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Firmware Update for UK Sky Broadband ISP Routers Botches DNS UPDATE

Monday, April 29th, 2019 (4:30 pm) - Score 11,496
sky_q_hub

Customers of UK ISP Sky Broadband, specifically those with their own third-party Domain Name System (DNS) settings, may wish to revert to the default settings for awhile as a recent firmware update for Sky’s own router has been released that seems to be disrupting internet connectivity for some users.

The Domain Name System (DNS), which for most consumers is automatically controlled by your ISP, works to convert Internet Protocol (IP) addresses into a human readable form (e.g. 123.56.78.9 to examplesiteblah.co.uk) and back again. However, many people still like to use their own custom third-party DNS solution (Google Public DNS, OpenDNS etc.) for better performance and control.

Sky’s own routers (e.g. SR101, SR102, Sky Q Hub) tend to be locked down and so subscribers can’t easily change their DNS settings from the default, although some customers have found ways to do this via the router’s backup config file and it’s also possible to adjust DNS settings via individual devices (laptop, desktop PC, Apple TV etc.).

Unfortunately customers who have adopted a custom DNS setting are now finding that this no longer works after the latest firmware update (e.g. partially blocking the use of third-party DNS platforms), which has caused a few sporadic internet connectivity problems and created a lot of frustration. The issue is charted via various topics on their forum (e.g. here and here) and on The Register.

Sky User SimonW said:

“It’s doing it to me with the SKY Q hub. They insist they have changed nothing and its all the other DNS server providers fault (I setup a DNS inside my network and it does it and I know there isnt an issue with that).

I’ve identified whats going on and provided them with all the data to back it up. No doubt they will deny it but it seems they are running transparent DNS Proxies.”

Sky User DandyDons said:

“I now realise it’s not just me that is having issues with DNS proxy services. It’s a real pain to find that sky are blocking these though, intentionally or otherwise.”

Sky User JonW42 said:

“I connected my latop to my iPhone’s hotspot and was able to use a different DNS no problem. The problem is Sky now using a Transparent DNS Proxy to block us from using a different DNS. So that means if Sky’s DNS ever crashes, you’re screwed as we won’t have a DNS. Plus, it is preventing us from using the DNS of our choice. I shall be called Sky sometime this week. I don’t think I’ll get anywhere. I do have the number for broadband. So i’ll give it a go. The more that contact Sky about this the better (I hope).”

At the time of writing this problem appears to have been occurring for the past couple of weeks. However one of Sky’s Community Managers, Mark-Br, reported on Friday that the ISP had finally “identified the root cause and are working towards a permanent solution … In the meantime, if you think you’re impacted by the issue described in this thread, contact Sky.” Sadly no ETA for a fix has been given.

In the meantime customers could consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to work around the problem and more advanced users may be able to completely replace Sky’s own broadband router by using a third-party one with built-in VDSL (FTTC), although Sky doesn’t approve of this. However not all routers work with Sky’s Option 61 (MER) login system (we identified some that do).

One downside is if your Sky setup is using the Sky Q mesh (usually alongside their TV kit) then removing the Sky Q Hub from your network chain could disrupt this. We have separately asked Sky to comment and are awaiting their response.

UPDATE 30th April 2019:

A spokesperson for Sky told ISPreview.co.uk: “Our latest firmware update is designed to support new, exciting features coming to Sky Broadband soon. If customers wish to continue using a third party DNS server, they can request a roll-back to the previous firmware which can take up to 7 days however customers will still be able to access the internet using Sky DNS servers throughout this time.”

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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28 Responses
  1. Avatar Mike

    Has anyone noticed any FTTC speed improvement over the Sky Router when using an alternative one?

    • Avatar Shiner

      Any speed improvements would be negligible given your local machine will cache subsequent DNS queries. OpenDNS and Google DNS are in theory quicker and less prone to bottlenecks/failures, but you’re talking a DNS query difference of 100ms average worst case scenario.
      The improvements come in features such as blocking malware, botnet and attacks using 3rd party DNS. However, this was based on Sky’s DNS performance years ago and their infrastructure may well have changed.
      I’ve always found a dedicated DNS provider is faster than any ISP’s own, but the difference is hardly noticeable in real terms (unless you look at the old TalkTalk DNS which could have 500ms+ response times at the best of times let alone during peak usage! But again, that was nearly 10 years ago).

    • Avatar Mike

      I am referring to sync rate etc. not DNS.

    • Avatar Joe

      I’m not on sky but I’d be surprised if a high quality router can’t get better throughput than skys basic box.

  2. Avatar Jonathan Buzzard

    Looks like a perfect usecase for DNS over https

  3. Avatar Meadmodj

    I find myself on Sky’s side on this issue. Like all the big ISPs they have a support cost issue, need to manage the routing of traffic, have direct or optimised routes to content providers, any data sent via the Internet costs them money and they are obliged by regulation to maintain parent controls etc. If the management of their service is circumvented how can they be responsible.

    Their T&Cs are quite clear:
    “If you wish to use a modem or any other equipment that we have not supplied to you in order to access Sky Broadband it is your responsibility to ensure it is compatible with Sky Networks and we cannot guarantee that Sky Broadband will work with these.”

    “You must not adapt, modify, decompile or reverse engineer any part of Sky Broadband”

    “To protect our networks and maintain quality of service for all our users we can temporarily or permanently control or restrict your online activities via Sky Broadband”

    Going forward the ISPs may increasingly restrict their services (including access to known DoH servers) and I understand the reasons why they would wish to. Therefore surely if you want either the service or technical freedom do not use any of the major ISPs.

    • Avatar Joe

      I think thats a pretty generous set of excuses for a botched update.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Botched or intended?. Possibly the latter.

    • Avatar Joe

      Hanlon’s razor.

    • Avatar Big B

      Not a botched update. Almost certainly an update that preps the router for the upcoming Sky Buddy app that allows customers to restrict their family internet/device usage even when they’re not connected at home, akin to xFi on Comcast’s Xfinity.

      If you’re struggling because of the update, then contact Sky and they can apparently revert the firmware back to the previous version within a few days/week.

  4. Avatar RaptorX

    I don’t know what Sky are ‘fessing up to, here. It’s quite obvious that they don’t want their customers messing around with the DNS settings on their routers since there’s no user interface for them and it has to be done with a config file hack. If I was them, I would simply say it’s an unauthorised mod and that customers should buy their own routers if they want to do things like this. Their tech support should then endeavour to put the routers back into the default configuration to get them working again.

    Incidentally, this product lockdown is yet another reason why I wouldn’t get Sky broadband. The first reason of course, is that they would sell you out to copyright holders and that’s a dealbreaker in my book. Great if that happens because they’ve misidentified you, eh?

    • Avatar Mike

      I wouldn’t risk relying on your ISP any ways, much safer to get VPN, also don’t have DNS issues either.

    • Avatar Wakey

      You are missing the point though, this isn’t that people are hacking the router to change dns, this is changing the dns on individual devices. There are all sorts of reasons to switch dns on a device and while it’s fine for them to not allow the router one to be changed as it makes support easier but we should be able to override that on devices behind the router.

    • Avatar RaptorX

      No Wakey, that’s not right. Here’s the relevant bit in the article:

      “Sky’s own routers (e.g. SR101, SR102, Sky Q Hub) tend to be locked down and so subscribers can’t easily change their DNS settings from the default, although some customers have found ways to do this via the router’s backup config file and it’s also possible to adjust DNS settings via individual devices (laptop, desktop PC, Apple TV etc.).”

      So yes, functioning of the Sky routers is being intentionally modified by the user, which Sky prohibits, hence it’s odd that Sky are apologising for it and not just quoting their stated policy.

  5. Avatar Billy

    The cost of compliance to government mandated spying.

  6. Avatar CarlT

    Hmm.

    I thought only *I* was allowed to break Sky Broadband.

  7. Avatar t0m5k1

    Time to use stubby or dnscrypt to connect to 3rd party DNS via DoH/T

  8. Avatar N31l

    Just on the line to Sky support now. They deny that thart there is any way to roll back and also claim that there are no reports of this problem.

    • Avatar Joe

      Just need to escalate it to a manager or go via their forum there is a link to sort it out.

  9. Avatar Mark D

    On phone to sky – Have 2 services with them that have this issue. I run custom dns with opendns for filtering and monitoring traffic. 3 kids with autism will require something more special than the filtering Sky provide.

    Yet.

    Their support team neither know anything about this, and report even if they were to roll back the firmware it would just update another time, and they couldn’t be sure it’ll work after nor that they could support it if there were issues.

    High time I looked into my own routers that work with MER.
    Appauling that they can just change their setup and proxy all dns requests to their own servers without any notice.

    Half a mind to cancel both lines and go with Zen!

    • Avatar Mike

      “require something more special than the filtering Sky provide”

      Like proper parenting and guidance as opposed to censorship?

  10. Avatar Mark D

    Sadly they’re not kids Mike.

    29, 23 and 19.

    My wife and I work.
    Clearly you have never had involvement with anyone with Autism.

    • Avatar Pez

      Hi Mark,

      I am sure Mike missed the bit about the autism, hence the ignorant comment. If he did see it, then as you say, he has no idea. Just like many judgemental keyboard warriors unfortunately.

      We have a 12 year old who is autistic, with ADHD and a genetic mutation. I would love to see someone like Mike parent him “proper” as he suggests when he is non-verbal and has sensory issues.

      I can’t even imagine what it must be like with 3. I got something similar on a post about YouTube filtering on our Smart TV when someone advised to teach them properly or get them to do something else with their time.

      Unfortunately we are in a world where people are cruel, and as said, ignorant and clueless of the situation, but we continue on and try to find ways to make things better and safe!

  11. Avatar John Roche

    I have not had this issue at all, though I do have a different settup.
    Use a 3rd party router such as the asus I use.
    The asus is set up for dhcp sole provider and google dns. So all traffic going through this gets google dhcp and dns. Disable dns and dhcp on the skyq router.

  12. Avatar Roberto

    There one thing I don’t get here and hope some of the experts on this forum can explain.

    My understanding of the whole point of transparent proxies is that they require no configuration on the client side. Why, therefore, do we believe that firmware plays such a big role here and why would using a 3rd party modem fix this? Can’t Sky intercept the traffic anyway regardless of router being used? (assuming a VPN is not being used, of course).

    Thanks in advance to anyone who can shed some light on this.

  13. Avatar sarahjane

    Could someone please name the sky spokesperson who said they can roll this back because on the phone to sky and they say this is not a service they can provide

  14. Avatar Kevin

    I am livid. I used OpenDNS family shield on my daughters PC by changing the DNS settings on the NIC and I only just found out today that SKY broke it when I saw inappropriate content in her internet history and I wondered why it wasn’t blocked. I am really upset about this. Furious.

    • Avatar GreenReaper

      The funny thing is that the change was likely due to the UK’s own porn filters – which have now been delayed again:
      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-48700906

      At a guess it looks like they forgot to tell the EU that they were going to be requiring service providers to filter:
      “Any changes affecting the obligations imposed upon undertakings or of the undertakings affected under the provisions of this Directive shall be notified to the Commission without delay.”
      https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32002L0022
      [Article 36, section 2]

      Of course, they could just be using that as an excuse because they didn’t have things ready in time. Good for them they hadn’t left the EU yet, or they might not have that excuse!

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