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I recently moved to a new apartment complex, had my DIY Time Warner box ready to go and hooked up my all my hardware. Everything booted fine but no connection to TW. I tested all the jacks in the apartment and came to the conclusion they were dead.

I grabbed my tool bag and walked outside the unit and found the Utility Closet and to my surprise it was unlocked. Once inside I found a small gray box that belonged to TW with wires coming in from the street and then splitting off into the apartments. (There was a lock but it was locked on only the first loop with the door hanging open) It was well labeled with apartment numbers and all I had to do was connect the coax. Bam, Internet was up and running.

Question

I was pretty surprised that nobody questioned that I was messing around the utility closet (I had my slacks and polo shirt on) even the maintenance guy didn't seem to give it much thought. Could someone just splice my connection and capture my internet traffic? It would seem that no matter how good my firewall setup was inside the house, if the box outside is unlocked, the traffic leaving my home is up for grabs. Are we really that vulnerable? How do you protect yourself from something like this? VPN?

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As a rule of thumb, I find it helpful to always assume that there is a stranger somewhere on earth seeing all of my traffic unless I am using https, vpn, or some manner of encryption. If you make this assumption, then someone splicing into your connection outside of your home shouldn't freak you out too much, because you will not be transmitting anything useful to them over an unencrypted wire. Granted though even the list of websites you frequent all day may be enough to cause concern, in which case you'll want to use a vpn or encrypted proxy, at least for those you would not want others to know you visit.

That being said, even with encryption, someone on the other end of the encrypted channel could still see your traffic. For example, if you are using https (with a valid certificate) while connecting to a website, you can probably assume your connection is secure over the wire, but you should still assume that an employee of that website could access your transmitted information if they wanted to. Likewise, when you use a (full-tunnel) vpn to connect to your company's network, your traffic should be secure, but always assume the IT department from your company can still see what you're doing.

TLDR: yes, it's really that vulnerable. If that bothers you, encrypt all the traffic you don't want others to be able to see.

  • Great answer and thank you. I work from home and most of my stored files are encrypted (and almost always before sending them across the web) I've added a VPN for my general traffic which will at least, if someone feels like targeting my connection (highly doubtful) will at least be more inconvenient than someone else. (I'm unable to up vote your post, but thanks!) – Orah Aug 20 '15 at 7:26
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End to end encryption?

If they grab your encrypted traffic it isn't very useful to them. Except knowing packet destinations I guess.

Other than that brick & mortar security. Padlocks & access control. CCTV. It's plain old physical access control. If the adversary has control over your physical hardware it makes his life much easier.

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