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Privacy Communications The Internet United Kingdom Wireless Networking

Virgin Media Starts Turning Customer Routers Into Public Wi-Fi Hotspots (arstechnica.co.uk) 149

UK ISP Virgin Media is expanding its public Wi-Fi network by co-opting customers' home routers as hotspots. Only the most recent router design (the SuperHub v3) will be recruited at first, and customers can opt-out from the program if they wish. Virgin says the change will have "no impact on customers" because affected homes will be allocated extra bandwidth. ArsTechnica offers more context: A little background: a couple of years ago, Virgin Media started trialling a public Wi-Fi service very similar to "BT Wi-Fi with FON," where residential BT customers have their routers turned into hotspots. For some reason the broad rollout of Virgin's service was delayed until now. There are some curious differences between BT and Virgin Media's approach, though. For starters, it seems only Virgin Media customers will have access to this nationwide Wi-Fi network; BT grants free access to BT customers, but non-customers can pay for access ($5 per hour). The owner of that subverted hotspot doesn't get any of the money, of course. Furthermore, while BT customers must share their ADSL or VDSL bandwidth with any public Wi-Fi users, Virgin Media promises that "your home network is completely separate from Virgin Media WiFi traffic, meaning the broadband connection you pay for is exclusively yours, and just as secure."
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Virgin Media Starts Turning Customer Routers Into Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

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  • Yes please (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:04PM (#54234829)

    Who doesn't trust their consumer grade router to handle this traffic appropriately?

    I foresee the day a Jehovah's witness comes to my door asking if I can power cycle my router.

    • Re:Yes please (Score:4, Insightful)

      by magarity ( 164372 ) on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:21PM (#54234953)

      You should foresee the day the swat team kicks in your door at 3 am to shoot you for peddling kiddie porn.

      • Re:Yes please (Score:5, Informative)

        by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:30PM (#54235005) Journal

        You should foresee the day the swat team kicks in your door at 3 am to shoot you for peddling kiddie porn.

        Pretty sure Virgin is going to do the same thing that Comcast does now - separate IP range, separate SSID, separate MAC addys, separate bandwidth allocation/QoS... ...so instead of logging into an open Comcast SSID with a Comcast account, you just do a quickie click-trhough EULA like any other open hotspot, and whoever is renting the router is completely isolated from the public SSID (unless the person is actually using the hotspot him/herself...)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Pretty sure Virgin is going to do the same thing that Comcast does now - separate IP range, separate SSID, separate MAC addys, separate bandwidth allocation/QoS...

          And yet, the aforementioned SWAT Team / ICE brigate will demand _only_ to know the address where the traffic is coming from and by time Brad tells Tad tells Chad, that footnote on an administrative file will be brought up only in a wrongful death [killedbypolice.net] inquiry. (spoiler: use of force was justified).

          cf. Court OKs Barring High IQs for Cops [go.com]

          • by zlives ( 2009072 )

            you don't have to use comcast's router... so if you care about it, put your own cable modem/router out there.

            • That's what I did. Went to Best Buy for a router, not the fa$te$t router available, but close.

              My bandwidth is my own. Comcast can go suck eggs.

            • if you care about it, put your own cable modem/router out there.

              I'd say that everyone has a good reason use their own modem/router.

              • If you don't want to share, you need to disable the ISP's paid wireless.
              • If you do want to share, you should run an OpenWireless [openwireless.org] or Hyperboria [hyperboria.net] node instead of allowing the ISP to profit at your expense.
          • God, the dramatics. Is this happening all the time now with the myriad open hotspots in the world? I hadn't heard of rash of SWAT raids of McDonald's or Starbuck's.

            I promise everything will be fine, you can stop hyperventilating over this non-issue.

            • McDonald's or Starbuck's are the best examples, they're corporations. We're talking about non-military, non-corporate, non-research regular civilians here.

        • ...none of which will be transmitted to the Scotland Yard honeytrap site, only the router's public IP, which is unlikely to be different.
        • It would take just a simple exploit through this and someone could then potentially gain access to your network. Wpa2 etc isn't secure but this is just another attack point that you have no control of. What if I only run Ethernet for security and they go do this I would be pissed off.
        • The exit / entry point for data is going to be that specific router in your home, regardless of what logical separation of traffic is going on.

          As a result, if $shady_user is doing something stupid while connected to that device, all eyes are going to be on the owner or location of said device.

          We all know LE doesn't grasp the concept of " an IP address isn't an individual ", nor does it stop them from kicking down doors authorized via a warrant. ( Warrants always specify a specific address / location. If i

          • The guest will get his own IP address, completely separate from the rest of the router, and the ISP will log the IP address together with the guest credentials. The router location is irrelevant.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yawn. The FBI contacted our business due to kiddie porn being distributed via one of our open wifi networks on a Verizon DSL router. Nobody involved could say who it was and it could have been someone off the street.

        Nobodies door got kicked in and nobody was in any legal trouble. The FBI IT team contacted us and took a look, that was it. Nobody had guns to their heads.

    • Do people no longer buy their own modems/routers....?

      If you have your own, that would pretty much guarantee that the company can't do this to your home/business connection...

      • That's why I bought my own. I'm not sharing with unknown strangers anymore. Those days are long gone.

      • Do people no longer buy their own modems/routers....?

        I used to use my own Motorola Surfboard cable modem, but now use my ISP's Cisco 3212 EMTA VoIP/cable modem (as it's required for phone service and I can use the included DOCSIS 3.0 8x4 cable modem w/o extra charge), but I have my own DLink DSR 250 [dlink.com] (router) and separate DLink DAP 2660 [dlink.com] (WiFi AP). All my switches and NICs are Gbit.

  • Too late (Score:2, Interesting)

    4G is now good enough that it's just not worth the hassle of connecting to unreliable WiFi hotspots, and losing connection every time you go out of range. Do they even support seamless connection handover as you walk down the street ?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      4G costs data which translates to money. Wifi doesn't.

      • 4G costs data which translates to money. Wifi doesn't.

        I pay $15 for 10GB/month, and I typically only use around 5-6GB of that, so saving data does not save money.

    • Depends - it's mega-cheaper for me to just have a limited data plan (2GB), since my home is way, way, way, *way* out in the sticks (one side of my property has a working data/cell connection, the other side of it has zero cell coverage). However, when I'm in town, I'll turn on wifi on the phone if I have to (or want to) do anything that uses streaming or a lot of phone data.

      Usually though, I'm not actually moving anywhere, unless the train has wifi on it already, which makes the concept of handover moot.

    • Do they even support seamless connection handover as you walk down the street?

      If it's like Comcast Xfinity, yes and no. Yes, it's supported if you save a certificate on your laptop/phone (this way, you don't have to click through a EULA each time). But no, in practice Xfinity hotspots are not all the same quality and at the same distance while you travel, and some do not work at all. So if you have a cell phone, and if you're using GPS navigation, you'll want to disable the wifi on your phone because your phone will possibly connect to non-working Xfinity hotspots instead of using yo

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      "Do they even support seamless connection handover as you walk down the street ?"

      Do you even basic Wireless AP mesh networking?

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:08PM (#54234855) Homepage
    Does the ISP assume liability if someone uses your Wi-Fi for illegal purposes?
    • The ISP knows who's using the connection, so that should be fairly easy.

      • by zlives ( 2009072 )

        because credentials are never compromised.

        • by Shatrat ( 855151 )

          This has nothing to do with credentials. It will be a separate SSID, a separate routing and NAT instance, and a separate WAN interface on a different VLAN than the one used for the subscriber traffic. With the correct QoS configuration, it might as well be a different device.

          • by zlives ( 2009072 )

            the question was not about traffic segregation but rather about "ISP knows who's using the connection".

        • Just like they can on private networks.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you read how they are structuring it, of course they do. The traffic won't have your IP, it'll have a Virgin Media Wifi IP address. And it's only available to Virgin Media customers anyway.

      So the police would be able to know where the person was, and which virgin media account they were using. Virgin would immediately be able to tell them this. It could only be confused with the router-owning customer if they joined the 'public' side network.

    • there's a snowball's chance in hell the ISP is going to pay your legal fees if you get sued/imprisoned because somebody used your router to pull MP3s, movies or worse, child porn. IIRC the UK doesn't have Juries so you might (_might_) have a better chance. Here in the States unless you're tall, good looking and personable you almost always plea bargain because our juries are so damn unpredictable. That and ridiculous mandatory sentencing guidelines that prevent judges from overriding juries at sentencing ti
      • there's a snowball's chance in hell the ISP is going to pay your legal fees

        They make money off of this service, so it's in their interest to defend their customers, otherwise nobody will use it after the first mishap. Besides, it will be an easy case for them, because all they have to do is grab the login credentials, and hand them the name and address of the real abuser.

    • Does the ISP assume liability if someone uses your Wi-Fi for illegal purposes?

      What do you mean by "your Wi-Fi"? Nobody is using your WiFi. Somebody is using a second network created by the router in your home, which uses a second connection to your ISP.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        Somebody is using a second network created by the router in your home, which uses a second connection to your ISP.

        Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:09PM (#54234867)

    Comcast already does this. If you use one of their modems/routers instead of providing your own, the router establishes two networks, one your provide WIFI network, the other a Comcast Xinfiniti (or whatever they call it) network that provides free access to Comcast subscribers (or partners among some of the other cable cartel folks). It's pretty convenient: I can have wifi access pretty much anywhere in my city, even while riding the bus, through the service. I don't play along at home, since I use my own cable modem and router, but I enjoy the benefits while out and about in the city. I also don't have a cell phone, so I only use wifi on my tablet and laptop - if I had a cell phone, the wifi coverage would probably make much less sense to me, but I refuse to be reachable 24-7.

    I don't get why TFS has all that "subverted hotspot" snark. Virgin is just adopting an idea that's turned out to be very convenient in the communities where it's already operating. I know it's fashionable to hate ISPs, but this seems like a helpful step forward.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by sobachatina ( 635055 )

      If you don't understand the snark then why don't you "play along" at home.

      Sure the idea is great for people consuming the service- it isn't so great for the unwitting customers providing the service at the expense of their bandwidth and security.

      (Yes. I saw that they claimed it won't affect bandwidth or security. Why would you believe that?)

      • Sure the idea is great for people consuming the service- it isn't so great for the unwitting customers providing the service at the expense of their bandwidth and security.

        Many people leave their homes from time to time, so they could get the "great" stuff along with this "unwitting" part (which is not a big bandwidth or security problem anyway). These are not two disjoint, mutually antagonistic groups.

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      I haven't seen this feature enabled on the Comcast wireless router in my home. Of course, I live in an apartment complex with 300+ units. One more hotspot among hundreds will probably go unnoticed.
    • The only times I ever used it (back when I was a Comcrap customer), it was too slow. I had to rip it off my phone because any time I was within range of Xfinifuoo it would be unusable.

  • The setting to turn it off is in the router/modem box. Not a big deal.
    • by skids ( 119237 )

      ISTR having to have my housemate phone this in.

      Also it still keeps broadcasting a mystery SSID-less beacon thereafter.

      And, as far as not impacting your network at all, beacon pollution is a huge deal [revolutionwifi.net]

      You're best to use your own APs on a different channel than whatever Comcast is squatting on.

    • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:43PM (#54235129)

      The setting to turn it off is in the router/modem box. Not a big deal.

      And tehn setting up a fake hotspot that allows you to spy on all the traffic coming through. Seriously, Comcast is training users their WiFi is safe; setting people up for scammers who decide to impersonate Comcast and steal whatever information they want while they route traffic.

    • Wanna bet? Mine kept getting turned back on - whether by them or the ongoing "updates - and yes, supposedly you can turn it off but: One time (actually the last time) I turned it off but the blinky lights on front said it was still on.

      I called Comcast and their support "turned" it off but the blinky wifi lights were still doing their thing. Nope. Don't believe 'em.

      • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

        One time (actually the last time) I turned it off but the blinky lights on front said it was still on.

        I called Comcast and their support "turned" it off but the blinky wifi lights were still doing their thing. Nope. Don't believe 'em.

        Was it too difficult to look at your devices and see if the network was actually still appearing?

  • by Zombie Ryushu ( 803103 ) on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:14PM (#54234893)

    I do not use ISP Routers. Only a Modem. (the Modem acts as a PPPoE Bridge, it used to be an ATM Bridge, but now its a PPPoE Bridge.) and my Routers all run DD-WRT. I don't trust ISP Routers and neither should you.

    • I leave the ISP router mostly alone, and have an interior firewall. It maybe adds 5-6 milliseconds of latency, likely due to the second NAT layer, but adds peace of mind. At least the ISP's device respects the "all wi-fi off" setting. If it didn't, I'd probably see about "liberating" the antennas from the device.

    • This is the way to go. I ran into this setting up a network at a friends business from Time Warner. They connected with their device and was broadcasting a SSID for any Time Warner account to connect to the router (granted on a different network from the internal network), but without letting their customer know about it. When I asked to be allowed access to the device because I wanted to redistribute the internal DHCP IP address pool and also turn off the SSID broadcast, they said "we do not allow custo

    • Moving to a better router? DD-WRT isn't as updated as it should be these days and has slow performance. Modern consumer routers are fast because they use packet acceleration tech built in to their chips. DD-WRT doesn't know how to do that (at least not that I've ever seen).

      So what I recommend for geek types is go to three devices: Modem -> router -> wireless. You can repurpose your existing router as a WAP, or get a purpose built WAP. Either way, you don't do routing on it. Then get a purpose built ro

  • ... either does this or is making provisions for doing so with two VLAN connections to their supplied WiFi hubs.

    A relative of mine lives in West Seattle, on a hill overlooking some city property that has become a notorious hobo jungle. Homeless advocates have been pushing for Internet access in some of these locations [wsj.com]. His reactions was "No way am I making my back yard more attractive for the bums. Please help me replace the CL router with one I can secure."

    • If the city ends up putting it in and it attracts people to hang out there, I would buy a cheap router with a strong antenna and set the SSID to the same one as the public hot spot is using and do the best to overpower the real SSID signal. Don't connect the router to the internet, so it goes no where.

      Legally, companies have gotten away with using higher end Cisco gear to send de-auth packets to any wifi that wasn't the one managed by the Cisco controller. This would require some expensive gear to do t
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bandwidth when it is not in use.
    You should get something.

  • by hughbar ( 579555 ) on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:36PM (#54235053) Homepage
    Apologies to US readers, but Virgin are busy suing our health service: http://healthcaretimes.co.uk/v... [healthcaretimes.co.uk] so I'm boycotting anything that has the Virgin label, airlines, sport, fibre etc. etc.

    This particular thing is ridiculous, invasive and potentially full of infosec/legal problems too. Just don't.
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      It made me so mad, I quit having sex with virgins!

    • Apologies to US readers, but Virgin are busy suing our health service: http://healthcaretimes.co.uk/v... [healthcaretimes.co.uk] so I'm boycotting anything that has the Virgin label, airlines, sport, fibre etc. etc.

      They are suing over a potentially rigged procurement process that may have resulted in *you* getting screwed out of your tax dollars which didn't go to the lowest bidder but rather on some backroom deal.

      You should boycot your healthcare instead. The courts are exactly the correct damn place for this kind of disagreement to be voiced.

      • by hughbar ( 579555 )
        First thing, we don't have 'tax dollars', we have another currency called 'pounds'.

        Second thing, the 'internal market' (introduced by Thatcher) within the NHS (our healthcare system) is an anathema to most Brits. We do not wish to die, just because we have no cash, as in the US. That doesn't answer the 'rigged' question, but see below.

        This: https://www.theguardian.com/so... [theguardian.com] is one of several 'incidents' involving Virgin Healthcare looking to the bottom line rather than to patients. As such, (my opinio
        • Ahhh I see. You have a general hate against Virgin and therefore think it's alright to subtly rig a procurement process against them rather than openly block them for specific reasons up front. In any case do you deny that the courts are exactly where this should end up?

          If so I will call you a shill. Shilling for general stupidity everywhere.

      • boycotting the NHS is literally not a thing that can be done.

        If we stop using it, it saves them money and they'll start meeting their targets more easily. Boycotting would be doing them a favour.

  • by j2.718ff ( 2441884 ) on Friday April 14, 2017 @12:43PM (#54235127)

    Currently, I live in an apartment, with >12 visible WiFi networks. That means my WiFi connections are often quite poor due to overuse of the same frequencies. I can only imagine how poor my reception would become if these 12 WiFi routers were each acting as 2 WiFi hotspots.

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      I live in an apartment complex with 300+ units. The 2.4GHz wireless is dead slow between 7PM and 2AM. Less interference on the 5GHz wireless.
    • No more poorer than before. These second hotspots don't magically create a second WiFi transmitter. They only open a second logical SSID on the same channel and bandwidth as your existing WiFi with QoS prioritising your traffic over the other. If you look at this on an analyser you will see double the number of SSIDs but absolutely zero change in the spectrum.

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        That would be the wifi transmitter that is currently disabled in my Virgin Media modem/router.

        Switching that on will add contention for the Wifi bands in my house/area, almost certainly impacting on my existing networks.

        I'll be opting out.

        • Your scenario is different to the one I replied to. It is also in the massive minority. The vast majority of routers out there are either a) at default settings (which you can see given that the majority of them don't even change their default SSIDs), or with custom settings but wifi still running.

  • I've allowed those who are in range (effectively no one due to the thickness of walls) side access through my BT router for years. Far from it being "subverted", it was a conscious choice on my part; sign up for BT FON, use wireless hotspots around the globe for free. As I live in a residential area, the likelihood of someone parked by my house hoping for an open hotspot is remote, plus I'm not such a bandwidth hog that my connection is saturated 24/7. In any case, the guest network gets what's left over. T

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      Check your house on https://wigle.net/ [wigle.net]

      If you live in a built-up area, chances are someone is currently advertising the fact that you have a wireless network, especially if it's only WEP or completely open.

      And just wait until it's compromised and the firmware fault lets guests slip into your router and sniff all your traffic and/or enter your local network.

      There's a reason that you put a router between your Internet connection and local network (and, no, the SuperHub / Home Hubs don't count because they are

  • What is this, 2003? Come on, that is ridiculous. Also, does anyone really care about wifi in this day and age of mobile data? If they had actually joined FON, I would be thrilled, but otherwise this is pretty pointless.

  • And plug it back in in the morning.

    It's still using your electricity to run their business.

  • With the increased bandwidth (and presumably the Wi-fi listening on a new, second channel?), would this increase the electricity usage of the router? It might only be pennies a day, but still the customer has to pay more to support someone else's Wi-fi connection as well as their own...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Explains exactly why they fobbed a Superhub 3 in my direction, with threat of disconnection at the end of this month if I didn't upgrade my old Modem to it.
    Of course, I'm running it in modem mode anyway so this shouldn't affect me, but, trust them? I think not...there's a Faraday cage lurking around somewhere in the loft from the old days of testing RF gear with the things name on it, failing that, I've so many old PC cases kicking around I'm sure I can rig one up to perform a similar function.
    On a side not

  • French major operators have been doing this country-wide for years. At least the experience can help calming down nervous users.
  • Comcast and multiple other cable companies are doing this in the US, and the biggest issue I'm aware of is that the boxes that they put in to do this apparently draw enough power that it adds up over the course of the year. They can get away with it in part because the capacity of the coax coming into your house or office is so high that you're not paying for all of it anyway, so the hotspot shouldn't have any impact on your available bandwidth.

    The problem with what's described in this article is that they'
  • Got out of bed this morning, usual shower, get dressed, go downstairs.. letter sat on the doormap. It's from Virgin Media informing of this change, and including a URL that I can apparently use to opt out.

    No information on how or why this might benefit me, as a customer.

    I'll opt out.

  • Comcast has been doing that for years. If you don't want it, the easiest workaround is to supply your own router rather than using one of theirs. They'll still let you do that for now.

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