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Did you know that other people might be using your router without your permission? A recent report states that, by 2017, one in three home routers 10 Crucial Features to Use in Your Wireless Router Setup at Home 10 Crucial Features to Use in Your Wireless Router Setup at Home Most wireless routers are equipped with a handful of amazing features that you probably aren't taking advantage of. Here are some of the more useful ones to start exploring right now. Read More will be available to use as a public hotspot to other subscribers of the same internet service provider (ISP).

In fact, you might already be sharing your router with members of the public without even realizing it.

How does this work, why is it allowed, and what does it mean for you? And, most importantly, how do you turn it off? Keep reading!

How Public Hotspots Work

Your Wi-Fi router broadcasts an internet connection around your house, but it probably also broadcasts a little beyond your house depending on your setup 3 Effective Ways to Extend Your Wireless Network at Home 3 Effective Ways to Extend Your Wireless Network at Home Learn how to extend your wireless network and kill those dead zones once and for all with bridges, extenders, or powerline adapters. Read More . Normally, there’s nothing wrong with this — others who walk by your house may detect your router’s signal but can’t use it without knowing the password.

But if your router is a public hotspot, then other users who have the same ISP as you may be able to bypass the need for a password and use your internet anyway.

To be clear, someone who uses the public hotspot functionality of your router does NOT mean they are on your private network. The hotspot network is completely separate, which also means that it won’t interfere with your speeds in any noticeable way.

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xfinity-wifi

If you’ve ever seen the xfinitywifi network while searching for a Wi-Fi network, you’ve seen one of Comcast’s public hotspots (in fact, it’s pretty likely that you can see one right now if you open up your network list). If you’re in Europe, you’ve almost certainly seen the BT, UPC, or Virgin Media public networks.

In order to connect, all you need are your ISP credentials. This allows you to access the internet from anywhere as long as you can find a hotspot nearby.

Security and Privacy Ramifications

For the most part, running a public hotspot for your ISP isn’t a huge concern. Thousands of people are doing it right now, without knowing it, and haven’t had any problems. Since the hotspot network is separate from your private one, there’s no overlap.

That being said, there’s something that feels a little . . . off . . . about all of this, especially because ISPs haven’t done a good job of informing their customers that this is happening.

A research report from early 2016, authored by Juniper Research, concluded:

While most operators now allow consumers to opt-out, if they so wish, most consumers simply have no idea that their routers are being used in this way . . .

Given the current concerns around privacy and data security, the realization that home routers can be accessed by complete strangers is unlikely to be viewed in a positive light.

And while stories of people getting hacked through their public hotspots are uncommon, it is possible. Back in 2014, an Ars Technica author spoofed his phone into giving its credentials to a fake AT&T public hotspot.

Whether or not a hacker could use your public hotspot to launch a drive-by attack is a subject of some disagreement, and chances are definitely low that’s it’s something you need to worry about, but security-conscious users might not be happy about it.

Regardless, you should always secure your home network How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure Default router settings put your network at risk, allowing freeloading strangers to squeeze nadwidth and potentially commit crimes. Use our summary to configure your standard router settings to prevent unauthorized access to your network. Read More .

When thinking about whether or not sharing your router with other ISP subscribers is a security or privacy concern, it’s also good to remember that having (essentially) free public Wi-Fi any time you’re near someone else’s router is really, really useful.

Not being able to get on a Wi-Fi network when you need one is frustrating, and it’s not hard to run up against your mobile data cap Why Do Data Caps Exist and How Can You Bypass Them? Why Do Data Caps Exist and How Can You Bypass Them? ISP and mobile data caps are the bane of everyday Internet users. Why do these exist? Are there any ways you can get around them? Here's what we know. Read More when you’re traveling. These hotspots can help people in those situations, if you’re feeling helpful.

How to Disable Your Public Hotspot

When you weigh the benefits and drawbacks of having a public hotspot running on your router, it’s not clear which is the winner.

You might prioritize hosting a useful public service, or you might be nervous about the potential privacy implications of having other people’s web traffic routed through your house, minor as they may be. Or maybe you’re just irritated with your ISP for not telling you about it.

So there’s really no right answer here: you can leave it up, or you can take it down. It’s really up to you. If you have an opinion on which is better, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

router-wireless-public-hotspot

As for turning it off, the exact method you need to use for your router depends on your ISP, but I’ll try to provide as much useful information here as possible.

The first and easiest way to get rid of the public hotspot is to replace your router 8 Key Questions You Must Ask When Buying A New Wireless Router 8 Key Questions You Must Ask When Buying A New Wireless Router Here are eight questions you should ask when buying a new wireless router. Read More . You should be using your own router and modem anyway, mainly to save on expensive rental fees. Hotspots are only possible through ISP-provided gear, so this would solve the problem.

Otherwise, if you have a Comcast-issued router, I’ll show you how to get to the appropriate settings in your Comcast account. First, head to xfinity.com and and click Sign In in the upper-right corner. After you’ve signed in, go to My Account and click the My Services link in the menu.

xfinity-account-services

You’ll need to select your internet service from the following menu and click Manage.

xfinity-manage-services

From there’ll you go to a screen that has a number of options related to your internet service. Click on Manage your home hotspot to see if your hotspot is currently turned on, and to turn it off if you’d prefer.

xfinity-services-equipment

(You can also just go to https://customer.xfinity.com/WifiHotspot to skip to this screen.)

That’s all there is to it! Turning off hotspots from other ISPs is likely to be a similar process. If you know how to turn off the hotspot feature for another provider, please share it in the comments so other people can turn theirs off if they’d like.

Perhaps Not as Bad as It Sounds

Letting people use public Wi-Fi 3 Dangers Of Logging On To Public Wi-Fi 3 Dangers Of Logging On To Public Wi-Fi You've heard that you shouldn't open PayPal, your bank account and possibly even your email while using public WiFi. But what are the actual risks? Read More through your router sounds like a privacy, security, and speed nightmare . . . but overall, the stakes and consequences are pretty small.

Still, ISP subscribers should be aware that their router is probably being used as a public hotspot and given the opportunity to do something about it. Now that you know, will you leave yours enabled?

What do you think about broadcasting public Wi-Fi from your router? Did you know this was happening? Will you leave it enabled, or turn it off? Do you use public Wi-Fi from your ISP? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

  1. Wayne
    July 15, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Very informative article. I was not aware that this could be happening. I have my own router however if their were no security risks I could see theas a valuable ppublic service. Thanks for the information!

    • Dann Albright
      July 25, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Yeah, having your own router is almost always preferable anyway. Glad you found the article useful!

  2. Remona
    July 13, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    It's cool to have a lot more hotspots but my objection is that Xfinity/Comcast isn't giving me a damn thing in exchange. In Fact, I still pay to rent my modem which they're using as a hotspot - now what's up with that?

    • Dann Albright
      July 25, 2016 at 7:33 pm

      Well, they're giving you the option to use other people's hotspots . . . so that's something!

      • Remona Stormborn
        July 26, 2016 at 12:21 am

        Right, so using the modems my neighbors pay to rent to provide me with a service is a good reason to charge me for the modem they use as a hotspot.

        Other companies, such as cell phone companies, have to pay to locate equipment in a large number of locations to provide better service (and their prices aren't even close to being as predatory). And Comcast continues to charge me to rent my modem when they use it to provide (very expensive) services?

        It's inherently wrong. I don't get anything free (or even close to it) from Comcast so why should I give them anything for free?

        Common sense tells me that I DO pay (albeit a tiny cost) for the added electricity for the extra work my modem is doing as well. Even if not so, they are still using the equipment I am paying to use to provide service to others.

        Does the use of that modem as a hotspot cause more wear and tear and contribute to possible malfunctions or problems? What are the expectations of my paying for the cost of replacing that modem if it breaks down before a certain amount of time? I'm guessing not any better than they are when I'm not using one of the hotspot modems.....

        If I rent a couch from a local furniture rental shop, would it be right for them to expect me to continue paying for that couch if they can get more customers by offering them the ability to find a comfy place to sit and have lunch anywhere they happen to be at the time?

        I rent the modem for my use. No one else helps me pay for it. If I don't pay the rent on it, then it's a fair deal.

        Plus, providing a hotspot provides me neglible (if any) benefits. Coffee shops and local businesses already provide plenty of hotspots. I've yet to find Xfinity Wifi of any use. It's signal is too weak at my favorite coffee shop and non existent at my writers group location. They provide ME with nothing so far and I don't see much chance of them providing ME anything in the future but overpriced internet service and forced television programming (even though I don't even own a television.)

      • Remona Stormborn
        July 26, 2016 at 12:31 am

        Oh, and one more thing. The cost of my internet service has gone up considerably since the wifi business started. What do you want to bet that part of the rationalization for the increased cost is the ability to get Wifi connections in many locations as well as your home connection? Do you honestly think that a company as predatory in it's pricing as Comcast is is NOT making us pay for that wifi service?

  3. Suleiman
    July 13, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Excellent read. I love the idea and I absolutely do not mind for my router to be used as public hot spot.I don't know if we have that here in Canada. I will check. I wish there was a way, even through satellites, to enable the presence of WiFi everywhere you go and that includes forests and deserts. Forget phone signal provided Internet. The max data you are allowed per month is 10 GB. I blow that amount in two days. If you scope on periscope, use kodi, play pokemon go, take your ps4 to cottage country and record and upload on YouTube constantly wifi becomes essential. Therefore, yes I love to make my router public hotpot as long at I don't pay extra and it doesn't slow my speed. Speaking about security issues, please, if a hacker want to hack you, he can do it in seconds. Just save your sensitive materials on external hard drive and make sure it is off line. Don't let it sit attached to your smart TV that is connected to the Internet :) Thanks for this article.

    • Dann Albright
      July 13, 2016 at 5:53 pm

      Glad you liked the article! Also, I know a lot of people agree with you; some people just don't care that their router can be used by the public, and they enjoy being on wifi when they're away from home.

  4. Brian
    July 13, 2016 at 2:52 am

    As of mid-June I became a new subscriber to Comcast. If you don't have your own modem, they'll rent you a gateway for $10.00 /month. I knew about the public hotspot before I got their service, so I as soon as I got online I went into my account and turned it off. I was happy for three days as there was no "xfinitywifi" coming from the gateway. Then to my surprise, on it came. I did not change any settings in my account so I was surprised to see it was on. I then went into my account again to shut it off. Or so I thought. Only a few minutes later it came back on. I tried two more times only for the same to happen. So I called them on the phone. They shut it off twice and both times it returned. The call ended with them claiming the signal "xfinitywifi" that was showing up on my phone and tablet was from "my neighbors" gateway. I know this was not the case because I have no neighbors with half a mile and because I would unplug the gateway and watch the signal disappear and then return when I plugged it back in. So I requested a new gateway. A new gateway was sent and I once again made sure it was disabled in my account. By this time I was almost three weeks into my new service and the hotspot was now staying off. Comcast has a 30 day money back guarantee on new service. I'd had enough by this point and was set on cancelling my service if the hotspot would come back on before the 30 days was up. Then on the 31st day of service the "xfinitywifi" signal returned. What a coincidence ! I again tried and tried through my account and on the phone to shut it off to no avail. I recently purchased my own modem to use and don't have to worry about this any more. Comcast tells you that it can be shut off but my experience proves otherwise. To me this is a dirty, underhanded abuse of the customer. Never have I wasted so much time trying to get a problem fixed. I certainly would dump them if I had another provider in my area. People need to be more aware of what is going on. And Comcast has the nerve to charge 10/month for modem rental and give the customer no control over something like this. Beware.

    • Mister TechE
      July 25, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      Purchase a cable modem... problem solved. The modem you purchase will pay for itself in a year,

  5. Alan
    July 12, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    In a way, our ISPs are compensating us for letting others use our Hot Spot. The return for your grace is the use of any other Hot Spot on your ISPs network when you are out and about. I know people can be a little paranoid and I fear the dwindling availability of open Hot Spots if folks start opting out. Fortunately the one thing we can count on is laziness. Most folks won't read these articles let alone follow the instructions to opt out. I appreciate the opportunity to share. I just wish that guy that keeps pulling up my driveway to get a better signal would fix the oil leak staining my drive.

    • Dann Albright
      July 13, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Does someone really pull into your driveway for wifi? That's crazy . . . and that would make me a big uncomfortable. But you're right; we are definitely being compensated for it by giving us access to other people's hotspots when we need them. I don't know how many people use them, though . . . that would be an interested statistic to find out. I'm sure the number is exponentially less than the number of people who are providing them, though.

  6. Brian Beam
    July 12, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    As of mid-June I became a new subscriber to Comcast. If you don't have your own modem, they'll rent you a gateway for $10.00 /month. I knew about the public hotspot before I got their service, so I as soon as I got online I went into my account and turned it off. I was happy for three days as there was no "xfinitywifi" coming from the gateway. Then to my surprise, back on it came. I did not change any settings in my account so I was surprised to see it was on. I then went into my account again to shut it off. Or so I thought. Only a few minutes later it came back on. I tried two more times only for the same to happen. So I called them on the phone. They shut it off twice and both times it returned. The call ended with them claiming the signal "xfinitywifi" that was showing up on my phone and tablet was from "my neighbors" gateway. I know this was not the case because I have no neighbors within nearly half a mile and because I would unplug the gateway and watch the signal disappear and then return when I plugged it back in. So I requested a new gateway. A new gateway was sent and I once again made sure it was disabled in my account. By this time I was almost three weeks into my new service and the hotspot was now staying off. Comcast has a 30 day money back guarantee on new service. I was set on cancelling my service if the hotspot would come back on before the 30 days was up. Then on the 31st day of service the "xfinitywifi" signal returned. What a coincidence ! I again tried and tried through my account and on the phone to shut it off to no avail. I recently purchased my own modem to use and don't have to worry about this any more. Comcast tells you that it can be shut off but my experience proves otherwise. To me this is a dirty, underhanded abuse of the customer. Never have I wasted so much time trying to get a problem fixed. I certainly would dump them if I had another provider in my area. People need to be more aware of what is going on. And Comcast has the nerve to charge 10/month for modem rental and give the customer no control over something like this. Beware.

    • Dann Albright
      July 13, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Hm; I've never heard of that happening. Sounds like a pain! Did you also buy your own router, or just your own modem? Because buying just a new modem doesn't seem like it would solve the problem, especially if you continued to use a Comcast router.

  7. Overlord_Laharl
    July 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    in all honesty, the ISP should pay its customers for hosting the public hotspot.
    after all we pay them for the service, and many times the device. plus electricity costs associated with the spot, along with the degraded speed from the publics use of the hotspot.

    at the very least they should provision the hardware to its customers for free.

    • Dann Albright
      July 13, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      It'd be great if they'd pay us for it, but we have no leverage here. What are you going to do, not use Comcast because of the public hotspot? I wish that was an option . . . I hate being limited to a single ISP, but most people are in that position with me. Guess we'll all just have to buy our own routers! (Which isn't such a bad thing.)

      • Overlord_Laharl
        July 13, 2016 at 7:41 pm

        you are correct using our own devices is best, especially is said device has aftermarket firmware installed (like ddwrt or tomato).
        or you could go the diy route and build your own router using a banana pi r1

  8. Howard A Pearce @HAPLibertarian
    July 11, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    These are "provided" for getting/renting a router/modem combo from your ISP like Comcast/Xfinity where this public access is all setup ahead of time, as I understand it.

    • Overlord_Laharl
      July 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      yes. Comcast router has these hotspots enabled by default.
      it's most of the time opt (not opt in, like it should be)
      Thankfully xfinity/Comcast let's you use your own hardware with their service. and these most of the time don't have support for this option.

    • Dann Albright
      July 13, 2016 at 5:48 pm

      Overlord is right; getting your own router will solve the problem. You can often turn if off, too, if you want to keep renting (though that costs a lot of money over an extended period of time, so it's a good idea to get your own anyway).

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