TP-Link to Block Open Source Router Firmware in the US

Popular network hardware manufacturer TP-Link have stated that they will be preventing their users from loading open source firmware such as DD-WRT and OpenWRT onto its routers sold in the United States as part of a move to comply with new Federal Communications Commission regulations.

The rule laid out by the FCC aim to limit the amount of interference with devices, by disallowing user modifications to wireless networking hardware that causes it to operate outside of licensed radio frequency limits. The FCC do not intend to deliberately ban the use of third-party router firmware from use entirely, theoretically allowing router manufacturers to permit the installation of this firmware provided there are controls in place that block devices from operating outside of their specified frequencies, power levels and types of modulation.

With locking out custom firmware being the easiest way to ensure the new FCC regulations were upheld, the open source community feared that this would be the action taken by manufacturers. In this case, they were right.

In all TP-Link routers produced on and after June 2, 2016, TP-Link’s changes will mean that “users are not able to flash the current generation of open-source, third-party firmware.” They also stated that “excited to see the creative ways members of the open-source community update the new firmware to meet their needs.” However, they did not provide any further information as to what would allow future versions of custom firmware to be installed on these routers.

Other router makers are yet to release explicit statements regarding their plans to enforce the FCC’s new rules on their routers would be, however, it is easy to imagine many taking a similar route. Even if custom firmware developers were to rewrite their software, there would be no real assurance that it obeys the restrictions without making the radio controlling software entirely separate so there can be assurance it was not tampered with.

Linksys Introduces New Modem Router and More DD-WRT Support

Linksys is one of the biggest manufacturers of routers and network equipment in general, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a more devices as well as room for improvement on the current lineup. Linksys’ new modem router is the X6200 and it is a combined cable and ADSL/VDSL dual-band WiFi model.

The Linksys X6200 supports pretty much any connection you can have from static RJ45-based over cable to DSL connections and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if you could use the included USB 2.0 port to attach a 3G/4G/LTE modem too. While it can connect to pretty much any type of internet connection, the built-in cable modem might be the selling point for this router. The internet connection speed has gone up and up, but a lot of cable modems lack the capability to handle the fast speeds your provider is selling you, which in return means that you’ll get a worse experience than you should.

“There is a lack of knowledge when it comes to cable modems. Consumers have cable modems or gateways that don’t match the cable broadband subscriptions they are paying for – thus getting slower speeds and frustrating experiences,” said Justin Doucette, director of product management, Linksys.

The Linksys X6200 isn’t the fastest wireless router, but the speeds of 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 433Mbps on the 5GHz band should be sufficient for any internet usage. The modem router also features four RJ45 LAN ports for that direct Gigabit Ethernet connection that will provide you with the best connection. As previously mentioned, the X6200 also features a USB 2.0 port that can turn your USB drive into a network attached storage device.

The new Linksys X6200 modem router will be available in March 2016 for an MSRP of £79.99 and also has more advanced features such as parental control and guest access.

Feature highlights

  • One VDSL/ADSL2/2+ port, Annex A – RJ-11 port
  • One Gigabit WAN port with auto MDI/MDIX sensing (RJ-45) for Router functionality
  • Four Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • One USB 2.0 port
  • Supports VPN pass-through with IPSec, PPTP, and L2TP
  • Supports logging for incoming and outgoing traffic
  • DHCP server for LAN
  • Supports Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)
  • IPv4/IPv6 dual-stack support
  • DSL Modem supports ITU G992.5 ADSL2+ Annex A, L, and M and VDSL G.993.1 and ITU G.993.2 standards

At the same time as Linksys introduced us to this new modem router, they also announced an expansion of DD-WRT support among their existing routers. The support now includes the WRT1900AC, WRT1200AC, and recently released WRT1900ACS Dual-band Gigabit Wi-Fi routers.

 

FCC Speaks Out Regarding Router Hacking Laws

Back in September, the US Federal Communications Commission revealed proposals for new laws governing software requirements for Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices, the draft for which suggested that the government agency could outlaw router hacking, like flashing the device with third-party firmwares DD-WRT, Tomato, and OpenWRT.

The FCC has now spoken out regarding the proposed rules, specifically the section asking router manufacturers to explain “how [its] device is protected from ‘flashing’ and the installation of third-party firmware such as DD-WRT”.

“This particular question prompted a fair bit of confusion – were we mandating wholesale blocking of Open Source firmware modifications?” Julius Knapp, Chief of the Office of Engineering & Technology for the FCC writes. “We were not,” Knapp clarifies, “but we agree that the guidance we provide to manufacturers must be crystal-clear to avoid confusion.”

There we have it: no ban on router hacking. Knapp, however, does acknowledge how misleading the previous draft may have been, writing, “today we released a revision to that guidance to clarify that our instructions were narrowly-focused on modifications that would take a device out of compliance.”

He adds, “The revised guidance now more accurately reflects our intent in both the U-NII rules as well as our current rulemaking, and we hope it serves as a guidepost for the rules as we move from proposal to adoption.”

The revised section now reads [PDF]:

“Describe, if the device permits third-party software or firmware installation, what mechanisms are provided by the manufacturer to permit integration of such functions while ensuring that the RF parameters of the device cannot be operated outside its authorization for operation in the U.S. In the description include what controls and/or agreements are in place with providers of third-party functionality to ensure the devices’ underlying RF parameters are unchanged and how the manufacturer verifies the functionality.”

Image courtesy of Polygon.

FCC Could Ban DD-WRT and Wireless Router Mods

The US Federal Communications Commission is proposing new laws that will ban internet users from modifying setting and firmware on wireless routers, making particular mention of third-party open-source DD-WRT as a firmware to be outlawed.

Third-party firmware – such as DD-WRT, Tomato, and OpenWRT – allows users control over every aspect of a router, can compensate for security flaws with proprietary firmware, and support router VPNs. DD-WRT, a free Linux-based firmware, is a favourite amongst router modders, with manufacturers such as Buffalo manufacturing routers specifically to function with DD-WRT.

The FCC’s new proposals govern software requirements for Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) 5GHz band, calling for 5GHz devices to “be secured to prevent its modification to ensure that the device operates as authorized thus reducing the potential for harmful interference to authorized users,” and that manufacturers ensure that “the device is not easily modified to operate with RF parameters outside of the authorization.”

The footnotes of the proposal outline what the FCC considers weak router security, calling out “those that rely solely on the distribution of firmware in compiled binary form without any form authentication or verification between the device and entity sending the firmware. These implementations are typically susceptible to device ‘flashing’ with third-party firmware or software capable of operating the device outside of its authorization.” The document then lists rules that router manufacturers should abide by, including, “What prevents third parties from loading non-US versions of the software/firmware on the device? Describe in detail how the device is protected from “flashing” and the installation of third-party software such as DD-WRT.”

Do you enjoy greater security, firewall control, wireless strength, and VPN options in the US thanks to DD-WRT? Enjoy it while it lasts.

Thank you ExtremeTech for providing us with this information.

Linksys WRT – A Legend Is Reborn As Shipments Begin

When it comes to iconic computer hardware, software and peripherals, there a numerous points on the technology time-line that stand out and when we focus more closely on consumer networking, there is without a doubt only one product that stands above everything else. This is of course the blue and black WRT54G the Linksys brought to the market way back in December 2002 – that’s just over 11 years ago. What started out as a single router eventually turned out to be a one of the greatest success stories in Linksys’ history. Due to their [at the time] high levels of performance, flexibility, ease of use and much more, this line of routers has seen deployment not only in the home but all across the world in numerous different situations – be it in an office or directly out in the field. When DD-WRT came to light in later years, customisation and modification of these routers went berserk as users found multiple ways to get that bit extra from their kit – I should know as I was one of those users.

This router has made such an impression on the market and it has shown its worth so much that even today we find that some of them still in use today.

As time as moved on though and wireless technology has evolved to a point where it is now faster than Gigabit LAN, Linksys now as a part of Belkin have been working to rekindle the essence of the WRT product line and gives the world once more the ultimate wireless router that will put virtually every other product out there on the market to shame. The WRT1900AC has been born.

Earlier in the year at CES we caught a glimpse of what the new router had to offer and what is clear above all else is that Linksys want people to know that this router owes all its heritage and design to the former market leader. First things first though, just take a look at it, I mean it’s not everyday that I say that I love the look of a product so much, but when it comes to rekindling the good ol’ times, Linksys have hit the proverbial nail right on the head with this one. Not only do we get the classic blue and black plastic housing, we get a more modern twist on the design with broad angles and the image that this unit means business.

So what’s new with the WRT1900AC? Well before we even get on to the hardware side of things I have to mention the firmware. What made the WRT54G what it is today was the open source aspect of its firmware and OpenWRT was a project that was based around hacking into the original WRT lineup to introduce more power and more features into the already powerful hardware. Linksys are fully aware of this appeal and as a result they have been working very closely with OpenWRT to ensure that the 1900AC is capable of giving users the option to chose between the default firmware or to use the open source alternative.

Knowing that the WRT-Cult are going to want more from a new router, Linksys have beefed up the specification of the 1900AC to include a dual-core 1,2GHz CPU, 128MB flash memory, 256MB of DDR3 RAM,  USB and eSATA ports, four Gigabit LAN and a single Gigabit WAN port, four external & replaceable antennae and on top of all that, dual-band wireless offering speeds of up to 1300Mbps 802.11ac on the 5GHz band and 600Mbps 802.11n on the 2.4GHz band. All in all we are looking at some of the best specifications on the market today.

On the software side of the router, the features keep on coming in. Out of the box the WRT1900AC ships with Linksys’ latest Smart WiFi setup and management tools, with a more intuitive and flexible user interface as well as the option to remotely manage the system from anywhere in the world through either a web interface or the optional mobile application. Other features both new and old include the ability to share connected storage devices and printers to the local network through the USB3.0 or 2.0 port or even eSATA ports, share content via FTP to external connections, Dynamic DNS setup options such as No-IP, DynDNS and TZO, various operating modes such as router / gateway / range extender or bridge, parental controls, guest networks and parental controls.

Further more there is the obvious ability as mentioned to upgrade to OpenWRT firmware where there are a host of additional features on hand, giving the WRT-Cult all the power that they want and will need for many years to come.

Whilst shipments have just started, sales of the WRT1900AC wil not commence until the 13th April with Best Buy stocking units with an MSRP of $279.99. Alternatively you can purchase the new router from Linksys directly through their online store. Now whilst the price may seem expensive; and compared to other routers it is a lot more to pay, if you’re a WRT fan and follower such as myself then this is just a small price to pay for what is likely to be the best bit of networking kit that we are likely to see all year.

Finally all I have to say is watch this space for a review where I aim to put the new WRT1900AC router to the test to see how the spirit of WRT has been reborn.

Source: Press Release