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Comcast could undermine the online security of its users

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November 23, 2016

It's reported today that Comcast has begun notifying users approaching their quotas through popup browser windows.

However, the problem is in the manner it delivers those messages, by injecting web code into the customer's browsing session. This directly undermines the user's online security, said iOS developer Chris Dzombak.

Two weeks ago, Comcast expanded the areas in the United States where it implements data caps for internet customers to twenty-eight states, a practice it has been experimenting with for several years.

The said notifications provide a practical way for Comcast to keep customers aware of dwindling data rates, and have previously been used for malware warnings.

Dzombak points out that Comcast described its injection technique in an informational RFC (6108) to the IETF more than five years ago.

He suggests that Comcast submitted the RFC to legitimize its practice, which he likens to man-in-the-middle attack. And that's where all the security issues arise.

"This practice will train customers to expect that their ISP sends them critical messages by injecting them into random webpages as they browse," asserted Dzombak.

"Worse, those notifications can very well contain important calls to action which involve logging into the customer's Comcast account and which might ask for various financial information."

For his part, Dzombak argues that Comcast's notification format could easily be co-opted and spoofed by an online attacker.

Comcast customers, accustomed to interacting with such popup windows, would presumably be more trusting of such interaction and thus more susceptible to social engineering.

"Unfortunately, when such a notification appears on a non-Comcast web page, it's very difficult for an internet user to ascertain whether the notification is legitimately from Comcast," asserted Dzombak.

In response to a query about the practice, a Comcast spokesperson bluntly us: "This has come up in the past and is not new."

In October, Jason Livingood, Comcast's vice president of technology policy and one of the coauthors of the RFC, offered a less dismissive response.

He acknowledged Dzombak's concerns, saying "your points are fair." In any event, Comcast's days of injecting web content appear to be numbered. As Dzombak observes, content injection doesn't work with HTTPS websites and, thanks to Google, Mozilla, and other technology companies, more and more websites are supporting HTTPS.

Source: Chris Dzombak.

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