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Hacking the Cable Modem: What Cable Companies Don't Want You to Know Paperback – Sep 12 2006


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About the Author

Profiled by Security Focus, TechTV, and the Register, DerEngel has been hailed as "the underground Prometheus of super-broadband." He has written several programs to simplify and streamline the uncapping process since he started hacking into cable modems five years ago. He currently heads TCNiSO, a group of hackers who have revolutionized reverse engineering techniques and produce free hackware.

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Amazon.com: 14 reviews
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Interesting, informative, and more than just schematic after schematic Oct. 5 2006
By brian d foy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I expected this book to be much more technical than it was. Rather than a collection of schematics and wiring diagrams, DerEngel combines many personal stories with the results of his work. It's quite an interesting read, although I don't know if the book will make hardware hackers out of anyone. Some people may be able to hack their modems with the ready-to-use tools the author discusses, but most people probably aren't going to want to potentially destroy their modems by cracking open the case and messing with the circuit board components. Most of the discussion takes it for granted that the reader is already be familiar with basic electrical engineering and Radio Shack. The tools he uses are Windows programs, so unix users may need to find similar tools to follow along with the hacks.

I wish the book had talked more about the cable companies motivations for various limitations. At one point, DerEngel does admit that some limitations protect the equipment and service for everyone's use, but overall I think he ignores that without commenting on the rather selfish notion that anyone should be able to get better internet service than others on their block. What would happen if everyone uncapped their modems and started uploading lots of data?

Despite my complete disinterest in hacking my modem, I found the book an interesting read and informative.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Good Stuff March 15 2008
By Mr. Luke Mckee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
First of all I want to object to the comment titled "How to be a Theif"

This Earlier comment suggests the book should be banned, and it will get you arrested if you follow it's instructions. The truth is in most cases, there is little cost benefit to go after everyone that bends the rules as long as they are not causing a service disruption or running up too much in tarrifs (which don't exist too much these days) Of course in come cases in America and Australia a few people will get sued as a token gesture to scare the masses into submission]. It also varies on your ISP. Some ISP's (as detailed in the book) has deployed various forms of countermeasures. But on HFC networks you can almost get away with murder if you do Mac Cloning.

I've worked in IT 12 years. I'm have a very analytical mind and I love to understand how things work. Is it a crime to be curious? I thought in America book burning and witch hunting finished a long time ago, and since then there has been a few constitutional amendments and a bill of rights. The latter of which not even other democracy's like Australia has.

Maybe he is akin the same guy that wanted to put Phill Zimmerman in jail for allowing everyone to have secure private communications with the advent of PGP. Oh that was published in a book too. And PGP was classified as export restricted military technology at the time. It was declared a lawful act of publishing by the courts. In other words, just on the legal points he has no case to stop anyone reading this, or buying this book.

Right now America and my home country (Australia) lag behind the rest of the world because inferior network infrastructure is being overcharged by telco's raking in huge profits for the better off stock owners.

The customers in Australia for example under Optus get every form of capping there is (snmp metering, rate limiting, filters, strobes for services, etc) and then traffic shaping and off-site network accounting as a backup - because this book was too effective. That's right Optus had to role out more expensive switching hardware to regain control because people didn't like having equipment they own being rate limited, and remotely configured.

Right now I'm in Korea where FTTH (Fibre to the Home) costs only $30 USD a month on a contract (100mbit each way). In Australia they are still mulling over getting FTTN (node street - then VDSL or Docsis 3.0 or slower broadband variants) in the many years to come. Korea's has had it for as long as I can remember.

Do you really think with so much bandwidth on Korea's network they will mind if an artful network Engineer helps get a P2P video conferencing network platform of the ground in his home lab with his 10mbit uplink using a Motorola SB4100 someone threw in the trash it was so old?

My project will in turn allow other users to leverage the nations' network infrastructure for on-line personal development, i.e. education. Then more Asian's can take US customer service roles with impeccable English. That's a good payback for their investment. Damn right! They paid for the network and they have so much capacity in reserve it's not funny. No wonder Korea is already submitting more patents to the US Patent office than Americans. Don't worry, I'll try and recruit American's to teach them too. But unfortunately American's will have to pay about 5 times what the Korean's do to get the same bandwidth, and that fibre connection is limited to only a few zip codes.

So how unethical is someone uncapping in my case going to be? The most I could get is 10mbit U/L, and 30 mbit if in invested in a BlackCat'ed SB5100 cable modem, when everyone else is buying 100mbit for $30 a month.

Then again the poster above thinks your stealing? I'd say the thief's are the cable companies back in the US and Australia. How much government grants did Optus (now foreign owned by Singtel - SG Govt) take in Government grants to roll out their fibre and support AARNET (Australian Academic Research Network), yet the QoS their customers get are a lot to be desired. I just got a customer a $1500 refund from the TIO (Telco Ombudsman) on their Voice over DSL offering. So my prior comments on their other products and services have weight backed up by determination by a government regulator.

If you google it you'll find the posts on whirlpool. Back then there was was a bunch of Telcho phoney's challenging me. But in the end I got the data to prove my case 100%, and won in the tribunal. This is no different.

Get used to freedom of speech ;) It's not outlawed last time I checked.

P.S. I read the great book. Only disappointment, not enough emphasis on alternatives for the Unix users, but hey they usually know what to do anyway ;) It's less of a walk through book as you would expect, and focuses a bit on the theory and his history of experimentation. Next there are the avenues that can be employed to get more from your cable modem, and of course the risks involved. In order words this book will get the ball rolling, educate you and make you ready to carefully make any changes you need TO YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT ;) Merely gaining access to your own equipment is not a crime, however if you configure it to provide you a higher class BE CAREFUL. Remember they have to unplug ever different node in the street to find where you are ;)

After buying this book I'm confident I can get a speed increase I need. Where I am staying because I'm a foreigner I'm not entitled through conventional means to get fastest internet, unless someone gets it in their name for me.
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Not a bad book, but don't try this at home! July 4 2007
By Digelectric - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think it's well written, informative, and a great resource if you want to hack into your modem.

But...

1) You will get caught if you uncap your modem. The companies that provide cable modem service can trace unchecked bandwidth, and they'll ban you for life from their service. Uncapping will backfire on you. This has been in the news a lot lately, with stories of people getting caught doing this. It hardly seems worth it to me.
2) There is really no other reason (besides uncapping it) to hack your modem unless you just like tinkering with electronics. If that's what you're after, get the book. For most of us, we wanted to get faster speed, but since that's going to get your busted really quick, why waste your time?
3) Doesn't cover all modems, esp the newer ones (that's to be expected), so be cautious since the hacking methods may not transfer to a newer model (like mine).
19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Smart reverse engineering methods to enhance ANY embedded device !! Sept. 29 2006
By Nils Valentin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
.
--- DISCLAIMER: This is a requested review by No Starch Press, however any opinions expressed within the review are my personal ones. ---

[Review: long - 5-10 minutes]

The book basically covers reverse engineering methods spiced with the authors smart and original ideas - and the rich
experience in a niche marcet of his speciality - namely cable modems.

The same technics described might be used for reverse engineering other embedded devices or software issues
(f.e. mobile phones, Bluetooth devices etc. )

The book has a unique combination of a certain "geek" factor combined with high grade engineering skills.
The geeky part of the book is showing many original and cool hacks that enable even non technical users to use them.
The engineering part of the book is deploying several reverse engineering technics which can also be applied to other
devices and technologies.

To make the most usage of the book you would ideally have some knowledge of the following:

- general electrical engineering skills
- programming / debugging skills
- a good understanding of firmware related issues
- some basic Assembler knowledge

Obviously the readers mileage may vary, depending on the readers skillset and amount of time invested.
You shouldnt expect to become a hacker over night, however this could be your entry ticket to see, touch and "feel"
the many facets of reverse engineering.

What is it about the book that makes it stand out ?
(This books features)

- The book itself is a nice wholesighted introduction in reverse engineering
- Each chapter is like an overview style tutorial on how to deploy your hardware/software
- Instructions / methods learned are transferable to other embedded devices
- Description of many original (unique) approaches including for

- How to change/tweak/ennhance firmware (general)
- How to create and use a Blackcat cable to programm your new firmware
- How to create a console cable
- Firmware versions and their features and memory addresses
- Firmware backdoors
- Hidden functions and Menus and how to activate them
- How to use a cable modems bootloader

- Extracting symbol tables for debugging
- Cross compiling
- Buffer overflows,
- ARP poisening
- SNMP in General
- List of most useful MIBs
- Evaluations of modem hardware in regard to their enhancebility ;-)
- Securing your network and modems
- WEB GUI's

and finally

- 5 pages of firmware commands and their descriptions !!

This book might be interesting for:
(Target readers)

- Geeks
- Geeks friends (to get his/her attention ;-)
- IT newcomers
- IT managers
- IT Security specialists / penetrations testers
- Developers
- Network admins
- Cable providers
- ISP
- Companies selling and/or maintaining embedded devices

Summary:

The book is written in a very motivating - as good as it gets - style so that once you start reading, chances are that you
dont put it down before you read it cover to cover. The many insider information was until now - if at all - only
available in small, well organized social groups or perhaps you had a chance to listen to a special session on conferences
like Blackhat, What-the-hack, CCC, Underground IT, Shmoo etc. If you are still wondering what separates good IT
engineers from the best than get this book - It really is THAT good!!

This is the best IT related book I read within 2006 !!
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A great book on cable modem details Dec 10 2006
By calvinnme - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Usually the modems used for high speed connections to the internet will remain the black boxes sitting on the shelf between your cable and PC or home network. Those wanting to do or know more should take a look at this book. This is a "how" as well as a "how to" book. However, for the most part, his hacks are beyond the capabilities of the average cable modem subscriber. It examines the technology employed by the cable industry as well as details for specific products. The list of cable modems presented is extensive but, because this is a static book, obviously not exhaustive as this is a list in constant flux. Still, the collection is impressive, as is the detail allotted to each.

Cable modems sometimes provide a web server interface for configuration purposes. This book looks under the hood even if there is no user-configurable interface. It presents the procedures for doing this as well as tweaks and tricks that can be used to change a modem's configuration and capabilities. The book is concise and detailed. There are sections on the physical components and how to get at them without destroying the case or the components. There is probably the most lucid and short description I have read of how buffer overflows work, and there are explicit instructions on how to change speed settings and port controls. Your mileage will vary and it is possible to turn your modem into something that has the equivalent usefulness of a brick. Still, it makes the job much easier if you plan on trying to "adjust" your modem.

The book is also useful as a practical example of reverse engineering. Few books attempt to do this. This book does so by example and a rather practical one at that. Developers needing to interface to other black boxes in their design may be able to take some of the tips and tricks and apply them in other circumstances.

The author explicitly states that he does not condone stealing bandwidth from cable providers. He argues that system administrators need to know how to configure cable modems to effectively manage their Internet connectivity. However, possibly the most valuable contribution the author has made to the world of security is to create a manual that the cable operators and cable modem manufacturers can use to harden their devices against malicious attacks. For people interested in either application, this is a worthwhile book. The following is the table of contents:

Chapter 1: A History of Cable Modem Hacking

Chapter 2: The Cable Modem Showcase

Chapter 3: A Faster Internet

Chapter 4: The DOCSIS Standard

Chapter 5: What's Inside?

Chapter 6: Firmware

Chapter 7: Our Limitations

Chapter 8: Reverse Engineering

Chapter 9: Cable Modem Security

Chapter 10: Buffer Overflows

Chapter 11: SIGMA Firmware

Chapter 12: Hacking Frequencies

Chapter 13: Useful Software

Chapter 14: Gathering Information

Chapter 15: The Blackcat Programmer

Chapter 16: Traditional Uncapping

Chapter 17: Building a Console Cable

Chapter 18: Changing Firmware

Chapter 19: Hacking the RCA

Chapter 20: Hacking the WebSTAR

Chapter 21: The SURFboard Factory Mode

Chapter 22: Hacking the D-Link Modem

Chapter 23: Securing the Future

Appendix A: Frequently Asked Questions

Appendix B: Disassembling

Appendix C: Cross-Compiling

Appendix D: Acronyms


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