The coffee shop’s WiFi was flailing. Periodically my MacBook popped up an xfinity wifi option. I vaguely remembered reading of this when I signed up with Comcast (the Devil we know), so in a fit of recklessness I connected.
It required my comcast credentials, which I don’t use for anything else. I balked when the install asked for admin privileges but it turned out I didn’t need the install — my connection worked anyway.
So what the heck was going on? And what was a I recklessly installing? Why did I get a connection anyway? (Note I had no proof I was truly dealing with a Comcast site. The less crazy thing to do is to go to Comcast’s web site from a secure network and do any installs from there.)
The install, it turns out, creates a configuration file for Mac OS X Profiles called XFINITY.mobileconfig. It’s a binary file that contains your Comcast credentials in plaintext. (Yep. Delete after use.) The admin privilege escalation is needed to update OS X preferences. (If you run as admin you won’t see this; you really shouldn’t run OS X as an admin user IMHO.)
Oh, you’ve never heard of OS X Profiles? You’ve only heard of iOS Profiles? Profiles is a hidden Preference Pane introduced with Lion and only visible when you install a Profile (rather like iOS actually). "Configuration profiles can be created with the Profile Manager feature of Lion Server. They can configure accounts, policies and restrictions on iOS and Lion clients. The APN settings are iOS only.”
System Preferences will display the profile information (note it’s “verified”, this is via Yosemite):
After installation my Preferences have a new Apple pane, i can delete from there.
So what does this profile do? I was hoping it might enable VPN support, but of course it’s not that useful. It’s actually configuring my machine to auto-join XFINITY WIFI even if it’s not even WPA encrypted. I hope I’m wrong about that, but this is Comcast we’re talking about.
Their FAQ doesn’t explain what’s happening, but this page suggests that the profile is needed to connect to the “XFINITY” SSID networks. (I was able to connect without using the profile because I was using a “xfinitywifi" SSD.). That makes sense because the profile contains an Enterprise Profile ID. (See iOS directions here.)
Which leaves the question of what’s evil about XFINITY WiFi, because, you know, Comcast. I mean, besides the auto join non-encrypted networks.
Don’t worry, it’s evil. Comcast turns customer’s routers into WiFi hotspots by enabling a kind of “guest network” (my Comcast modem doesn’t have WiFi. Smart I am.) Comcast assures customers Homeland Security will knock politely when visiting for tea to chat about your network use by local ISIS affiliates.
Comcast also enables XFINITY WiFi for business customers, who might be well informed and fine with this. I don’t think there’s any way to tell what you’re connecting to though. Can a provider tap the data stream? This is Comcast, so I would assume so. I also assume Comcast monitors the data stream and sells whatever it learns to various businesses and criminals. Lastly, with auto-join unencrypted networks seemingly enabled, I figure Comcast is getting kickbacks from the honeypot industry.