Router insecurities

Not long ago I realised that my Telkom ADSL connection wasn’t working and it was with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, that I realised I was going to have to contact the evil empire to ask why.

Regular readers of this column, and its predecessors over the years, will know that I have a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Telkom. While I have never disputed its technical wizardry, its attitude to price and service can raise my temper to boiling point in a heartbeat.

It seems as though the service has got even worse in the interval since I last had to contact their Internet support lines. It was quite late on Sunday evening, but I still had to wait for around 30 minutes before someone answered, all the while listening to that awful bloody music and the constantly repeated message that they were experiencing higher call volumes.

When I eventually got through, with my nerves frayed to breaking point, I was told that my monthly bandwidth cap had been exceeded and that my connection had been shut down. I was outraged at the news seeing as though I only ever surf the web, download e-mail or the odd program and computer tutorial.

I am not a bandwidth hog and have never exceeded my bandwidth allowance except in the first month I had the service, when someone logged in with my username and password and used all my bandwidth in two days. After making further inquiries the next day, I found that the same thing had happened again.

Nothing has changed since the last time in that, although Telkom informed me that they know the locations which were used by the bandwidth thieves to log on in my name, they will not do anything about the theft or even tell me who was responsible. They insist that the crime be reported and that the police obtain a court order, before revealing the details.

Right! The cops are chronically under-resourced and can’t even cope with all the murders that take place. Now Telkom thinks that they have the time and inclination to get a court order every time a petty crime is committed.

For the record, I did report the incident last time, after I found a senior police person who understood the concept of bandwidth theft. I even got a call from the fraud branch sometime later but, since then, nothing. I don’t blame the cops because it’s a small matter and the hassle of having to go court for a morning isn’t worth it.

I decided not to report the case this time and so I phoned the support line back to find out what to do next. I waited on hold and spoke to two people, for a total of an hour and a half on the phone, and was staggered by the three items of information I obtained.

The first of these was that the ADSL router, which I obtained from Telkom, was delivered in a state which would allow people to connect to it from the Internet, and obtain my connection details for their own use. I don’t know how often this happens but I was assured by the support person that they deal with the situation on a daily basis.

I should maybe explain at this stage that a router is the ADSL equivalent of the modem which connects a computer, via a phone line, to other computers, including the Internet. My computer does run a variety of security programs, including a firewall, so the computer was safe but not so, I found, was the router.

The second, and most amazing thing, was that the support person could not tell me how to make my router secure from internet thieves. He weakly suggested that I could contact the router’s manufacturer to get that information.

So there I sat with a insecure router and no Internet connection, which I need for my business and personal life. And that leads me to third item of information, which is that you can’t just buy a bit more bandwidth from Telkom to tide you over for the rest of the month.

You have to enter into a monthly agreement for more bandwidth and remember to cancel the agreement before the next billing. This is very inconvenient seeing that it puts the burden on you to remember to cancel the agreement, and it requires you to phone them at least once more, not a thing to look forward to.

Those of you with DSL and potentially insecure routers are probably beginning to feel a bit uneasy and are hoping that I’m going to give you some advice about to how secure yourself. Well, you’re out of luck because I don’t know what to say to you; my router is now secure, but that’s only because I have friends in low places.

You generally access routers with a web browser to configure them and the shocker is that they can not only be accessed from your computer, but from the wider Internet as well. You must, at the very least, turn off that outside access and you must change the router’s default password to make breaking into it more difficult. Getting in touch with the router’s manufacturer may be your only hope and, if you’re a Telkom customer, you’ll just have to bite the bullet and phone the support line to get the number.

The only slight item of good news is that there is an alternative to Telkom if you suddenly need more bandwidth during the month. The friends in low places told me about a site at axxess.co.za, where you can buy blocks of extra bandwidth on a one-off basis, without having to have a contract.

It’s available under their ADSL Now service and the bandwidth remains valid for six months. I haven’t tried it yet, because I didn’t find out in time, but the friends have used it and found it good.

I didn’t think it was possible, but I think Telkom’s service is actually getting worse. In addition to my troubles, I’ve been helping a friend connect her computer to the Internet. The delays waiting for help to configure the connection have been so bad, that she’s decided to ditch Telkom as her ISP; she’s even phoned them at 5h30 in the morning and failed to get through.

I eagerly await the time when Telkom gets it comeuppance but I fear that that is never going to happen, even when Neotel gets going. One bizarre thing I read recently is that the government, still Telkom’s largest shareholder, is going to be buying bandwidth from Neotel and saving millions thereby; go figure!

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7 thoughts on “Router insecurities

  1. I’ve considered the idea but iBurst is quite expensive. I hate the idea of paying over R2000 for a wireless modem.

  2. allan – identical incident happened to me but an inside telkom fiddle! I was told that I had been capped (1st time ever – and I have 4 gigs unshaped). It was right at end of month so expected all to be fixed on 1 st of month – not so!
    After many calls, I eventually logged a fault as all telkom could tell me was that all was fine. A v pleasant telkom official came to my home about 5 days later. In the interim I had bought a new router and ditched the telkom router thinking that might have been the problem. The official entered his telkom username and password into the modem and hey presto … all fine!! He then phoned a mate and asked them to check my password … my telkom password had been changed!!!!!!
    This official told me that the adsl telkom password is stored on the modem so you must first change the modem’s factory password (to prevent access to the modem)and then on a regular basis go to the telkom website and change your password there!
    I am not sure if your telkom username is also stored on the modem -I think not. If I am correct then this must have been an ‘inside job’ for who else would know my telkom username to get in and change the password!?
    Cheers Jon

  3. Allan, you did 3 things wrong. Firstly, you got a “Telkom” router (they are usually re-branded Marconi routers – which are rubbish). Secondly, you use Telkom as your ISP. And then thirdly, and this is related to the previous 2, in order to get the router, you signed a 24 month contract with Telkom.

    Now you are enslaved to Telkom.

    So, the better route is to buy your own router (the Billion routers are good), use a different ISP (I recommend Web Africa) and don’t sign a 24 month contract.

  4. I’m not even sure what anonymous is getting at in the comment above. If he or she means to imply that I’m not a technical wizard, then he or she is quite right. On the other hand, I have been around computers for about 23 years now and have picked up quite a bit about them in that time.

  5. Hi Allan
    I noted your mention of “axxess.co.za” in your column – please visit the website, and you will discover that they are offering a complete service, right down to the actual ADSL connection for R139,00/m, and a very affordable R59,00/m for a 1GB cap. This appears to be less expensive that the present Telkom offering, and will STILL beat the ADSL service Telkom costs when their “price reduction” comes into force in August (IF approved by ICASA)

    I am NOT a member of the AXXESS company, just one of their subscribers!

    Just another comment: Axxess offer you security for your router via their VIP offering at no extra charge, and according to them, NOBODY can access your router when you use this facility

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