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Re: Open Letter to D-Link about their NTP vandalism

  • From: John Underhill
  • Date: Tue Apr 11 13:09:12 2006

As I replied in a comment offline, auto updating firmware is nothing new.. my cellphone updates itself, as does my satellite receiver, and many other devices as well, (the best of which, perform these tasks without our notice or appreciation).
There is of course the potential for a bug causing some unforeseen catastrophy, but much of the risk could be mitigated with a bit of planning and a well designed system, (ex. old image is stored, and boot failure loads that image.. image is first downloaded, test md5, then flashed etc).
Servers have been using these technologies for quite a while now, all tested and true.
Also, one would expect the vendors to release updates only when necessary, with some serious QA before a release, (but if they did that in the first place, we wouldn't be having this discussion ;o)
Just a thought.


----- Original Message ----- From: "Steven M. Bellovin" <[email protected]>
To: "John Underhill" <[email protected]>
Cc: <[email protected]>; <[email protected]>; <[email protected]>
Sent: Tuesday, April 11, 2006 12:24 PM
Subject: Re: Open Letter to D-Link about their NTP vandalism

On Tue, 11 Apr 2006 10:28:32 -0400, "John Underhill" <[email protected]>

It seems to me, that the only *real* solution is for these manufacturers to
implement a [responsible] strategy of automatic firmware upgrades, as it
pertains to these (simple eu type) devices.
How difficult would it be to have the router test a server periodically,
(say once a month), and in the case of a critical flaw in the software,
silently update the device?
I suspect it is cost/benefit skepticism that is keeping them from doing just

It would be a disaster. My (cable modem) ISP does that to my cable
modem/NAT box. A few months ago, a buggy update made the NAT part drop
all connections after 30 minutes. It took me a week or so to get enough
data to nail down the problem precisely. I then had the fun of trying to
get through the phone droids to reach someone who understood what "NAT"
or "TCP" meant. What unusual combination of features will random upgrades

By the way, since we're talking about D-Link, it's instructive to read the
warnings on their firmware update pages.

Do NOT upgrade firmware on any D-Link product over a wireless
connection. Failure of the device may result. Use only hard-wired
network connections.

This firmware is engineered for US products only.
Using this firmware on a device outside of the United States will
void your warranty and may render the device unusable.

Other warnings I've seen include warnings that all configuration options
will be reset, version incompatibilities, and the suggestion that one
should connect to a UPS before doing the upgrade, just in case. (Hmm --
there's a vicious thunderstorm approaching, and the lights are
flickering. And it's time for the monthly autoupgrade!)

--Steven M. Bellovin,