Open Wireless Router firmware aims for better router security, network performance

The new custom router firmware will allow users to share their wireless networks, but could also improve their router's security

Advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation wants to address the poor security track record of home routers with a new firmware project that will encourage users to share their Internet connection publicly by setting up guest Wi-Fi networks.

The first experimental version of the firmware, called the Open Wireless Router was released Sunday and is mainly aimed at developers and hackers who can assist with finding bugs and improving the software overall.

The project's main goals are focused on allowing router owners to securely set up public Wi-Fi networks for passers-by to use, which the EFF and other organizations argue helps conserve radio spectrum, benefits business and economic development and can spark innovation. However, some of the firmware's other planned features could also improve the overall security of routers that run it, even if their owners don't decide to share their Internet bandwidth with strangers.

"Most or all existing router software is full of XSS [cross-site scripting] and CSRF [cross-site request forgery] vulnerabilities, and we want to change that," the EFF said Sunday in a blog post.

While this is generally true, the XSS and CSRF flaws, which allow attackers to hijack authenticated sessions, are actually among the least critical flaws commonly found in routers.

Over the years security researchers found vulnerabilities in routers that would have given attackers full control over many devices from a large number of manufacturers. The issues found included backdoor-like features and hard-coded credentials, traditional buffer overflows and command injection vulnerabilities in the Web-based administrative interfaces or even implementation errors in third-party components like UPnP libraries.

The overall consensus among security researchers is that from a security perspective the code maturity in the home router world is very poor. Adding to that problem is the fact that few router vendors publish detailed security advisories and that updating the firmware is usually a process that requires manual intervention and technical knowledge from users.

The Open Wireless Router firmware will have an automatic update mechanism that will work over HTTPS and will use digital signatures to prevent upstream tampering with the updates, the EFF said. "Firmware signatures and metadata are fetched via Tor to make targeted update attacks very difficult."

Security researchers also pointed out in the past that many vendors don't have dedicated security programs in place for properly handling the security vulnerabilities reported to them. Giving the EFF's history of working with and supporting security researchers it's likely the organization already knows how to deal with such reports.

Aside from security, the Open Wireless Router firmware promises improved network stability and performance. The firmware "will provide state-of-the-art network queuing, so most users can expect an improved Internet experience -- especially with latency-sensitive applications -- compared to what commonly available consumer grade routers are delivering today," the EFF said.

So far the firmware's "hacker alpha release," as the EFF calls it, can only be installed on one router model -- the Netgear WNDR3800. However, the firmware is based on a custom router software called CeroWrt, which is itself based on OpenWrt, one of the most popular community built router firmware project that supports a wide range of router models from many manufactures.

CeroWrt is also focused on network performance and security. Some of its goals includes proper support for IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) and better integration with DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions).

The EFF will be sponsoring a router hacking contest at the upcoming Defcon 22 security conference in Las Vegas next month together with security consultancy firm Independent Security Evaluators. The contest will reward security researchers for finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in home routers from different manufacturers, including in the Open Wireless Router firmware.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Networkingroutersonline safetynetworking hardwareElectronic Frontier FoundationExploits / vulnerabilitiesIndependent Security Evaluators

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?