Cable modem security: what you don't know

Cable modem security: what you don't know


Despite warnings from service providers and security experts, many cable modem users are leaving themselves wide open to hackers.

Last year, the potential dangers of using a cable modem with Windows 95 were well publicised, but the vulnerability was brought to the forefront again recently by a Californian computer consultant who recently signed up for cable Internet access through @Home Network, the largest service of its kind in the US.

Glen Hamilton says he was poking around in Network Neighbourhood on his PC when he discovered 150 or so remote systems listed there; he was able to access their resources with a couple of clicks.

"I hit four or five computers that were very simple home computers," said Hamilton.

"On their hard disks were TurboTax, Quicken, home banking, and all the letters that the users had written . . . I can get access to the user's whole computer and download information, at the rate of 20Mb a minute. I could suck somebody's whole computer dry in no time, not to mention delete all the files," he added.

The security vulnerability stems from the fact that cable-based Internet access services function as a kind of private network. And cable system users who enable file-sharing in the Networking menu of Windows 95's Control Panel could be leaving their hard disks open to other subscribers.

Highly flammable

Home officials say they have been aware of this potentially flammable mix of Windows 95 and cable modems since the service launched more than a year ago. Its technicians routinely protect subscribers, according to the spokes-person, by turning off Windows 95 file sharing when they install the service. The only reason to turn it on, he said, is to work over a LAN, which @Home doesn't support.

But Hamilton says that rule is unrealistic and that he and many other @Home subscribers need to be able to use file-sharing. In fact, he estimates that 20 per cent of the systems he sees under Network Neighbourhood are corporate LANs or business users who connect to a LAN from home.

What's more, Hamilton says, cable modem users need file-sharing switched on to enable several members of a family to sign on as different users on a single machine and access the same files. And it must be enabled to transfer files between a desktop and a notebook or a PDA.

For this reason, he believes cable access providers must redesign their systems so that users can't see or access each others' local resources.

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