software

Another Win For The Little Guys

When we first heard about the CryptoLocker malware a year ago or so, I thought, as cybercrime goes, that’s about as bad as you can get.

CryptoLocker is a very malicious form of malware: unlike a virus infection, it totally blocks access to your data but leaves your computer and your software running just fine.

Then the demand, “Pay us $300 within three days, and you’ll get your data back. Otherwise… it’s gone forever.” The $300 payment buys you the 2048-bit RSA private key needed to unscramble your encrypted data.

But, as malicious as CryptoLocker and now CryptoWall 2.0 are, there is another contender in this game of hacker warfare.

Fake support calls
Fake support scammers are the people who phone you out of the blue (whether you are on the Do Not Call register or not) and, not to mince words, scare you heck out of you spouting lies about malware on your computer.

For $200 – $300 or so, the same price point as CryptoLocker, the scammers will fix your computer, but any “fix” you get is as bad or worse then the “problem” you didn’t have in the first place.

Many people have reported that these guys don’t just call once if you fail to cough up the $300. They often call again and again, with the calls getting more insistent – outright threatening, by many reports – and with no real hope that they will stop.

Dealing with the scam
It’s easy for us to say, “But all you have to do is hang up, so this scam could never work.” But it’s also easy to see how a well-meaning but not very technically savvy user, especially someone without a network of family or friends to ask for IT help, could be scared into paying up.

Imagine the questions that worried users might ask themselves:

  • Didn’t the caller say he was from Microsoft?
  • Didn’t he say that a virus on my computer was attacking his company’s servers?
  • Didn’t he find evidence of it in my system log, just as he predicted?
  • Isn’t most computer support done over the phone and online these days?
  • Isn’t this the third time he’s called, with the symptoms getting worse every time?
  • Can’t you get sued for a cyberattack because you didn’t have a virus scanner?
  • Won’t it end up costing $300 anyway, or even more, if I go to my local shop instead?

Demanding money with threats is what it sounds like to me, amounting to extortion or blackmail. And these guys have your phone number!

FTC takedown
With that in mind, it’s always a good thing when fake support callers get bagged and thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya, who ran a company called Pairsys in Albany, New York, have been shut down by court order.

That may not sound like much, as I’m convinced that there are still MANY other individuals and groups perpetrating this scam but in this case, the settlement with the FTC will see the scammers’ operation shuttered and their assets frozen.

Indeed, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:  ”We are pleased that the court has shut down the company for now, and we look forward to getting consumers’ money back in their pockets.”

There’s a lot of money to recover: the FTC claims that the pair have pulled in about $2,500,000 in the past two-and-a-half years.

Is it real punishment?
Of course, just giving the money back isn’t really a punishment for these 2 crooks, because they weren’t supposed to have it in the first place. It’s still a direct result for the FTC’s internet crime fighting efforts, so, “Well done, Bureau of Consumer Protection.”

The next question should be – how do you think the courts should punish fake support scammers?

Dealing with fake support calls
So if you have friends or family who have been pestered to the point of worry by fake support callers, here’s a short podcast you can tell them about. The podcast makes it clear that these guys are scammers (and why), and offers some practical advice on how to deal with them.

Avoiding fake support calls
https://soundcloud.com/sophossecurity/avoiding-fake-support-calls

The Antivirus Industrys Dirty Little Secret

The Antivirus industry has a dirty little secret that they really don’t want anyone to know. Despite their claims, their products are not all that effective.  Many of them are only protecting against at best 80% or 90% of the threats out there in the wild at any time.

Let’s look at that a bit more in detail. AV products need to protect against two general types of threats: ones that are known and threats that are unknown.  The ones that are known have an identified signature so that anti-virus programs can detect the threat and get rid of it. This is called reactive detection.  Then, there are threats that are still unknown, usually new threats created by the bad guys. AV products need to protect against those in a proactive way, and antivirus software can be scored looking at how many of those new threats they block.

This type of scoring on both reactive and proactive detection is actually being done by the antivirus industry’s premier site for insiders: Virus Bulletin.  They have created so called RAP averages. RAP stands for “Reactive And Proactive”.  They test all antivirus products every few months, and measure how each product does in both reactive and proactive detections of a large amount of threats.  And they create a graph where these scores are plotted for all tested products.  The proactive score is on the X-axis, and the reactive score is on the Y-axis.

The results are not pretty. One major antivirus industry player is routinely scoring no better than 75% reactive combined with a 70% proactive.  And people wonder how come PCs still get infected by malware. Check out the test results. Click here to see the most recent graph at Virus Bulletin: You can check there how your antivirus vendor is doing also.  https://www.virusbtn.com/vb100/rap-index.xml

The bad guys know this and count on it. Simply having anti-virus protection alone creates a false sense of security.  It’s just as important for all employees undergo regular Internet Security Awareness Training and to enforce compliance.  Just one employee in a weak moment, clicking on a phishing email, can cause untold grief, losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and potentially massive legal bills. Businesses and consumers definitely need both an endpoint security software solution AND education on the perils of using the internet. We use and recommend Threat Tracks VIPRE Antivirus business edition as it scores very well in the RAP tests and isn’t a resource hog negatively affecting computer performance.

Whatever Antivirus product you ultimately use to protect your computer – remember, the protection is only as good as the updated virus definitions. ALWAYS check and verify that your AV has the most up-to-date definitions to maximize your protection.

Should Windows Upgrades Be Free?

Later today, Microsoft is holding an event in San Francisco to unveil the new Windows operating system and most likely launch some sort of technical preview. We don’t yet know if it will be called Windows 9, Windows Threshold, or simply Windows, but no matter what the official name of the new OS, the price for upgrading to it should be free.

You can thank mobile devices in general, and Apple specifically, for the shift in OS pricing. When the latest greatest version of iOS or Android is released, the issue of cost never comes up. It’s simply expected that the upgrade will be free.

The culture of free upgrades on mobile devices was driven in large part by Apple, and Apple is also the company that extended that model to its desktop OS. Apple was already providing new versions of Mac OS X at a fraction of what Microsoft was charging customers to upgrade to the latest Windows release, but last year, when Apple launched Mac OS X “Mavericks,” it also made the upgrade available for free. I expect the same with the upcoming release of OS X “Yosemite” this fall.

That’s a tough act to follow. Mac OS X is certainly not a threat to Windows, but it has gained much more mainstream relevance and has been chipping away at Microsoft’s share of the desktop OS market. Microsoft can’t really just ignore the fact that Apple is offering Mac OS X upgrades for free and then continue charging hundreds of dollars for the latest version of Windows.

Multiple Windows 9 reports have suggested that Microsoft is considering releasing the upcoming platform as a free download to certain existing Windows users. The Windows 9 upgrade will be available free of charge to all existing Windows 8 users once it’s released. Apparently, users will be able to easily install the Windows 9 update after downloading it from Microsoft, which is how Apple’s OS X updates have been rolled out to Macs for a few years now. For what it’s worth, some of the recent Windows 9 leaks did say that Microsoft already has a tool in place that will allow users to easily perform software updates.

It’s not clear whether other Windows users who are on older versions of the OS will get any other special offers, and actual prices for Windows 9 have yet to be revealed. Microsoft is reportedly interested in moving many people from the older, and no longer supported, Windows XP and offering Windows 9 as a free download might be a great incentive for some.

Recent leaks, including many online videos, have revealed some of the major features coming to Windows 9, including the return of the Start menu, the Cortana voice-based search assistant that’s currently available only on Windows Phone, the Notification Center, support for multiple desktops, and several other user interface enhancements.

Providing a free OS upgrade takes the wind out of the sails of most complaints. One of the biggest protests users have about upgrading isn’t the operating system itself, it’s the idea that they’re being “forced” to upgrade just to line Microsoft’s pockets with cash. There will always be challenging issues with any new operating system — you can’t please everyone — but the backlash would be greatly reduced if no money exchanged hands. Customers would give Microsoft a lot more leeway and be much more forgiving if the latest, greatest version is free.

Operating system adoption is also subject to inertia. When a new version of an operating system is launched, the more people download and install it and the greater market share it wins, the more likely it is that more people will continue to download and install it. If the OS upgrade is available for free, it’s much more likely that demand will be higher, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that drives adoption.

Microsoft doesn’t need to charge for Windows upgrades. Technology changes over time. Hardware crashes and dies. There will be customers who will cling to their 10-year old hardware, but many will still buy new PCs to replace broken hardware, get a faster processor, or take advantage of the latest USB or Wi-Fi components. Microsoft could provide free upgrades to the latest version of Windows for existing owners of licensed copies of Windows but still continue to charge OEM manufacturers for installing the OS in new PCs (Microsoft does give the Windows OS away for free for devices with screens smaller than nine inches).

The latest versions of iOS and Android are free for those with existing iOS and Android devices, but they aren’t available for all existing iOS or Android devices. iOS 8 is only compatible with the iPhone 4s and newer, the iPod Touch 5th generation and newer, and the iPad 2 and newer. Anyone with an older iOS device must now replace their hardware in order to get the benefits of the latest OS.

Microsoft is a corporation that exists to bring in revenue and provide value to its shareholders. It’s not operating as a non-profit. As such, Microsoft has a vested interest in ensuring that as many businesses and consumers around the world continue to depend on the Windows OS so that it can sell its other products and services — and it could help that cause by providing Windows upgrades for free.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts with me….

 

Disgruntled Windows 8 Users

Disgruntled Windows 8 users: there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. ZDNet reports that Microsoft is planning to release a Windows 9 “technology preview” sometime between the end of September and the beginning of October. In order to install the preview, you’ll have to agree to receive automatic monthly updates, but the preview will be publicly available for anyone interested in testing out the Threshold operating system.

No information was revealed regarding what the technology preview will consist of, but we know that Windows 9 will feature a host of updates and improvements over Windows 8. The return of the Start menu is certainly at the top of the list, but Microsoft is also expected to bring Cortana to the new OS. The voice-activated digital assistant was met with excitement when it was announced earlier in the year and could be a major attribute for Windows going forward.

Microsoft released several previews for Windows 8 before the official launch, but the company was working on a very different release schedule at the time. In fact, it was more than a year after the first Windows 8 developer preview was released that the OS went on sale. On the other hand, Microsoft is expected to release Windows 9 in the spring of 2015.

For additional information check out the following links or simply Google Windows 9:

http://www.zdnet.com/windows-9-microsoft-faces-four-daunting-challenges-7000032902/

http://www.techradar.com/us/news/software/operating-systems/windows-9-release-date-news-and-rumours-1029245

Bad USB

Computer users pass around USB sticks like electronic business cards. Although we know they often carry malware infections, users depend on antivirus scans and the occasional reformatting to keep thumb drives from becoming the carrier for the next digital epidemic. But the security problems with USB devices run deeper than you think: Their risk isn’t just in what they carry, it’s built into the core of how they work.

That’s the takeaway from findings security researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell plan to present this week at the Black Hat security conference, demonstrating a collection of proof-of-concept malicious software that highlights how the security of USB devices has long been fundamentally broken.

The malware they created, called BadUSB, can be installed on a USB device to completely take over a PC, invisibly alter files installed from the memory stick, or even redirect the user’s internet traffic. Because BadUSB resides not in the flash memory storage of USB devices, but in the firmware that controls their basic functions, the attack code can remain hidden long after the contents of the device’s memory would appear to the average user to be deleted.

These problems can’t be patched by antivirus or anti-malware programs because it’s actually exploiting the very way that USB is designed. So, if you’re concerned about this security exploit, you have to consider a USB infected and throw it away as soon as it touches a non-trusted computer.’

The problem isn’t limited to thumb drives. All manner of USB devices from keyboards and mice to smartphones and USB Cameras have firmware that can be reprogrammed—in addition to USB memory sticks. It even possible to impersonate a USB keyboard and suddenly start typing commands.

The malware can silently hijack internet traffic too, mimicking a USB network card and changing a computer’s DNS settings to redirect traffic to any servers it pleases. Or if the code is planted on a phone or another device with an internet connection, it can act as a man-in-the-middle, secretly spying on communications as it relays them from the victim’s machine.

Another major concern is that the infection can travel both from computer to USB and vice versa. Any time a USB stick is plugged into a computer, its firmware could be reprogrammed by malware on that PC, with no easy way for the USB device’s owner to detect it. And likewise, any USB device could silently infect a user’s computer.

BadUSB’s ability to spread undetectably from USB to PC and back raises questions about whether it’s possible to use USB devices securely at all. We’ve known all along that if you give someone access to your USB ports, they can do bad things to your computer. What this appears to demonstrate is that it’s also possible to go the other direction, which suggests the threat of compromised USB devices is a very serious problem.”

There’s even some speculation that the USB attack may in fact already be common practice with the NSA based on a report about a spying device known as Cottonmouth, revealed earlier this year in the leaks of Edward Snowden. The device, which hid in a USB peripheral plug, was identified in a collection of NSA internal documents as surreptitiously installing malware on a target’s machine. The exact mechanism for that USB attack wasn’t described.

The short-term solution to BadUSB isn’t a technical patch so much as a fundamental change in how we use USB devices. To avoid the attack, all you have to do is not connect your USB device to computers you don’t own or don’t have good reason to trust—and don’t plug untrusted USB devices into your own computer.

In the long term, USB manufacturing companies could change their process and implement code-signing protections on all of their devices.

In the immediate future, BadUSB-created cracking tools will be able to create compromised devices that will have the potential to be a new and deadly attack vector for hackers.

You can read more about these USB threats here:
Norton/Symantec: http://us.norton.com/yoursecurityresource/detail.jsp?aid=usbdrives
ZDNET.com: http://www.zdnet.com/badusb-big-bad-usb-security-problems-ahead-7000032211/

How To Safely Dispose Of Old Computers

How to safely dispose of computers and other technology devices

When you get rid of sensitive paper documents, it’s a good idea to shred or burn them to help protect your privacy and prevent identity theft. Similarly, it’s important to erase your personal information from computers (desktop, laptop, or tablet) and other devices (smartphone, gaming consoles) before you dispose of or donate them.

If your device was provided to you by your employer, or if you own a small business, you may also risk loss of intellectual property, legal penalties, and potential damage to your corporate reputation.

So, what should you do?

1: First you should back up the files or data you want to keep

Start the process by making a copy of your information somewhere else like a portable USB drive. To create a backup of the files on a computer running Windows, you can use the Backup and Restore feature that’s built into Windows Vista and Windows 7, or File History in Windows 8. If you’re moving your files to a new computer, you can use Windows Easy Transfer to transfer your files from one computer running Windows to another.

2: Choose the best option for removing your data

Simply reformatting a disk or reinstalling the operating system does not guarantee the old data is unreadable. Your two best options for data removal are to use a certified refurbisher (this is the preferred course of action for business computers) or you can do it yourself. The following information will help you choose what is most suitable for your situation.

Microsoft has a listing of authorized technology refurbishers that can help you with data destruction and proper disposal practices. You can see them at this website: http://www.microsoft.com/refurbishedpcs/Disposal.aspx

If this high end disposal service is beyond your needs, you do have a couple FREE download options to Do-It-Yourself:

1: Softpedia’s DP Wiper:
http://www.softpedia.com/get/Security/Security-Related/DP-WIPER.shtml

2: Active @ KillDisk:
http://www.killdisk.com/

The 2 FREE applications mentioned above are tried and true and their websites are not infected with any drive by Trojan attacks. I DO NOT recommend simply opening up Google or any other search engine and searching for Disk Wipe utilities. In testing this, I found that more than ½ of the links I checked were in fact infected with some type of Trojan trying to infect my system. REMEMBER – anytime you search for something “FREE” you’re apt to get more trouble than you bargain for…

DOJ Disrupts Gameover Zeus Botnet


The DOJ has declared a victory over the Cryptolocker Trojan stating that it is now out of commission.

Authorities in 10 countries seized servers believed to be connected to Gameover Zeus, a tightly controlled botnet that has plagued computer users worldwide. The botnet was also believed to be connected to CryptoLocker, the ransomware that locked up the files of victims and businesses and attempted to extort money for the key to access the frozen files. Police seized servers connected to the botnet in Canada, France, Germany Luxemboug, the Netherlands, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, investigators said. The FBI added Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev to its most wanted list on Monday. The 30-year-old Anapa, Russia, resident was allegedly the principal administrator behind the Gameover Zeus botnet. Others are believed to be in Russia or Ukraine.

That’s very good news for computer users worldwide, unfortunately – this could be a short lived respite: Ransomware kits, which automate the process for criminals, are becoming more prevalent, Intel Security announced, predicting malware infections to increase on mobile devices. Security vendor Sophos has detected Simplelocker, an Android Trojan that encrypts mobile files and demands payment using the similar Cryptolocker extortion scam.

The FBI estimates that there were $27 million in ransom payments made in the first two months of CryptoLocker’s emergence.  Constant vigilance and a good, solid offsite backup solution is our only salvation when confronted with attacks like this. It’s been so lucrative for the criminals, you can bet we haven’t seen the last of this type of attack yet.

The following list was compiled from the victims identified in court documents unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Manufacturer: $375,000 Stolen
Haysite Reinforced Plastics, an Erie, Penn.-based manufacturer was bilked of more than $375,000 in October, 2011.  Several employees at the company had their computers infected with malware and in a two day period Bogachev’s group allegedly transferred money from Haysite’s PNC bank account to a money mule accounts at banks in Atlanta and New York City. Investigators said the attackers could inject additional information in the form fields into the website displayed in the victim’s browser to request a Social Security number, credit card information and other sensitive information often used as a challenge mechanism by financial institutions to validate the authenticity of a transaction

Washington Indian tribe: $277,000 Stolen
An Indian tribe, based in Washington, lost more than $277,000 after an authorized wire transfer was initiated with its bank using stolen credentials, according to the court documents. Stealing banking credentials was the principal aim of Gameover Zeus, but the botnet of infected systems also was used to send out spam and conduct attacks to steal other types of sensitive data.

Assisted Living Facility Operator: $190,800 Stolen
Thieves allegedly stole more than $190,800 after stealing account credentials from an employee at an assisted living facility operator based in Eastern Pennsylvania. Investigators say Gameover Zeus was increasingly used to conduct other attacks, including phishing and spam campaigns. Between 500,000 and 1 million computers were infected with the Gameover Zeus malware globally

Regional Bank: $7 Million Stolen
A regional bank in Northern Florida lost nearly $7 million after the criminals allegedly used stolen account credentials to transfer funds out of its main bank account. The Zeus Gameover operators conduct denial of service attacks in conjunction with their fraudulent wire transfers, according to the FBI warning.

Insurance Company: $70,000 Loss
A Pittsburgh-based insurance company had critical business files encrypted by a CrytpoLocker infection. The company repaired the damage by wiping the infected systems and restoring from backup but estimates the loss of business — it sent employees home during the remediation — and the cost of wiping and reimaging infected systems at $70,000.

Restaurant Operator: $30,000 Loss
A Florida restaurant operator had more than 10,000 files encrypted by CryptoLocker, according to investigators. Employees were locked out of the company’s team training documents, franchise operation files and recipe folders. Remediation costs associated with the infection were estimated at $30,000. The criminals behind the threat gave victims 72 hours to pay the CryptoLocker ransom in Bitcoins or face permanent destruction of the private key. In addition, the thieves threatened to destroy the private key to unlock the files if it detected any attempt to remove CryptoLocker.

Massachusetts Police Department: $750 Ransom
A local police department based in Swansea, Mass., paid a $750 ransom to the criminals behind CryptoLocker after the agency’s main file server, including administrative documents, investigative materials and digital photo mug shots were encrypted by the malware. The department paid funds last November to send two Bitcoins to the thieves for the key to unlock the files.

Pest Control Company: $80,000 Loss
A North Carolina-based pest control company said it racked up $80,000 in infection removal costs associated with CryptoLocker when an infection spread to its customer database and schedule of appointments. The company’s backup server also was encrypted by the malware.

Smartphone Photo Management Made Easy

It’s hard to imagine that just a few short years ago, we were all using digital cameras with removable storage cards to take and store our photos. Vacation time used to be when we took the most photos.   These days, many of us would be completely lost if we didn’t have a smart phone in our pocket to record every little thing that happened during a normal day. I even find myself taking pictures of parts I need to refer back to as well as documents and instructions. The day of the pocket notepad and pen is long gone.

The challenge today is in managing all of this digital data. The pre-installed apps that come with a mobile device are usually sorely lacking in features. Aside from editing and adding titles to your photos, we all need a way to easily upload and share our images with family, friends and more importantly with our other digital devices and computer systems. Here are two good add-on options for organizing your smartphone photos and to keep your Cape photos separate from your Nantasket Beach photos.

1: Flickr – automatically uploads smartphone photos to a “cloud-based” Flickr account, so you can access them from your computer or table, not just your phone. Flickr offers one terabyte of free cloud storage, enough for upwards of 500,000 digital images. You can later download the photos to your computer and adding tags and titles so that you can use a keyword search to find them later. Both the App and the storage are free, and the images are stored at full resolution, with no compression, You can even arrange your photos into “collections” or ”sets” on Flickr to keep them organized. Check it out at www.flickr.com

2: Picturelife – Picturelife doesn’t just automatically upload your smartphone photos to the cloud, it also uploads from your computer and social-media pages, consolidating all of your digital images in one place. Only the first 1,700 or so of your photos are stored for free, however. To store up to 34,000 photos will cost you $7.00 per month…up to 100,000 is only $15.00 per month. As with Flickr, uploaded images are saved at full resolution and can be sorted into albums. You can also add keywords :”tags” to them for better searching. www.Picturelife.com

Microsoft Seizes Malware Domains

Microsoft’s cybercrime-related seizure of 23 domains from No-IP.com, a Reno, Nev.-based company that provides a popular free dynamic DNS service, is causing outages for millions of legitimate users of the service — and at least one security vendor.

The No-IP.com outages are having an impact on some customers with SonicWall firewalls. SonicWall, which Dell acquired in 2012, supports No-IP.com and other dynamic DNS services in its products.

Hundreds of his SonicWall customers began experiencing outages on Monday. Some of these customers are apartment complexes that run security surveillance cameras behind SonicWall firewalls, using No-IP.com’s dynamic DNS service to relay the video feeds.

No-IP.com and other dynamic DNS services are commonly used by remote workers to connect VoIP phones and video cameras to the Internet. Their popularity stems in large part from the fact that purchasing static IP addresses are expensive.

Microsoft has justified its actions by claiming that No-IP.com’s domains have been regularly used in malware attacks against millions of Windows users. And in Microsoft’s view, No-IP.com hasn’t done enough to stop this activity.

Microsoft filed a restraining order against No-IP.com in the U.S. District Court for Nevada on June 19. The court transferred DNS authority over the domains to Microsoft a week later.

Microsoft, which has a well-established track record of using legal means to break up botnets, said No-IP.com bears the brunt of the blame for allowing criminals to use its service for nefarious purposes.

As malware authors continue to pollute the Internet, domain owners must act responsibly by monitoring for and defending against cybercrime on their infrastructure,” Richard Domingues Boscovich, assistant general counsel in Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, said in a blog post Monday.

If free Dynamic DNS providers like No-IP exercise care and follow industry best practices, it will be more difficult for cybercriminals to operate anonymously and harder to victimize people online.

However, in seizing the domains, Microsoft has disrupted service for a large chunk of the dynamic DNS service’s users, No-IP.com said in a statement Monday. The company also claims that Microsoft never reached out to it first before going to the courts. “Millions of innocent users are experiencing outages to their services because of Microsoft’s attempt to remediate hostnames associated with a few bad actors,” No-IP.com said in the statement.

Security experts applaud Microsoft’s malware-fighting tactics. Big DNS take-downs are very effective. They can quickly nullify huge botnets in a single move. With DNS names black-holed, the botnet essentially becomes useless since it cannot communicate back to its command infrastructure.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear how much of a long-term benefit Microsoft’s latest antimalware actions will have. Malware creators are always developing new strategies around this, including the use of multiple DNS names, resolvers, or fail-safe measures to reconnect to their command-and-control systems.

Was Microsoft right in taking this action? Even though they had a court order, did they overstep their bounds? Let us know what you think.

Public Wifi for Xfinity Customers

If you’re a Comcast cable customer, your home’s private Wi-Fi router is being turned into a public hotspot.

It’s been one year since Comcast started its monster project to blanket residential and commercial areas with continuous Wi-Fi coverage. Imagine waves of wireless Internet access emitting from every home, business and public waiting area.

Comcast has been swapping out customers’ old routers with new ones capable of doubling as public hotspots. So far, the company has turned 3 million home devices into public ones. By year’s end it plans to activate that feature on the other 5 million already installed.

Anyone with an Xfinity account can register their devices (laptop, tablet, phone) and the public network will always keep them registered — at a friend’s home, coffee shop or bus stop. No more asking for your cousin’s Wi-Fi network password.

What about privacy?
It seems like Comcast did this the right way. Outsiders never get access to your private, password-protected home network. Each box has two separate antennae, Comcast explained. That means criminals can’t jump from the public channel into your network and spy on you.

And don’t expect every passing stranger to get access. The Wi-Fi signal is no stronger than it is now, so anyone camped in your front yard will have a difficult time tapping into the public network. This system was meant for guests at home, not on the street.

As for strangers tapping your router for illegal activity: Comcast said you’ll be guilt-free if the FBI comes knocking. Anyone hooking up to the “Xfinity Wi-Fi” public network must sign in with their own traceable, Comcast customer credentials.

Still, no system is foolproof, and this could be unnecessary exposure to potential harm. Simply opening up another access point increases the likelihood that someone could tamper with your router.

What about connection speed?
Having several people connecting to a single router tends to clog up the Wi-Fi. Comcast says it found a way to make this work.

With two separate networks, each antenna has its own data speed cap. Comcast said the private channel provides whatever speed customers already pay to get (most have 25 Megabits per second). The public hotspot channel is given 15 Mbps and allows up to five people to connect at a time.

That means having your data-hungry friends over shouldn’t slow down your Netflix streaming if they are logged into the “public” side of your router.

Comcast also says you shouldn’t experience any conflict between the two networks. It’s something Comcast engineers thought about carefully. Obviously, the last thing they want to do is to create a bad user experience.

Before this project, there was no value in having a home Internet subscription when you’re not at home. Every time you left the house you walked away from your subscription. But with all these new hotspot locations, you can now connect to the Internet remotely using your home or business account. Everyone’s devices are a lot more mobile.

But what if you hate the idea of your private Comcast boxes being turned into public hotspots? You can turn it off by calling Comcast or logging into your account online. The company says fewer than 1% of customers have done that so far.

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