back to article Comcast's Xfinity home alarms can be disabled by wireless jammers

Comcast's wireless home alarm systems can be trivially jammed, rendering them useless and allowing burglars to slip in undetected. By flooding the airwaves around an Xfinity Home Security System with network deauthentication frames, crooks can prevent intrusion sensors from sending data to the base station in the customer's …

  1. sysconfig

    A Comcast spokesperson said...

    "We are reviewing this research and will proactively work with other industry partners and major providers to identify possible solutions that could benefit our customers and the industry."

    Hold on a minute. Pro-active can't be the right word, sir. The issue was disclosed to you 2 months ago.

    I'm sure affected home owners don't give a toss who you work with and to whose benefit that might be. They want you to fix your crap asap so that can feel a little bit safer in their own houses again. I guess.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The wave bubble is a MASSIVELY complex piece of kit for the DIY'er. I know, mine is only half built after about 5 years.

    The wave bubble does not send de-auth packets or anything like that, it simply floods the surrounding area (5-10 metres) with RF "white noise". The good thing about the bubble is that it is a programmable jammer and you can program a specific frequency to jam. They are, however, easier to buy from jammerfun or your other Chinese tat market

    As for de-authing, a £60 wifi pineapple will happily deal with that...

    Both items will fit in your pocket or a discreet plant pot...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Both items will fit in your pocket or a discreet plant pot...

      Or on a dog.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        "...car battery and a pair of jump leads held near enough to arc..."

        "A car battery and a pair of jump leads held near enough to arc will produce plenty of EM noise."

        You might wish to look up the concept of the "RF Spectrum".

        VLF << 2.4 GHz

        Also, 13.8 volts DC and "held near enough to arc"?

        On-Line calculator says: Arc Distance in Air (min): 0 inches (0 mm)

    3. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      An ESP8266 module with a coin cell attached could get the job done for less than $5 USD depending on source of parts. And for that price, it could be left behind to cover the escape.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit

    We note that while it is true that similar security gear connected by ZigBee and Wi-Fi protocols are also susceptible to this sort of jamming, we hope they detect the interference and at least alert the homeowner.

    We know that Reg writers don't believe that. Can you hope for something you don't believe in?

    1. Midnight

      Re: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit

      We can hope that the alarm system will report a break-in and sound an alarm every time someone in the neighbourhood turns on their microwave oven, yes.

      Whether or not the end users will find it quite as amusing as we do is anybody's guess.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit

      Nope, puns are the lowest form of wit. Otherwise I'm with you on this.

  4. PacketPusher
    Trollface

    I may be an idiot, but...

    If you have the knowledge, skill, and cash to acquire such a device, are you going to be breaking into houses?

    1. Vic

      Re: I may be an idiot, but...

      If you have the knowledge, skill, and cash to acquire such a device, are you going to be breaking into houses?

      You are making the common mistake of thinking that criminals are morons.

      If that were true, why haven't we caught them all?

      Vic.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: I may be an idiot, but...

        Well, in defense of PacketPusher, criminals usually get caught because they really are morons.

        But that won't stop them from trying to use every trick in their book and learning new tricks. It's just that they don't think everything trhough or make stupid mistakes that gets them caught...

        1. Vic

          Re: I may be an idiot, but...

          in defense of PacketPusher, criminals usually get caught because they really are morons.

          Sure, but most criminals don't get caught.

          The ones who are already doing time aren't the ones who are going to be attacking your security...

          Vic.

  5. Barbarian At the Gates

    There's an interesting implementation of "fail safe"

    Oops, security system has failed in a detectable manner. I shan't worry, I'm sure your property is safe!

    1. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: There's an interesting implementation of "fail safe"

      "Oops, security system has failed in a detectable manner. I shan't worry, I'm sure your property is safe!"

      The problem is false alarms - the vast majority of time when there's a wifi problem, the property is safe. If they actually used a failsafe system that sounded an alarm every time it had a communication issue, everyone would just ignore the alerts, and most likely refuse to use the kit at all. You already see exactly the same problem with regular house and car alarms - since the vast majority of alarms are false, no-one pays the slightest bit of attention when they hear one going off.

      In addition, while others have noted that not all criminals are complete idiots, the fact remains that an awful lot of them are. While a small minority of burglars might be able to take advantage of flaws like this, the majority are, at best, no more tech savvy than the general population. So you have a choice between a system that will be effective against the majority of burglars but can be circumvented by those who have reasonable tech understanding and have done the research, or a system which is not effective against anyone because it constantly goes off all the time and just gets switched off or removed.

  6. Commswonk Silver badge
    FAIL

    Oh puhleeze...

    I hope nobody is actually surprised by the discovery that a radio - based (alarm) system can be rendered inoperative by jamming; the concept is almost as old as radio transmission itself. Fully effective defensive measures are between extremely difficult and impossible to implement, although a means of determining that jamming is present is fairly straightforward to the point of being almost trivial, or certainly should be in the case of an alarm system operating over a fairly small area. Once hostile action has been detected then that fact can be used to initiate an alarm, irrespective of what the sensors might be trying to relay.

    Once again the concept of an IoT has been found wanting... very badly wanting, or at least this implementation of it has been.

  7. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    FAIL

    This is so Pathetic

    You can design something better than that on the back of a cigarette packet. Even the simplest wired alarm system gives an alert on fault conditions. Indeed most of them sneak a battery in the sounder mounted high on an outside wall. Cut the cable and way you go! (the better ones monitor cable resistances, so cut or short still sets it off).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Even the simplest wired alarm system gives an alert on fault conditions.

      Over twenty years ago I installed my first ever burglar alarm. It had a mixture of wired and wireless sensors (outputs were wired). Tampering with the wires or jamming the wireless would be detected by the control panel, and could be configured to either cause an alert (but not sound the alarm) or to sound the alarm.

      Howcome people/companies keep forgetting how to do things properly?

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Even the simplest wired alarm system gives an alert on fault conditions.

        "Howcome people/companies keep forgetting how to do things properly?"

        Rest assured, they don't. At some point, I'm pretty sure some engineer asked "If the connection fails, should we assume a break-in or should we stay silent?" and got the response from higher-up "At every connection problem? What, are you crazy or something?!? Sure, as long as you're offering to handle all the angry customer calls yourself!"

        1. Commswonk Silver badge

          Re: Even the simplest wired alarm system gives an alert on fault conditions.

          @DropBear: Sadly I think you have confirmed the point you were trying to oppose. The engineer may well have spotted the problem, but someone higher up the corporate foodchain crushed his point underfoot. It is not so much "forgetting how to do things properly" as deliberately avoiding doing them properly.

      2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Even the simplest wired alarm system gives an alert on fault conditions.

        It is all down to cost $$$$$$$$ £££££££££££££££

        The bean counters was something on the market for $9.99 with the same quality and functionalty as the one costing $99.99 and have it in every home depot store yesterday.

        burglar alarms as one area where you (mostly) get what you pay for. The extra security of :-

        1) starving pit bulls

        2) multiple 12 bores loased with shrapnel

        3) All doors and windows wired to 240V DC

        Are the things that the Alarm company can't provide.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Even the simplest wired alarm system gives an alert on fault conditions.

          1: Good luck getting in your own house.

          2.Good luck keeping several loaded shotguns on your property and not getting a quick visit from an ARV and then spending 5 years at HMP

          3. Are you even serious??? 240v DC???

          Are the intelligent counters to your ill concieved ideas.

      3. circusmole
        FAIL

        Re: Even the simplest wired alarm system gives an alert on fault conditions.

        Exactly. My wired alarm system, which is 15 years old, will issue an alert if ANY sensor cable is either cut or short circuited. This is basic security system good design. The same should be true of wireless systems - if communication with any sensor, or the klaxon, is lost for more than a few seconds an alert should be issued. Oh, and it will continue to operate for over 24hrs if the power should fail.

        This is a basic problem seen in other "systems", they are designed and implemented by technology geeks, not subject matter experts. I am the owner of a well know car that has had a problem since last June that is software related. Neither the local franchised dealer nor the manufacturers UK subsidiary seem able to fix it because they just do not understand how the software works and my suspicion is that it was written by geeks who do not understand how cars work and are used.

  8. eldakka Silver badge

    You get what you pay for

    As has been noted (Will Godfrey) there are better cabled systems that have sophisticated detection mechanisms that alert when it thinks it's being interfered with. But these systems cost lots of money. Even excluding the cost of the actual devices, there's the cost of running cable, which is often the most expensive part. Sure, lots of us who read this site would probably run the cables ourselves, thus saving bucketloads of money. But 99% of the people out there who get a security system would hire someone to do it for them.

    So, the alternative to spending a couple grand on getting cables run all over the place is wireless. The people who are installing wireless security, which is much easier to do and hence can be done by more people (as opposed to hiring someone to install it), are already looking to save a buck. Therefore a lot of wireless kit is aimed at these DIYers, but not DIYer enough to go running cable through walls.

    And the people who want a bit of security but who don't want to spend much money on it are people who are looking to deter minor criminals. Opportunistic criminals who are looking for a quick and easy buck. They wander the streets looking for premises that have no security, are unlocked so they don't even have to break a window or pick a lock. All locked up? move onto the next house. ANY signs of security, don't even bother looking for unlocked access, move onto the next place right away. This is the profile of over 95% of house burglaries. Your junkies looking for a quick fix, loose cash or some DVDs they can sell at a used DVD store or similar, nothing complicated. Nothing that requires fences (as in people who dispose of stolen goods) and so on. This is the level of security that the wireless security systems are aimed at.

    Then you have a higher level of crims. The ones who actually pick targets based on other criteria. Affluence, types of goods they can steal and so on. These guys are going to have jammers, and be able to defeat the cheaper security systems. But these account for a tiny % of breakins. If you have enough valuables to think that you might actually be targeted, then you've probably got the money to spend on a higher grade of security system. The sort that makes these higher level crims decide to move on to easier pickings.

    Then you have a nigher level above this, businesses or people who will actively be targets. Pharmacies, shops that have a lot of cash on-hand, rich people, people doing the dodgy and might come under investigation from the police (i.e. crims themselves, drug dealers and whatnot). So they ratchet up security on these locations. Everything cabled, back-to-base security (maybe not for the drug dealers ;) ), panic-button alarms and so on. More likely to be specifically targeted, better, more expensive security.

    Then there is a category above this, banks, diamond merchants, even better security systems to the extent that they may have onsite security guards/teams. And this is without even considering military/national security/industrial espionage and so on.

    Furthermore, the point of security is not to a 100% (or even 10%) guarantee no-one can break in. It's to make it harder, such that there are easier pickings out there. You have a crap home with not much in it, but put up a couple cheap-arse, low-quality wifi cameras, and the junkie after enough money for a hit is going to break into the next door neighbours house who doesn't have any cameras.

    If you're a fat rich bastard who has a house that's got an art wing, a theatre, a vault, a panic room, a garage with rare cars, then you are going to spend hundreds of thousands on a security system that has random security drive-bys, back-to-base alarm with motion and heat sensors.

    You decide what category you are (no-one with nothing special, got a bit of stuff, got something significant worth protecting etc), and the type of crim you want to dissuade, and the amount of money you want to spend, and buy the security system that intersects as much of those needs as possible.

    1. Darryl

      Re: You get what you pay for

      You've hit the nail on the head. For most average people, home and vehicle security is all about making it enough of a hassle for criminals that it's easier for them to go next door and break into the neighbour's place.

      This is the only reason for those 'Protected by XX Alarm Company' stickers on the door. And also, the cheapest method is just to get a handful of these stickers (and maybe a blinking LED for your car)

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: You get what you pay for

      A real DIYer would make his own cables... that being said, excellent post, really says it all.

  9. Jon Etkins

    Simplisafe

    Simplisafe, at least, sends an alert whenever it loses contact with a sensor. A sudden loss of contact with multiple sensors would be cause for concern, though AFAIK the base station won't automatically raise an alarm in such a situation - it would be up to the owner to recognize the situation from the flood of messages and call the cops him/herself.

  10. Mage Silver badge

    Wireless Alarms are toys

    All of them can be jammed. None are "professional" systems.

    Some have a jamming alert. The criminal keeps setting that off till it's disabled. Then later jams it to enter.

    They are a poor method to save install cost (time really as the four core wire is cheap). The actual hardware of an EQUIVALENT wired system (especially sensors) is cheaper.

    1. cybergibbons

      Re: Wireless Alarms are toys

      People really seem to be losing perspective of what an alarm is protecting you from...

      You don't expect your front door to withstand a hydraulic breach tool, or your lock to withstand a drill for 30 minutes. That's because they have been designed to protect a normal domestic property, with a small value of goods inside. The attacker is a normal burglar.

      The basic wireless alarms are designed to add a layer to that protection from those attackers. It isn't meant to protect you from advanced, knowledgeable criminals. If you want that protection, you buy a graded, wired, professionally installed alarm.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Far better to...

    .. lock doors and windows even when you are in the house as many burglars are opportunists in and out in a flash.

    Also get motion sensing cameras as these are better deterrents than alarms and may even be useful in identifying them if high enough resolution

  12. Commswonk Silver badge

    There's a quote that covers this...

    It was, I think, H L Mencken who said "Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Having said that I don't think it is fair to single out the American public as being uniquely gullible. The trouble is that some companies have adopted it (along with "never give a sucker an even break") as a mission statement.

    It is all too easy (and lazy) to operate on the basis that because "it" uses WiFi "it" must be good, when in many instances (this one being a prime example) it clearly isn't. But how is the poor consumer to know? The tech savvy readership of this august organ may well be able to identify snake oil at 100 paces, but we are, in overall terms, a tiny minority of the public. I have never been an alarm emgineer, so I wonder if there are any relevant standards that should offer a degree of protection to the unknowing buyer.

    Let's add "Internet of Toys" to the existing list of things that IoT stands for.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder if there are any relevant standards

      "I wonder if there are any relevant standards"

      We don't need standards. Not for alarms, not for self-igniting 'hover'boards [1], not for any of this stuff. We need a bonfire of red tape. The only standards we need are the ones of the Bullingdon Club and the market barrowboy.

      ps

      presumably Hendo and their wheelless hoverboard are on the way to bankruptcy now?

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/10/22/marty_mcfly_wannabes_face_disappointment_with_the_hendo_hoverboard/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I wonder if there are any relevant standards

        "The only standards we need are the ones of the Bullingdon Club and the market barrowboy."

        With the benefit of hindsight, I realise my earlier comment is potentially offensive to ordinary decent working market traders etc. And to Sir Alan. Sorry.

        1. Commswonk Silver badge

          Re: I wonder if there are any relevant standards

          AC wrote: We need a bonfire of red tape. The only standards we need are the ones of the Bullingdon Club and the market barrowboy.

          Are we to conclude from this that you want the "red tape" that results in your actually getting 50 litres of fuel for your car (or 500 for your heating system) rather than 45 (450) litres because the vendor has rigged his metering because there is no "red tape" to discourage the practice?

          Yes there may well be excessive regulation, but I would suggest that minimum standards for security alarm specifications / electrical safety / etc are by no means "excessive".

          Your comment was, IMHO, not so much offensive to anyone as simply ill - considered.

          Be careful what you wish for... in case you get it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I wonder if there are any relevant standards

            "Your comment was [...] simply ill - considered."

            Absolutely. I had assumed (we know where that leads) that the Cameron quote re red tape, and the Bullingdon club and barrow boy and Sir Alan references would make it clear that the context was ironic. Bad assumption, especially in an international context where the Bullingdon Club and Sir Alan references may not work well.

            "Are we to conclude from this that you want the "red tape" that results in your actually getting 50 litres of fuel for your car (or 500 for your heating system) rather than 45 (450) litres because the vendor has rigged his metering because there is no "red tape" to discourage the practice?"

            Not really. Sensible properly enforced standards are usually A Good Thing, whatever Cameron may have said about "a bonfire of the red tape".

            Apologies for any confusion. All the best for 2016.

  13. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Joke

    Question: Why won't Comcast alarms work against robbers?

    Answer: Professional courtesy! :)

    (With limited apologies to the old "Why don't sharks bite lawyers?" joke)

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