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Cable Modem Hacking Goes Mainstream (Don't do it..and this is why)

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Guest thecableguy

An ambitious hackware project promises to bring illicit broadband "uncapping" to the masses, and with it the risks that come with high-speed hijinks.

From a pitiable 56Kbps AOL dial-up somewhere in suburban Colorado, 19-year-old Myko Hein would like to tap out this sad, regretful message to the powers-that-be at his former cable Internet provider, AT&T Broadband: I was wrong. It'll never happen again. Please take me back.

Just last month Hein thought of AT&T's service as unbearably slow -- acceptable, perhaps, for sending e-mail, but pure molasses when it came to trading software in Internet chat rooms. Hein's thirst for speed finally drove him to employ a sophisticated hack that "uncapped" his cable modem, obliterating the bandwidth limit imposed by the company, and granting him speed beyond the dreams of hotwired youth.

But it only took six hours for AT&T to catch Hein, cut him off, and ban him from their network for life. "They said they considered it theft of service," recalls Hein. "There were no second chances."

It's easy to see the hot rod appeal of tinkering with one's cable modem to tap into ridiculously high data speeds, and uncapping has become a popular exercise in the bandwidth-hungry "warez" and movie-trading underground. Today, the most common target is Motorola's popular Surfboard line of cable modems. Hackers generate a replacement configuration file for the modem that omits the capacity limits installed by the service provider. They then trick the modem into accepting the bogus file.

In addition to violating the typical broadband service agreement, there can be an anti-social aspect to uncapping. Providers put capacity limits in their subscriber's modems to prevent each user from taking more than their fair share of the bandwidth available on each node. In other words, if a user uncaps his or her modem and starts hogging bandwidth during peak hours, neighbors will suffer reduced performance. Uncapping sometimes robs Peter to pay Paul.

Instructions for pulling off the configuration file hack have been on the Web for at least a year, and chat rooms and Web boards are crowded with uncappers trading tips and experiences. But AT&T Broadband describes it as a minor problem, at worst. "I don't think it's something that's rampant," says spokesperson Sarah Eder. "It's not widespread."

Uncapping Prometheus

If cable modem hacking hasn't become a huge problem for service providers, it's probably because the process remains intimidating for non-technical users. The subscriber has to program a DOCSIS configuration file with a special editor, run their own TFTP server, change their IP address and run an DHCP server that tricks the modem into pulling the config file from their host. Dedicated hobbyists have refined the procedure and written tools to automate key portions of it, but pitfalls and caveats abound.

But that's all about to change, with the pending release of "OneStep," a user-friendly all-in-one tool that promises to make cable modem uncapping a point-and-click sport.

The work of a dangerously unemployed U.S. coder who calls himself "DerEngel," working with a colleague named "Byter", OneStep is described as a 30 megabyte monster of a program that rolls up all the various servers and spoofers needed to pull off a cable modem hack. It then hides it all behind a pretty interface with pull-down menus for selecting your service provider, modem make and model, and even the new speed limit you'd like to put on your modem -- in case you don't want the full 10 Mbs Ethernet speed.

So far, the beta version is closely held, but few in the uncapping scene dismiss OneStep as vaporware. DerEngel is already famous as the underground Prometheus of super-broadband -- the author of several publicly released programs that automate some of the steps in the uncapping process, and the host of a popular how-to site and chat system dedicated to uncapping. In an IRC interview, DerEngel said he plans to release OneStep in late May, and he expects it to open up the arcane art of uncapping to the masses. "It will be the first program of its kind," says the coder.

Speed Kills?

But what about the consequences? Myko Hein suffers a low-bandwidth exile as a result of his six hours of living dangerously. His father, who shared the household cable modem, now has to slog into work every day -- the dial-up is too slow for telecommuting. The only other broadband available in his neighborhood is IDSL service from the phone company, which would break his family's budget at over $100 a month.

Hein insists he didn't even know he was violating his service agreement, and claims the uncapping was done by an automated script passed to him by a friend on IRC -- a kind of OneStep Lite, written specifically for his service provider, modem and operating system, which he mistook for a perfectly normal connection optimizing tool. Without commenting on any particular case, AT&T Broadband claims it doesn't automatically ban a user for uncapping, and wouldn't have cut Hein off without warning unless there were aggravating factors. "We handle this on a case-by-case basis, and if someone is uncapping their service they could have their service terminated," says AT&T's Eder. "But there are all kinds of things that we have to take into account in an investigation."

DerEngel says smart uncappers know how to avoid detection. In any case, OneStep will provide disclaimers and warning statements so that the easy-to-use program will not tempt the truly innocent. Hein, who wanted more and wound up with far less, offers this advice: "Don't uncap your stuff," he says miserably. "Just don't."

Courtesy of SecurityFocus

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Guest thecableguy

people still trying to do this crap  :roll:  i bet they all get shut down fast

Actually worse than ever..BUT...detection is almost immediate and the end result is not only real nasty but also can be expensive if the ISP decides to make an example of you.  In most cases they totally remove your cable drop (yes...they rip the box right off the wall and take down the drop) and your house will never get cable until the property is sold or re-leased (and some extreme cases not even then).  And this happens real quick man....consider yourself lucky if nothing worse happens.  Many ISP's (much like AT&T) are taking a zero tolerance policy and taking no prisoners, involving law enforcement and these days anything computer related seems to get the FBI's attention.  They will no doubt review the case and if warranted then your case suddenly becomes federal....and you don't want that....trust me....best case it costs you tons of money right out of the start gate and worst case you have a roommate named bubba.

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Guest thecableguy

I want to point out one thing...in the article the kid is quoted as saying that he got the software to do it off an IRC server.  If this kid is using IRC and is actually in a pirating chatroom where someone has gifted him with software he knows exactly what he was doing and certainly knew it was illegal.  I don't buy for a second his lame excuse that he thought it was a "system tuning" application.....and obviously neither did AT&T.

I do however feel somewhat sorry for his parents....they obviously were clueless as to what their child was up to.....then again....todays family values....dad probably knew exactly what his son was up but was unaware of the actual consequences because son probably told daddy that everyones doing it and they can't get caught.

Hey parents out there.....just because your child knows more about using a computer or the internet than you do does not mean they have the common sense enough to avoid doing something stupid....you are the adult....you are responsible for your childs actions....kindly take that responsibility and do the right thing....ignorance is not a defense.....

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Guest thecableguy

I'm and Adelphia subscriber and with their 'Extreme' service spanning ever slow slowly, I now know why people do this...it's there and they (including me) want it now dammit!  :haha:

TheHalf

Oh my.....hey it will be there soon enough and it's not worth being forced back to dialup for the remainder of the stay at your house....or an untimely date with bubba?  :)

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Guest thecableguy

Did this guy get some kind of a fine for uncapping his modem?

In his case no, the ISP (AT&T) took the high road and just banned him for life from their services.  I think they took this approach because he was a minor and also because they could not prove he was involved in any major uncapping activities.  If he had been involved in assisting others in uncapping modems and got caught the penalties would have been more severe...minor or not.

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