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  • AT&T vs Unlimited Plan Users: Round 2


    We reported that AT&T was cracking down on tethering 3 weeks ago, and it looks like they're up to it again. Based on forum comments, we've summarized what we're seeing from AT&T.

    The first round appeared to be users on AT&T unlimited data plans that used more than 10GB of data in March. The latest round appears to be similar users using more than 5GB in March. It appears AT&T is on a data witch hunt. We've seen the message sent to users who simply use a lot of bandwidth (and never even tether/jailbreak) as well as users that use unauthorized tethering. What's most shocking is that many users have reported calling AT&T and were asked if they were using Netflix, Pandora, etc. Some have been told that using those services is the definition of tethering. We're not sure if this is coming down from the AT&T top, or if this is simply non-technical AT&T customer service reps that are confused about what tethering is. However, based on the number of user reports, and the chances that users are very likely reaching different reps, this seems like deliberate AT&T rep training. Seemingly unethically, many customers are being convinced to pay for a tethering plan when they're in fact not tethering at all.

    For users that have been wondering, here's some analysis and summarization of posts across the forums:
    1. Some users who never have jailbroken have stumbled upon our forums and have reported that they have received the infamous "Did you know tethering your Smartphone ....?" texts.
    2. Users of MyWi, PDANet, and TetherMe have received the texts.
    3. Users are of all iOS's versions (at least we've seen 3.1.3 - 4.3). There's no iOS version pattern.
    4. Only unlimited data plan users are receiving the texts.

    As AT&T is only pursuing unlimited data plan users, it seems this is most likely a data witch hunt rather than anything else. Obviously, if AT&T starts pursuing 2GB capped plans, then I think the perspective changes. It may simply be that they're chasing the biggest users right now.

    Need To Know Information on Tethering

    We've got a fairly techy community here, and users have been speculating all sorts of ways AT&T could be monitoring. We wanted to clear up some of the misinformation:
    1. HTTP User Agent: As some AppStore apps allow different user agents, this is not a 100% positive indiciator.
    2. DNS entries: Your tethered OSX/Windows computer hits specific entries like windowsupdates.microsoft.com. This is a pretty good indicator that your tethering with an OS other than iOS. While you could argue that you could point your browser to these URL's, that doesn't explain why data was transferred back and forth. (If you want to make an app that you can install on your iPhone that simulates the communication of Windows update chatter and send that to AT&T as an explanation, we wish you luck!). This does not apply for iPad to iPhone tethering of course.
    3. Content: Your Safari browser won't download Flash. Given that Flash is in widespread use, most pages you visit on a tethered PC will access Flash content. However, this is also not a 100% positive indicator as you could have installed comex's awesome Frash.
    4. TCP signatures: OS's have specific ways of ack/nack, TTL (time to live) start, congestion, and more for TCP requests/responses. It's possible to guess at the OS based on these signatures. However, because the tethered device is behind the NAT, active fingerprinting is not possible. Passive fingerprinting is possible if the tethering app is not completely rewriting the packets, using elements like OS IPid patterns, ttl, and others.

    These seem to be the 4 big mentions - with the DNS entries to OSX/Windows updates being the most vulnerable (and probably least likely to be used). We're guessing it's probably #4. While that's probably the most network appliance intensive, it appears AT&T only has a few huge pipes for it's 3G network traffic to go out of, so there's not many places this needs to be done. Unless of course it's PURELY based on the amount of data - possible, since users are asked if they "use Netflix or Pandora."

    We'll do a roundup on what each of the tethering apps do with respect to TCP signatures, as we're strongly convinced AT&T's data witch hunt has no merit (again, evidenced by many users that don't tether at all receiving those "nasty" messages simply because they have an untethered plan and are using > 5GB per month). We'll have another article with our analysis of tethering apps TCP signatures in the next few days!
    This article was originally published in forum thread: AT&T vs Unlimited Plan Users: Round 2 started by Kyle Matthews View original post
    Comments 721 Comments
    1. i.Annie's Avatar
      i.Annie -
      Nice write-up, really informative. It truly is a hunt for unlimited data users who uses more than 5GB. Those on the capped plan already won't be targeted whether tethering or not bc they have to pay $10 per gig after using up 2GB anyway so AT&T could care less about them. It isn't about tethering. I think AT&T really just wants to kill unlimited data off as much as possible. Thanks for the info.
    1. iAppleHack's Avatar
      iAppleHack -
      AT&T Really needs too inform there technical support on what tethering is. When I called, the tech didn't really understand what tethering is, I had too explain most of it too him!
    1. DreamWeaver88's Avatar
      DreamWeaver88 -
      Are people with Android phones getting this also, or just people using iPhones?
    1. Daerid's Avatar
      Daerid -
      I've, in the past, hit well over 10GB. Recently I've been using WiFi more. Not received a message as of yet...
    1. Doran's Avatar
      Doran -
      I got all 3 notices last week..... I was told that "Everone with a smartphone that doesn't have a tethering plan is getting these messages" what...... a...... load..... of...... CRAP!!!!!
    1. Antman217's Avatar
      Antman217 -
      I've still been tethering since the first round bit not so much and have not gotten the text yet. I guess since I haven't uses more than 10gb. Maybe I might get it this time and I'll stop but if they tell me it's because using Netflix is tethering I'll go to my nearest AT&T store and punch someone in the f*cking face.
    1. GellBrake'rrrr's Avatar
      GellBrake'rrrr -
      Yup!! Very informative. I have yet to receive the message, but then again, I'm unaware of my total usage at this time.
    1. i.Annie's Avatar
      i.Annie -
      Quote Originally Posted by DreamWeaver88 View Post
      Are people with Android phones getting this also, or just people using iPhones?
      That's a good question. I wonder that too. If it really is about tethering then I don't think android users will (well I don't know if android has third party tethering tools...)

      It seems to just be looking like it is flat out for people who use a lot of data whether it is with tethering or not. So android users *should* get the notice too if they use a lot of data.
    1. punjabi212's Avatar
      punjabi212 -
      I've been using MiWi for awhile now and have unlimited data. I never got this message from at&t.
    1. CX3NT3_713's Avatar
      CX3NT3_713 -
      I think it's all people with unlimited data plans,, they wanna kill off the unlimited data plan!!!!! A**holes!!!!
    1. maddawg05's Avatar
      maddawg05 -
      Scare tactics for the unknowing.
    1. DreamWeaver88's Avatar
      DreamWeaver88 -
      Quote Originally Posted by i.Annie View Post
      That's a good question. I wonder that too. If it really is about tethering then I don't think android users will (well I don't know if android has third party tethering tools...)

      It seems to just be looking like it is flat out for people who use a lot of data whether it is with tethering or not. So android users *should* get the notice too if they use a lot of data.
      If I'm not mistaken, tethering is built into the Android OS. If it's built into the OS, I'm wondering if AT&T is disabling it somehow. If not, then all Android phones on AT&T should have a mandatory tethering plan, if they're going to try to screw the iPhone users.
    1. JS52's Avatar
      JS52 -
      That is kind of ridiculous. For those of you who don't know, you can check your usage by going to the phone app and dialing *3282#
    1. piston597's Avatar
      piston597 -
      I am grandfathered into the unlimited data on my i4 and have not received any text... yet... I use roughly 1gb per month... Haven't experienced any issues on 4.2.1... just sayin
    1. famoussasjohn's Avatar
      famoussasjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by CX3NT3_713 View Post
      I think it's all people with unlimited data plans,, they wanna kill off the unlimited data plan!!!!! A**holes!!!!
      I have an unlimited plan, and have yet to receive a message from em. I will laugh at them and never change my plan. They force me to, I will be more than happy to cancel my agreement with them forcing a change in my original agreement. (never used any tethering apps)
    1. mikerlx's Avatar
      mikerlx -
      I simply moved to ATT service because of the no unlock for iPhone 4. Now, I think this crosses the line trying to cap data usage for grandfather unlimited data plans lol
    1. carlwithaK's Avatar
      carlwithaK -
      My friend was trying to get on AT&T's radar so he streamed all day and night. He managed to use 16gigs of data for the month of March. He hasn't got a text or phone call yet. Interesting?
    1. i.Annie's Avatar
      i.Annie -
      I dont think this is of concern to anybody who uses less than 5GB.

      As for those using more, it could just be a matter of time before they get to you of AT&T is persistent to rid of the unlimited data option for high usage users.
    1. Fhadso's Avatar
      Fhadso -
      Quote Originally Posted by iAppleHack View Post
      AT&T Really needs too inform there technical support on what tethering is. When I called, the tech didn't really understand what tethering is, I had too explain most of it too him!
      Maybe someone could explain to you the difference between "to" and "too". But seriously. People need to educate themselves, and to be honest, if you insist on being so ignorant on these things then you probably deserve to have your data capped.
    1. MikePA's Avatar
      MikePA -
      Quote Originally Posted by Antman217 View Post
      ... but if they tell me it's because using Netflix is tethering I'll go to my nearest AT&T store and punch someone in the f*cking face.
      This is mature behavior.