The risk of Comcast’s home hotspot feature

This week I got a letter from Comcast informing me of a new feature:

Your XFINITY® Wireless Gateway broadcasts an additional “xfinitywifi” network signal for use with XFINITY WiFi. This creates an extension of the XFINITY WiFi network right in your home that any XFINITY Internet subscriber can use to sign in and connect.

In other words, Comcast is turning its customers’ cable modems into WiFi hotspots that other customers can use. They provide assurances that “we anticipate minimal impact to the in-home WiFi network.” In my case, that’s probably true. I live in a condominium, and any other Comcast customers in Wi-Fi range presumably have their own equipment. Still, there is a risk. The police are sometimes dumb when investigating criminal activity that’s been connected to an IP address and assume that the holder of the address is responsible for anything that goes through. I wouldn’t want my house raided and my computer impounded if someone accessed child porn through my equipment.

For reasons I don’t understand, unless it’s just to make it difficult, you can’t opt out online; you have to call 855-845-6834. I did that, and the process was reasonably straightforward. One thing I didn’t like was that I was asked to give the last four digits of my Social Security Number (or my “social,” as people like to call it when they want you to feel comfortable about giving it to them). I wasn’t asked for my Comcast account number. There’s really no excuse for asking for a Social Security Number for anything that doesn’t involve a financial transaction or official government business. Give the last four digits, and the search space is reduced to 100,000 possibilities.

As a related issue, I might have occasion to use Comcast’s Xfinity hotspots, and I wonder how I’m supposed to tell a real one from a spoof. Anyone can call their hotspot “xfinitywifi” and set it up to ask for a Comcast username and password. It’s inevitable that some crooks will try it.

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