End User internet security


Circulating on the law inforcement distribution list of the Internet Service Providers’ Association today is information regarding a website called which appears to have set itself up as a vigilante-type organisation to hunt down downloaders of illegal extreme pornography.

According to their website:

“At present, our primary activities are categorizing and monitoring torrents. Our system, once a torrent is added to it, will periodically poll the tracker for geoIP technology to guess with high accuracy (approximately 99.5%) their location. If the IP is geolocated to somewhere other than the UK, no further processing is performed; otherwise our system checks to see whether an existing record for this IP and torrent exists. If so no further processing is performed. If no such matching record is found, the system inserts such a record.”

… and that record then generates an email to the relevant abuse team (ISPs have an “abuse@” email address that is used as standard to report illegal activities).

I’m sure that many if not all abuse teams are aware of the limitations of the above procedure, which is that having your IP address attached to a torrent implies one of four things:

a) you are actively fetching or distributing the file

b) you are an academic researcher who is monitoring the torrent, but who is not uploading or downloading at all

c) your IP address has been selected at random by the owner of the tracker to add to the list of active IPs so as to bring this type of tracking into disrepute

d) your IP address has been specially chosen by someone who wishes you harm and who has deliberately added it to the list of active IPs so as to cause trouble.

Case (a) is what the people running the extremeporn website think they are dealing with.

Case (b) has been well documented by researchers at the University of Washington    .

Case (c) is believed to be behind the large number of incorrect copyright abuse allegations currently flooding the market 🙁

There is a strong belief that Pirate Bay is doing this deliberately (anyone with an on-the-record citation for this, I’d be really pleased to get this).

Case (d) is of obvious concern. The U of Washington people falsely accused their laser printers of sharing Hollywood movies. In this area there is an obvious risk of defamation or worse!

My thanks to Dr Richard Clayton of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory for this analysis. Richard is an expert on internet security and was recently quoted on the BBC concerning the Data Protection Act. Readers should note that I am in no way supportive of people downloading extreme pornography. It does seem that the approach described above is flawed.