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Government Hardware Hacking Networking Open Source Wireless Networking

FCC Clarifies: It's Legal To Hack Your Router (betanews.com) 85

Mark Wilson writes with an update to an earlier report that the wording of new FCC regulations could mean that it would be illegal to modfiy the software running on wireless routers by installing alternative firmwares. Instead, The commission has now acknowledged that there was more than a little confusion from people who believed that manufacturers would be encouraged to prevent router modifications. The FCC wants to make it clear that most router hacking is fine and will remain fine. With a few exceptions, that is. In a blog post entitled Clearing the Air on Wi-Fi Software Updates, Julius Knapp from the FCC tries to clear up any misunderstandings that may exist.
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FCC Clarifies: It's Legal To Hack Your Router

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  • by hidden ( 135234 ) on Sunday November 15, 2015 @12:34PM (#50935161)
    Sure. I'm glad to know what the intention of the rule is, but isn't it still likely that the easiest way for manufacturers to comply will be total lockdown?
    • by jazzis ( 612421 )

      Sure. I'm glad to know what the intention of the rule is, but isn't it still likely that the easiest way for manufacturers to comply will be total lockdown?

      Sure it is... path of least resistance and all that grey area crap.

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday November 15, 2015 @01:08PM (#50935303)

      And the easiest way for users to give it the finger is not to buy that broken boxes and instead return to what we did in the 90s, using old computers as routers.

      It's not like you can't build computers that have similar power consumption levels as those routers, with the added bonus that you can actually remove all the parts you don't need that only pose a security risk by their mere existence.

      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        This applies to less than 1 percent of the public. I'd bet if you build your own router the day will come that will make you automatically a candidate for closer monitoring.

      • And the easiest way for users to give it the finger is not to buy that broken boxes and instead return to what we did in the 90s, using old computers as routers.

        It's not like you can't build computers that have similar power consumption levels as those routers,

        Sadly, that rapidly gets expensive. Your computer can be as small/cheap/low-power as a router, pick two.

      • OK - good point. Now, tell me which old computers have WIFI transmitters inside of them. The nearest thing to that, was an ASUS server board that came with an optional PCI card. That card had to be installed in the last PCI slot, it wouldn't work in any other slot. Can't remember the board's part number now, but it was one of the earliest AMD Bulldozer offerings. I've still got that PCI card lying around somewhere, but it's not nearly as fast as the routers I'm using today. Wireless G is simply obsole

        • OK - good point. Now, tell me which old computers have WIFI transmitters inside of them.

          You buy a wifi card and slap it in. Then the problem becomes, does my wireless chip even have MASTER mode support under Linux (etc.)? Because many of them don't.

    • Cheapest devices will continue to suck, news at 11?

      Better devices will get better, because they'll have a modular design by following the actual implementation recommendations they gave. They just want the radio block not to have the gain turned up by the main processor. That is it. That is all. Honestly, this is what they should have been doing already under the old guidance. The "new" rule is just a friendlier way than saying, "You've been doing it wrong for 10 years" and leave everybody worrying about fi

      • Even the cheapskates win, because often times trying to be cheap just costs you a bunch more time and money. If you prevent cheapskates from making stupid decisions based on trying to be cheap, then you save them time and money (although they may not see it that way). They can still try to be cheap, but there is a better chance that the cheapest thing they can find will be a decent device.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuietLagoon ( 813062 )

      ... isn't it still likely that the easiest way for manufacturers to comply will be total lockdown?...

      Well, then it will be the manufacturers to blame, not the FCC.

      .
      If the current crop of manufacturers wimp out and lock down the devices, then I am sure some alternatives will crop up that are not locked down (besides the RF stuff). Or,you could even grab an old PC and use that as a router.

      On other forums, I've read comments about how the mod'ers want to be able to change the frequency to non-WiFi channels because the WiFi channels are too busy where they live. Those same people noted that they are not

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        ... isn't it still likely that the easiest way for manufacturers to comply will be total lockdown?...

        Well, then it will be the manufacturers to blame, not the FCC.

        Most likely what will happen is the chipset manufacturers will build in a set of OTP fuses into the chipset (which already exists for stuff like MAC addresses) that set the regulatory domain. The WiFi firmware reads the fuses and locks out the frequencies it's not supposed to transmit on.

        Existing hardware already has it, and really only the firmwa

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 15, 2015 @12:38PM (#50935179)

    No one with a clue thought it would be illegal to hack your router. There might have been a few idiots spouting that but there are always idiots spouting on the Web. The issue is that certain changes - increasing your transmission power - ARE illegal and have long been illegal. The FCC is looking at putting out rules to prevent that from being possible, or at least make it much more difficult. The easiest way to implement those rules for manufacturers is to prevent the router from running anything other than the default firmware. The FCC made some changes to their wording which may or may not reduce that likelihood a bit. But the changes are largely cosmetic and the possibility of manufactures making changes which prevents users from changing their firmware is still a real concern. It may not be illegal but if you can't do it, does that really matter?

    • Wish I had mod points, I'd bump you up. Nobody actually thought the FCC was going to make hacking your router illegal. It's outside their jurisdiction anyway as long as it doesn't change the electromagnetic emissions. The reality is that the easiest way for a manufacturer to assure compliance is to sign the firmware and lock the hardware to that signature, effectively preventing any firmware modification. If anybody thinks manufacturers are going to take the intentional hard road in the design just so a

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )

        If anybody thinks manufacturers are going to take the intentional hard road in the design just so a tiny subset of their customers can go in and modify things, you're nuts.

        Probably not manufactures in general, but is it really nuts to believe that some still might?

        • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

          I expect you will still be able to buy some high end hardware that will be owner friendly. I doubt the cheaper stuff will though.

    • by DewDude ( 537374 )

      The issue is that certain changes - increasing your transmission power - ARE illegal and have long been illegal. The FCC is looking at putting out rules to prevent that from being possible, or at least make it much more difficult.

      There are a few cases where increasing your power; as well as operating "out of band" are legal; well..actually....there is one. You can operate a 802.11 wifi device under Part 97 (amatuer radio) if you have an amateur radio license and comply with the other rules of what you can and can't use Part 97 for. There are hams using off-the-shelf WiFi with modified firmware to operate under PArt 97 rules to create wireless networks that can be used by emergency services or for other authorized Part 97 services. O

    • Trying to add new protections that guard the firmware is a lot harder than taking away the command that the OS sends to the radio firmware.

      The problem isn't the "firmware." One problem is language; people are describing the router OS as "firmware," but it isn't; that is regular software. Being installed on flash drive doesn't turn it into "firmware." But there is a hardware radio, which in most cases has real firmware. Currently, that firmware just does whatever the processor tells it to do. All they have t

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      I don't want my router putting out a lot of power. It's more secure if it's not reachable from outside my house. I already use wire where I can.

    • by davecb ( 6526 ) <davec-b@rogers.com> on Sunday November 15, 2015 @04:37PM (#50936209) Homepage Journal
      He and Dave Taht wrote the reply to the former rulemaking proposal, which *specifically* asked how the vendor would prevent purchasers from flashing it with DD-WRT. Please see the IETF submission at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/comme... [fcc.gov]
  • doesnt that limit firmware to authorised versions only...

  • So I can't install custom firmware on a piece of hardware I happen to buy. What about using old computers as routers? Running a custom version of Linux. Mostly because there is no "official" software that they could run. Is it now outlawed to use computers that way?

    I honestly didn't think the FCC is staffed with people who know as little about computers as the government.

    • You can run whatever software you want on a computer, as long as any wifi cards are using official firmware to guarantee that they follow FCC rules.

      By making your own computer all you are doing is changing the protocol by which you need to communicate with an FCC controlled device ( TCP/IP -> PCI/PCIE)

      It's doesn't matter what kind of software you run on your home made router for the same reason it doesn't matter what software you run on the computers connected to your store bought router.

      • So... Just to be obvious, it's all fine and dandy to flash firmware into routers that don't come with WiFi?

        Then I guess we should hope manufacturers realize in time that there is a market for such routers. One of the cases where having FEWER features is a feature.

        • So... Just to be obvious, it's all fine and dandy to flash firmware into routers that don't come with WiFi?

          I don't see why not. It's not like any firmware you can flash on to a wired-only router is going to ever cause any interference on any broadcast frequencies.

          Wired routers are just little embedded computers with 5 integrated NICs

          The problem is that the firmware for a wireless router is that it is monolithic. If they had split the firmware into parts (i.e. like one for the wifi controller, and one for the OS), then you should logically be able to flash the OS to whatever you want and keep the wifi controlle

  • There's a few open source/custom hardware platforms out there geared towards custom networking equipment. Personally I use the PC Engines APU http://pcengines.ch/apu.htm [pcengines.ch] It's the best router I've ever owned
  • Dear FCC,

    Thanks for telling me that I can do what I'm going to do anyway, regardless of your rules.

    Signed,

    Router Owner

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Unless firmware lockdown is banned, it will be the result, regardless of what FCC says. If manufactors have to lock one part, in this case wifi power and they never designed their systems to do so, they either have to make major changes, which cost money to develop and produce. It suddenly doesn't become a question how they feel about their hardware being flashed, but more if they can justify the costs to allow it. They likely can't if the competitors just lock their devices.

    By forcing the hardware to be fl

  • http://hardware.slashdot.org/~Mark+Wilson says "The user you requested does not exist, no matter how much you wish this might be the case."

    Vint Cerf, on the other hand, definitely exists, and his and Dave Taht's submission to the FCC pointed out that the problem existed, no matter how much you wish this might not be the case.

  • These FCC comments do not dissuade me from the concern that whether or not that was the intention of the FCC rule-making, the effect will be to lock down router firmware. Locking down the firmware is one of the easiest way to address the FCC's concern. How else are router manufacturers going to prevent modification to the values place in control registers of commodity I/O devices? The processors in these devices don't have the necessary capabilities to lock these parameters down using a virtual machine mode

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