Never Mind the Policy: Can Filtering Technology Stop p2p?

There is another story in the media about the ongoing debate about what (if anything) the government should be doing in response to online piracy;

A rift has opened between music’s creators and its record labels, with a broad alliance of musicians, songwriters and producers fiercely criticising the business secretary Lord Mandelson’s plans to cut off the broadband connections of internet users who illegally download music.

What I find interesting about the coverage is that there is little to no discussion about if such measures are possible. By that I mean, is the technology there to accurately stop piracy – so, assuming you had robust legislation giving a clear definition of what was to be done – is the tech there to do it? There is no doubt that some technologies exist, but I suspect that there are serious limits to what it can achieve. For starters, any technology solution would need to have some or all of the following to be practical:

  • Easy to implement – The network ecology that this technology is coming into is dynamic, thus if the technology takes time to implement, then the conditions may have changed and rendered the tech obsolete.
  • Low bandwidth – if the process of checking all the traffic is taking too much out of the network, it is going to impact on the service that people will have paid for – as well as penalising all users, regardless of if they are indulging in non-legitimate uses.
  • Discriminatory – Able to discriminate between legitimate and non-legitimate traffic accurately. If it targets the wrong people, it is going to cost time, money and reputation for the ISPs involved.
  • Decryptory – There has been marked rise in encrypted p2p technology of late. This means that any system will need to deal with not only encrypted peers, but also encrypted packets of data.

Now those are the ‘easy’ points – the obvious ones that the technology would need. From the p2p research I’ve been doing, I would suggest that there are a couple of other ones of note too:

  • 100% Effective – One key thing about internet ecology is that it is very, very easy for users to change p2p software. Users can also communicate virally, so can pass information on about holes in any system rapidly. The exploitation of the loop-holes will also be viral. This means a 99.9% effective system upon implementation will rapidly become a 0% one.
  • Psychic – The other issues is that once a flag goes up, there will be many, many people trying many many methods to by-pass the system. This will be continuous and will consist of lines of attack from new directions. The system implemented need to anticipate and head-off these attacks to stay in-the-game.

I am being a little provocative in the points above, but I feel they are valid. I think you see what I am saying – stopping online piracy is very, very difficult. Some may point to the Great Firewall of China as a successful example of internet control – forgetting that it is backed by an authoritarian state and might not be effective for all we know – became its failings are not going to be publicised either by the government there or the users who’ve found a way though.

Source: Catblog.

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