FCC clears the air on router hacking

Router hacking is a geek staple. No computer geek worth his or her salt would consider running vanilla firmware - the likes of Tomato are where it's at. A little while back, the FCC suggested plans to ban such hacking via open source firmware... or at least that's how it seemed.

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. He says that the aim is not to stop people from modifying their routers completely, but to stop them from modifying them in ways that would render them illegal - such as increasing their power beyond a certain level.

Knapp says:

One of our key goals is to protect against harmful interference by calling on manufacturers to secure their devices against third party software modifications that would take a device out of its RF compliance. Yet, as the record shows, there is concern that our proposed rules could have the unintended consequence of causing manufacturers to 'lock down' their devices and prevent all software modifications, including those impacting security vulnerabilities and other changes on which users rely.

A new revision to the manufacturer guidance regarding software has been published. The document clarifies that the aim is to prevent RF interference between devices:

The purpose of this rule is to prevent modifications to the software that could, for example, disable dynamic frequency selection (technology necessary for preventing interference to radars), enable tuning to unauthorized frequencies, increase power above authorized levels, etc. The rule is not intended to prevent or inhibit modification of any other software or firmware in the device, such as software modifications to improve performance, configure RF networks or improve cybersecurity.

These types of software and firmware modifications, including updates to address security vulnerabilities are known to be highly desired by many users and manufacturers are encouraged to design their systems to permit such software upgrades while ensuring security of the portion that controls compliance with the FCC technical requirements.

So you can gaily continue to hack away - hooray!

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