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Project fosters free, open, secure public hotspots

Jul 22, 2014 — by Eric Brown 1,230 views

The EFF’s Open Wireless Router project is developing an open source CeroWRT-based Linux stack for secure, WiFi routers that can publicly share data.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has released an experimental hacker alpha version of a proposed new open source wireless router stack that supports secure, shareable WiFi networks. The Open Wireless Router, which is supported by the existing Open Wireless Movement community, will initially use an OpenWRT Linux derivative called CeroWRT running on a Netgear WNDR3800 (N600 Premium Edition) router. The widespread use of OpenWRT in the router world should make the implementation easily portable to most consumer routers.

Netgear WNDR3800

The Open Wireless Router project “aims to do several things that existing routers don’t do well — or don’t do at all,” says the organization. Key components of the Open Wireless Router include:


  • Sharing of a “bounded portion” of WiFi bandwidth without the need for a password, in a way that does not affect performance on the private WP2-protected part of the network.
  • Network queuing for an improved Internet experience, especially with latency-sensitive applications.
  • Minimalist, secure, and elegant web user interface to set up and configure the router, with more arcane administrative options using SSH access.
  • Remove typical home router security issues, such as XSS and CSRF vulnerabilities.
  • Include a secure HTTPS-based software auto-update mechanism in which firmware signatures and metadata are fetched via Tor “to make targeted update attacks very difficult.”

In the early days of WiFi, the technology was seen as a free, grassroots alternative to 3G, and later 4G, data connections. The dream was that as cities, businesses, and users added WiFi hotspots, there would be a near-continuous web of connectivity, not unlike cellular data networks.

WiFi is achieving ubiquity alright, but despite the spread of municipal and nationwide commercial WiFi networks, as well as some alternative free networks, for the most part, you need to ask for a password to gain access. And in many locations, you still have to pay.

As a result, we have a web of WiFi where most of the bandwidth tends to go to waste. While some router software can be configured to separate a guest network from a secure private network, it’s often difficult to set up, is poorly implemented, and still usually requires a password for the guest session.

Open Router Network logo

Aside from ease of use issues, mixing public and private WiFi is rarely done due to concerns over security and bandwidth. Bandwidth concerns have diminished as broadband speeds have increased, and other issues, such as security, can be fairly easily solved with a new open router stack, says the EFF.

Driving the need for such a network is the widespread use of mobile devices for Internet access. Of course, mobile providers would rather sell you expensive 4G data plans, and are likely to discourage any widespread adoption of public WiFi. Since WiFi is usually faster than 4G, however, users are likely to respond nicely to a café or store that offers “Free, secure WiFi, no password required.”

Further information

The experimental, early alpha release of the Open Wireless Router code is available now for free download. More information and links to downloads may be found at the EFF’s Open Wireless Router blog announcement.

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