The cable world has become a complicated place for providers. Traditional cable TV is a shrinking part of the business as phone and data services step up as driving factors. These changes make modem firmware updates a critical task. The old ways of delivering firmware updates aren’t up to the job anymore.
Internet usage requires prompt fixing of any bugs in the firmware, and modems that run old versions of DOCSIS are a headache for security and performance. People engaged in gaming and conferencing don’t like latency and dropouts. Security flaws can impact home and business networks.
Criminals who exploit firmware bugs move as fast as they can when a new one is disclosed. Service providers have to move just as fast.
Old approaches to modem firmware updates
Traditionally, cable providers have worked with device vendors to get a service that will push the code, or else they’ve cobbled their own scripts together. This has two big problems:
First, it fragments the upgrading process. There’s a different approach for each vendor’s devices, and this makes it harder to track upgrades and make sure everyone is covered.
Second, the process is inflexible. Providers would rather upgrade a limited set of modems and make sure nothing is going wrong before pushing the upgrade to everyone. This isn’t always possible with vendors’ mechanisms. The process will inevitably miss some modems, which are offline when the upgrade goes out. It may be difficult or even impractical to upgrade them later. The result is a significant body of modems running old firmware, with its risks and performance issues.
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Consequences of lagging modem firmware upgrades
When a zero-day flaw surfaces, it’s critical to push a security upgrade as quickly as possible
In 2015, a flaw in up to 600,000 ARRIS modems was discovered. The “backdoor in a backdoor” allowed at least 35,000 of them to be compromised. Even after the fix was pushed out, many modems in North and South America remained unpatched.
Failure to fix bugs can lead to legal problems
Two class action suits claimed that firmware bugs in cable modems resulted in unacceptable latency. Some people lost their lives as a result. Well, only the lives of their online gaming characters, but “dying” makes gamers seriously unhappy.
Security flaws in a modem may permit “man in the middle” attacks
The customer doesn’t realize anything is wrong, but information sent over the Internet gets into the wrong hands, or it’s altered along the way. Malicious scripts can get into reputable web pages.
Once a bug is fixed in firmware, it’s public information
Keeping all modems on the latest firmware is an important part of network security. Customers can’t upgrade their cable modems, so they depend on their service provider to keep them up to date.
Benefits of the automated firmware updates
A fully automated firmware update approach is the only reliable way to keep customers’ modems updated. It offers several significant advantages over old approaches:
- It provides a consistent approach to all devices – Having different procedures for each make or model is more complex and error-prone.
- It reduces the amount of work needed – Engineers and technicians don’t have to devote their time to writing scripts, integrating vendor-specific mechanisms, and pushing upgrades through.
- It offers better coverage – The automated process will record any failures and retry them at a later date. Any modems that can’t be upgraded because they’re too old will be logged.
- Its smooth operation means fewer service calls to handle customer outages and less customer downtime.
Bugs that make people miss their favorite cable shows may annoy them, but losing their Internet or phone service for any length of time will make them REALLY upset. Firmware bugs that let malware get into their computers are even worse. It’s more important than ever to keep cable modem firmware up to date and working. After all, it’ll cost a lot more to fix issues caused by lagging firmware than it does to prevent them.