Talking tech since 2003

Using utility services against a resident is by no stretch of the imagination a new idea.  In an episode of CSI, a stalker working for the cable company used his position to gain access to people’s homes.  In the 2003 film, “The Italian Job”, a group of gold hijackers posed as a cable repair unit to enter a mansion and scope out the score.  My household has a few various utilities, including our rarely used home phone service that is part of our bundle from our cable company, Comcast.  It’s not something that I or anyone in my household would have seen as necessary had the Comcast representative not convinced us to bundle it into the plan, stating that it was crucial, as it could provide emergency services with our location in the event of an emergency.

The other day, I was at home and my internet suddenly stopped working.  IRC disconnected, Gmail’s integrated chat began giving me errors, and my homepage would not load.  Seeing as how I could access my router’s configuration page (which is by the way is a good test to determine if your router is malfunctioning or if your service is interrupted), I knew that my modem was obviously down.  Interestingly enough, my home phone service, which uses the same modem, continued to work.

Now here’s where the interesting part begins.  Using my mobile phone, I called Comcast’s tech support number, and used the menus to indicate that my internet was not working.  Throughout the entire process, I was never directed to a human for assistance.  Rather, providing my home phone number and stating “my internet is not working” to the automated bot when prompted, I was given the option to do a modem reset over the phone.

According to the automated bot, my modem would be reset.  The automated bot also stated that doing so would interrupt not only my internet connection, but my home phone service as well.  Lo and behold, my mother, who was on the phone at the time, was disconnected from her call.  Additionally, the phone did not receive a dial tone for about a minute after initiating the reset.

This got me thinking; couldn’t anyone theoretically call the 1-800 number and interrupt someone’s phone service? After testing this again today, this time calling from my office, I’ve come to the conclusion that while it may seem far fetched, someone theoretically could.  Simply by calling Comcast’s tech support, an intruder could prevent me from calling 911 and getting emergency services.  More chilling is the fact that I was asked for no means of verification whatsoever, and only provided my phone number.

In the long run, I definitely think that Comcast, which is one of the largest telecommunications providers in my locale, needs to look into this issue and consider implementing some form of a verification process to prevent something like this from being used against unsuspecting customers.  While a one minute downtime may not seem like a great deal, the fact remains that in a life-or-death situation, not being able to call emergency services for a full minute could be fatal.  Additionally, even if this automated phone system isn’t used for anything potentially devastating, it could serve as an annoying prank.

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