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Purdue University - Discovery Park
Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

Open Source Outclassing Home Router Vendor’s Firmware

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I’ve had an interesting new experience these last few months.  I was faced with having to return a home wireless router again and trying a different model or brand, or try an open source firmware replacement. If one is to believe reviews on sites like Amazon and Newegg, all home wireless routers have significant flaws, so the return and exchange game could have kept going on for a while.  The second Linksys device I bought (the most expensive on the display!) had the QoS features I wanted but crashed every day and had to be rebooted, even with the latest vendor-provided firmware.  It was hardly better than the Verizon-provided Westell modem, which had to be rebooted sometimes several times per day despite having simpler firmware. That was an indication of poor code quality, and quite likely security problems (beyond the obvious availability issues). 

I then heard about DD-WRT, an alternative firmware released under the GPL.  There are other alternative firmwares as well, but I chose this one simply because it supported the Linsys router;  I’m not sure which of the alternatives is the best.  For several months now, not only has the device demonstrated 100% availability with v.24 (RC5), but it supports more advanced security features and is more polished.  I expected difficulties because it is beta software, but had none.  Neither CERIAS or I are endorsing DD-WRT, and I don’t care if my home router is running vendor-provided or open source firmware, as long as it is a trustworthy and reliable implementation of the features I want.  Yet, I am amazed that open source firmware has outclassed firmware for an expensive (for a home router) model of a recognized and trusted brand.  Perhaps home router vendors should give up their proprietary, low-quality development efforts, and fund or contribute somehow to projects like DD-WRT and install that as default.  A similar suggestion can be made if the software development is already outsourced.  I believe that it might save a lot of grief to their customers, and lower the return rates on their products.

Comments

Posted by Steve
on Tuesday, March 4, 2008 at 07:01 AM

I’ve been running an opensource-based firewall (M0n0wall http://m0n0.ch/wall) for a few years on a diskless, fanless box from PC Engines (WRAP - http://www.pcengines.ch/wrap.htm).  The only time it’s been down is because of firmware updates. Looks like DD-WRT even runs on this box.

This works great for a network-versed security practitioner, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the casual home user.

Steve

Posted by Chris
on Saturday, March 8, 2008 at 10:31 AM

IIRC, Buffalo Technologies has a deal with DD-WRT to do exactly what you suggest around dumping low-quality internal efforts: http://www.dd-wrt.com/press_release.pdf

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