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Circuit Breaker

Linksys routers to remain hackable after new FCC rules go into effect

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A victory for open-source router enthusiasts everywhere

There aren't many routers — especially extremely ugly routers — that qualify as iconic, but the Linksys WRT series certainly counts. It was so popular that Linksys actually brought the WRT line back in 2014 after years of shipping much prettier devices.

Why was it so popular? Because it's so easy to load up custom firmware on WRT devices — if you are a particular kind of nerd, your heart beats for open-source projects like Tomato and OpenWRT. They let you customize virtually everything about the routers that support them from radio strength to latency, and even run Tor clients directly on the hardware for added privacy.

The problem is that you could also turn off something called Dynamic Frequency Selection, which meant that they could interfere with FAA weather radios. So the FCC issued rules blocking users from modifying radios to go outside of their licensed spectrum, potentially cutting off all those open-source router firmware projects as of June 2nd, when the rules go into effect. Router makers can still support mods if they build in controls to keep the radios within the appropriate parameters, but some manufacturers don't think the extra effort it is worth it — TP-Link has said it's going to lock out alternative firmwares, for instance.

Linksys is locking away the radio parameter to keep things legal

But Linksys is going a different route — the company told Ars Technica that it's working with chipset provider Marvell and OpenWRT to support the modification community. "They're named WRT… it's almost our responsibility to the open source community," Linksys router product manager Vince La Duca said to Ars. New Linksys WRT routers will store their RF parameters in a separate memory location to keep things in line (and DFS turned safely on) but allow all the other user mods the community can dream up. Only the WRT appears to be getting this treatment, which makes sense — if you want a hackable router, you should buy a hackable router, you know? — but it's still nice to see companies put the effort into supporting open source communities.

Also, here is a quote La Duca gave Ars about the motivations of people modding their routers:

"It's not about ‘I'm going to go get OpenWRT to go and piss off the FCC.' It's about what you can do in expanding the capabilities of what we ship with."

Sure it isn't. Sure it isn't.