New FCC Rules May Prevent Installing OpenWRT on WiFi Routers

Many cheap WiFi routers are sold with the vendor firmware, but the most popular ones likely also support OpenWRT, which some users may prefer as it is much more customizable. However, this may soon become more difficult according to a talk at the upcoming “Wireless Battle of the Mesh” which will take place on August 3-8 in Maribor, Slovenia.

tp-link_no_openwrtThe talk scheduled for August 6 at 15:00 is entitled “openWRT vs. FCC – forced firmware lockdown?” and Simon Wunderlich, the speaker, provided the following abstract:

The new FCC rules are in effect in the United States from June 2nd 2015 for WiFi devices such as Access Points. They require to have the firmware locked down so End-Users can’t operate with non-compliant parameters (channels/frequencies, transmit power, DFS, …). In response, WiFi access point vendors start to lock down firmwares to prevent custom firmwares (such as OpenWRT) to be installed, using code signing, etc. Since the same type of devices are often sold world wide, this change does not only affect routers in the US, but also Europe, and this will also effect wireless communities.
We would like to discuss:

  • What are your experiences with recently certified WiFi Hardware?
  • How can we still keep OpenWRT on these devices?
  • What can we suggest to Hardware vendors so that they keep their firmware open for community projects while still compliant with the FCC?

The rule in question is listed on the FCC website with the question “What are the software security requirements for non-SDR devices and what limitations apply to software configuration control for such devices?” and the critical part of the answer being “require all devices to implement software security to ensure that the devices operate as authorized and cannot be modified“.

It will be interesting to see how all this develops, and whether it will have some real consequences on the hackability of access points.

Thanks to Zoobab for the tip.

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