According to Comcast, home is where the (ahem) hotspot is. Last year the cable company began adding technology to their routers, creating public hotspots for Comcast customers wishing to access free WiFi on the go. In June, Comcast rolled out 1 million of these public hotspots to homes nationwide with a goal of 8 million total by the end of 2014.
Each router has two separate antennae, emitting two distinct signals. One is reserved for your own private use, while the other serves as a gateway to the public. To ensure internet speeds are not lagging due to high traffic, only five people can sign on to the public hotspot at a time.
Let’s walk through a potential scenario where this public hotspot may be useful. You have a small get together at your home and are hesitant to pass out your WiFi password to party guests. Comcast customers in attendance can easily access the Internet by logging into the open “xfinitywi-fi” network with their Comcast credentials. Although these open access points reduce the amount of mobile data consumption by allowing customers to connect quickly and easily in public places, they also give potential hackers carte blanche to spoof your personal data.
For example, your smartphone is set to automatically connect to previously used WiFi networks. This leaves the door wide open for hackers, as anyone can mimic the network name (SSID) and steal your username and password, potentially gaining access to Comcast billing and and account information.
A hacker mimicking the network name isn’t the only potentially bad scenario. Let’s say someone visiting your home participates in illegal activity online. Although they are using the public wireless hotspot, they share an IP address with your connected devices. Comcast says an offender can be tracked by their Comcast’s credentials, but this still may not prevent the cops from beating down your door with a search warrant. Hmm…not sure if the pros outweigh the cons on this one.
There are some ways you can combat this issue and protect yourself from potential hackers. On an iPhone, you can manually adjust the setting to be prompted prior to joining WiFi networks. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option on many Android devices.
Have no fear; you can opt out of this Comcast feature. The easiest option is to ditch the Comcast router altogether and buy your own. Or, you can call Comcast and request to be removed from the service. Because, you know, that’s easy.