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MSOs Tackle Modem Breach

2/20/2004 6:47 AM Eastern

A new version of software that uncaps capped high-speed Internet service via older cable modems is making the rounds on the Internet.

A group of software writers known as TCNiSO released a software specification, "Sigma 1.3," to uncap older cable modems produced by Motorola Inc., Com21 Inc., 3Com Corp., Thomson Consumer Electronics’ RCA and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.

The modems are Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 1.0 vintage -- in Motorola’s case, the "Surfboard 3100" product line.

DOCSIS 1.1 and 2.0 modems remain unaffected by the Sigma software, MSOs said, provided that baseline privacy and other standard security software is being used.

Cable sources pointed out that it takes a great amount of effort to crack the modem -- "the knowledge required to do this is fairly advanced," and most people would not go to the trouble of soldering silicon to beat the system.

Once a modem is compromised, a consumer that starts using 50 or 100 megabytes of bandwidth would stick out like a sore thumb, making it easy for the MSO to detect and cut off service.

In fact, most cable-modem-termination systems are set in the 3-MB range, making it difficult for hacked modems to operate at higher levels.

Still, reports about TCNiSO’s program -- reportedly being downloaded up to 400 times per day -- have caught the attention of senior MSO engineering executives.

"It’s a little more sophisticated then we’ve seen a year ago," a cable-industry source said. "It’s getting a little more aggressive," primarily because hackers have to physically take apart the modem and use soldering tools.

There was no word from MSOs about how many modems might have been compromised.

For more on TCNiSO, please see Matt Stump’s story on page 8 of Monday’s edition of Multichannel News.

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