime through your router, the FBI cannot take action against you. While it’s good that Comcast thought to find that out, it does potentially indicate that Comcast thinks it could happen.
The good news is the steps that you need to take to protect your personal data are exactly the same as if a hacker broke into your private, non-Comcast connection. Yes, your home computer is more secure than say, accessing your bank account over a public wifi connection in the mall, but sophisticated thieves know how to find data if they’re looking for it. You just need to make sure you password protect your data with strong passwords, that you don’t use the same password on all of your accounts, and that you practice the good habit of changing your passwords from time to time.
The other good news is that Comcast currently lets its customers opt out of this program by calling and requesting that their home routers not be enabled as public hotspots. This project has the potential to be an eco-friendly move by reducing the need for additional hotspots, allowing connectivity to take place through routers that are already plugged in and functioning; there are also a growing number of educational initiatives that help students be connected when they’re away from school. Again, this does not impact your security or your bill, but it’s better to take proactive steps to safeguard your information than to find out after a data breach has happened that there was a problem with the concept.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.