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TP-Link Blocks Open Source Router Firmware To Comply With FCC Rules 36

An anonymous reader points to an official announcement made by TP-Link, which confirms a report from last month that it is blocking open source firmware: The FCC requires all manufacturers to prevent users from having any direct ability to change RF parameters (frequency limits, output power, country codes, etc.) In order to keep our products compliant with these implemented regulations, TP-LINK is distributing devices that feature country-specific firmware. Devices sold in the United States will have firmware and wireless settings that ensure compliance with local laws and regulations related to transmission power. As a result of these necessary changes, users are not able to flash the current generation of open-source, third-party firmware. We are excited to see the creative ways members of the open-source community update the new firmware to meet their needs. However, TP-LINK does not offer any guarantees or technical support for customers attempting to flash any third-party firmware to their devices. Don't lose all your hopes yet. Developer Sebastian Gottschall, who works on DD-WRT Linux-based firmware, believes that TP-Link hasn't blocked third-party firmware. He adds, "Just the firmware header has been a little bit changed and a region code has been added. This has been introduced in September 2015. DD-WRT for instance does still provide compatible images... in fact it's no lock." Furthermore, Cisco insists that FCC's existing or proposed rules doesn't limit or eliminate the ability of a developer to use open source software.
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TP-Link Blocks Open Source Router Firmware To Comply With FCC Rules

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  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Saturday March 12, 2016 @02:35PM (#51685203)

    There needs to be a requirement that all products that are country/region locked have that fact clearly displayed on any product advertising and packaging. The public needs to be aware that something they buy will become unusable if they travel or move with it.

    I am sorry you laptop/phone does not work while you are in mexico/canada/......

    • One should be aware that different countries have different regulations. Often those regulations concern RF transmitters and the like.

      Unless someone or something tells you that your RF transmitting device will work in a foreign country, you should presume that it either a) won't. or b) would be against their regulations.

  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday March 12, 2016 @02:36PM (#51685205) Homepage

    So when there's a security hole in an old box - will TP-Link fix that or will they just say "buy a new box"?

    • by fuzzyf ( 1129635 )
      I got myself a TP link earlier that included a backdoor, mentioned earlier on slashdot.
      http://tech.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

      So I asked support when they would fix it. The reply I got told me to just make sure nobody got into my LAN and things would be ok.

      Never bying anything TP again. Ever.
  • Wink Wink (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Saturday March 12, 2016 @02:42PM (#51685235)
    "As a result of these necessary changes, users are not able to flash the current generation of open-source, third-party firmware. We are excited to see the creative ways members of the open-source community update the new firmware to meet their needs." That's a pretty obvious wink and nod there. "We are required to make it look like we're actually trying to stop you from doing this. We look forward to seeing all the new ways you figure out how to do it anyway."
    • Re:Wink Wink (Score:4, Informative)

      by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Saturday March 12, 2016 @03:10PM (#51685337) Journal

      Eh... this is more of a “we look forward to F/OSS developers developing ways of ensuring region coding matches the installing firmware.”

      They're not really locking anything, they're just adding a region-locking value that must match before the image is flashed. Honestly, you could just work around this by providing the same image with all the different region-codes.

      But I think they're hoping that the F/OSS community will develop a way of ensuring that specific region-codes get a specific firmware that ensures it complies with the RF transmission regulations of that region.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        But I think they're hoping that the F/OSS community will develop a way of ensuring that specific region-codes get a specific firmware that ensures it complies with the RF transmission regulations of that region.

        While I agree with your sentiment, I don't think TP-Link is hoping for anything. They need to comply to be allowed to sell devices in the region, the US in this case. The "F/OSS community" as a whole isn't a big enough market to care about compared to the alternative of being forbidden to sell anything.

        Even the FCC doesn't really care about modders not strictly following the rules... until they cause interference to somebody that does care. Now a little WiFi box doesn't usually have enough power to do mu

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Saturday March 12, 2016 @03:00PM (#51685283)

    TP-LINK: "We really don't want to have to deal with the FCC on this, so we're going to huff and puff a little for show, and add this little piece of easily bypassable code to cover our asses..."

    • This is the same approach Netflix is taking. Hollywood is trying to force it to geoblock movie and TV content by preventing people from using VPNs, but everyone knows that any day now, some simple workaround will be published online, and Netflix will just respond "Gee, we tried, didn't we?"

    • ...but it will still do the job. TP-Link is covered, because you can't install a Japanese firmware image (which would include Japanese radio parameters) onto a North American device. Everything TP-Link produces will be in compliance with the rules.

      If an open-source project like DD-WRT wants to produce firmware images that can break FCC rules, by offering the user full control of the radio, for example, that's not TP-Link's problem. That's the third-party vendor breaking the rules, not TP-Link. Similarly if

  • However, TP-LINK does not offer any guarantees or technical support for customers attempting to flash any third-party firmware to their devices.

    Should that be surprising in any way?

  • Devices sold in the United States will have firmware and wireless settings that ensure compliance with local laws and regulations related to transmission power.

    I bought my router the last time I visited Germany and brought it home with me. Now what?

  • by Lobsang ( 255003 ) on Saturday March 12, 2016 @04:06PM (#51685605) Homepage

    Well yes, I gave up OpenWRT and DD-WRT a while ago. It's not that I don't like those projects -- I've used them extensively and respect their authors. The problem is that they're plagued by bugs that never get fixed and compatibility issues with all sorts of devices. For instance, just try to find the "right" version of DD-WRT to download to your wireless router and you'll see what I'm talking about.

    What we need now is an open *hardware* platform, running Linux, with a quality radio and Wireless drivers. I'd go completely crazy for a Linux powered beast like this doing AC1900 or something like that. I'd definitely pay *more* for this platform.

    And screw all the TP-assholes and NET-assholes.

  • This out of control US organisation "FCC" should really refrain from meddling what owners "are allowed" to do with their devices.
    Their silly interference [sic] in this field is only supporting artificial business models by router and phone makers, and preventing solid security to be implemented.

  • Cisco basically says you can use Open Source software on your device (the one you're manufacturing) as long as it's not something like GPL3-licensed. Because that would require you to make the software updatable for the user. Their opinion has no bearing on using the likes of OpenWRT or derived AP offerings. None at all.

    Anyone who's actually taken a closer look at the relevant FCC regulation (or its equally restrictive ETSI counterpart) will struggle to come up with ways to fully comply with this regulatio

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Anyone who's actually taken a closer look at the relevant FCC regulation (or its equally restrictive ETSI counterpart) will struggle to come up with ways to fully comply with this regulation without locking down the firmware. If you have a WLAN chip that has efuses/internal EEPROM that contain country settings, and if the chip reads them instead of the driver, then all is good. In every other case, it's very difficult.

      Of course, neither FCC nor ETSI care about that at all. And manufacturers will probably co

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