Is there anything available now or on the horizon to protect my residential broadband connection from someone else also on a broadband connection in my neighborhood from using a sniffer to read my non-SSL transmissions, e.g. e-mail?
As you point out, in some cable systems, an attacker can gather data from other cable Internet subscribers in their neighborhood, simply by sniffing data. Not all cable providers are sniffable; some use technology at the cable head-end that limits what you can see on the network. Unfortunately, lobbying your cable provider to deploy such technology is probably fruitless, as it requires changes to the cable infrastructure.
Also, even for those people not using cable modems (such as DSL, dial-up, and ISDN users), keep in mind that an attacker who has compromised your ISP can still see all data you send out. There are several recorded attacks in which an attacker took over critical systems at an ISP and perused customer traffic. Furthermore, an attacker could simply get a job with an ISP and snoop your Web surfing habits.
While there is no silver-bullet solution to protecting against your neighbors sniffing your cable line or similar ISP-based attacks, you can protect yourself by encrypting the data you send across the network. As you mention in your question, SSL goes a long way into securing your Web access. Other protocols, such as e-mail, don't have this built-in protection. So, how can you protect them? There are several options, including:
For more information on this topic, visit these other SearchSecurity.com resources:
Tech Tip: Securing remote access service
Executive Security Briefing: Managing safe and secure remote connections
Executive Security Briefing: Watch out for hotel broadband vulernabilities
Dig Deeper on Network device security: Appliances, firewalls and switches
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