There are a couple of worthwhile reads around the Interwebs today discussing various ways technology is changing the law and politics. The first example is an article covering the first trial to challenge game console mod chips as a violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Next, Wikileaks is getting a lot of coverage for releasing another batch of US documents; this time it regards US diplomatic relations but as they suffer repeat Denial of Service attacks, who is trying to foil their mission? Finally up for discussion in this week of tech-downers is the Comcast and Level 3 tift going on across the Internet as Comcast starts charging a “toll” for its consumers to watch certain video content across its network. Let’s take these one at a time and try to keep up with the fast-paced world of tech news.
Video Game Console Mod Chips Violate DMCA Anti-Circumvention Provisions
Wired Magazine has a clear write-up of a case that will be going in front of a jury tomorrow in the article First Criminal Trial Over Game-Console Mod Chips Begins Tuesday. Matthew Crippen, a Southern California resident, allegedly had a business modding Xbox 360s so that they would be able to play pirated video games (as well as homebrew software).
The 28-year-old Crippen suffered a devastating blow to his defense last week when a judge ruled that he can’t raise a “fair use” defense at trial. Two other key evidentiary issues in the case are unresolved, and are expected to be ruled upon at any time.
One issue is the admissibility of a covert video recording of Crippen allegedly performing the modification. A second is whether the jury can hear the testimony of hardware-hacking guru Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, who is prepared to testify for the defense that installing a mod chip does not circumvent a copy-control mechanism within the meaning of the DMCA.
Falling along the lines of making this an uphill battle for the defendent is the fact that he performed the modification to Xbox 360s in two separate instances in front of certain authorities, once for an undercover corporate agent for Entertainment Association of America and the second time for an undercover federal agent.
Read the rest of the article for all the details and visit Wired’s Threat Level tomorrow for live coverage of the trial.
WikiLeaks Taken Down by DDoS Two Days in A Row
If you haven’t kept up with WikiLeaks latest fiasco, the “whistleblower” website has released 250,000 classified documents regarding US diplomatic relations. Previous releases have covered the war in Afghanistan, which many say has threatened the safety of troops abroad. For more specific coverage of the “cablegate” release, what the 250,000 released “diplomatic” documents are being dubbed, we turn to Taiwanese animated news:
The previous WikiLeaks publishings have led to one soldier being arrested as a “person of interest” and the Telegraph reports that family was recently not allowed to visit him.
The source of the documents is unknown, however a former Army Intelligence officer, Bradley Manning, is under arrest for the unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence, part of which is believed to be the 250,000 diplomatic cables that were leaked to Assange and Wikileaks.
“China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country,” The New York Times report goes on to say, “[The Chinese Government] have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies… since 2002”
The WikiLeaks “cablegate” coverage is one thing but more in-line with our tech interests is the Denial of Service attacks that have taken the website offline and caused the site to perform quite a bit of maintenance in the background, including moving the site back to Amazon EC2 hosting.
The Arbor Networks Security Blog showed the above picture in a blog post yesterday to demonstrate the traffic to WikiLeaks yesterday causing the Denial of Service. The rest of the article provides interesting technical context for traffic and other DDoS attack trends. The site also suffered another outage today even after moving to Amazon hosting, as reported by Threatpost.
Who takes responsibility?
A “hacktivist” going by the name of The Jester (or th3j35t3r on Twitter) has claimed responsibility for the first DoS attack on the WikiLeaks site “for attempting to endanger the lives of our troops, ‘other assets’ & foreign relations'”. He has been silent for the past two days though. For an eerie look into this ex-soldier’s motivation to take down WikiLeaks and other sites, read this interview with him/her at ThreatChaos.com back in January of this year.
US House Representative Peter King, R-NY, even went so far as to state that he believes this last move by WikiLeaks should warrant the site to be classified as a terrorist organization.
In other news, Reuters reports that the South American Republic of Ecuador has offered Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a safe haven to lecture and teach. Assange’s whereabouts are unknown. Assange has faced harsh criticism from the U.S. and its allies for releasing the diplomatic cables, most of which date to the post 9-11 era, and which have complicated the U.S.’s relationships with its allies.
Level 3 and Comcast Try to Outblog Each Other
Level 3 Communications is a communications company that amongst other things operates one of the largest Internet backbones. This week Level 3 and Comcast are having a little public spat that expands to even include the arguments of net neutrality.
Level 3 blogged initially:
“On November 19, 2010, Comcast informed Level 3 that, for the first time, it will demand a recurring fee from Level 3 to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content. By taking this action, Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity delivered content. This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets as the nation’s largest cable provider.
“On November 22, after being informed by Comcast that its demand for payment was ‘take it or leave it,’ Level 3 agreed to the terms, under protest, in order to ensure customers did not experience any disruptions.
“Level 3 operates one of several broadband backbone networks, which are part of the Internet and which independent providers of online content use to transmit movies, sports, games and other entertainment to consumers. When a Comcast customer requests such content, for example an online movie or game, Level 3 transmits the content to Comcast for delivery to consumers.
“Level 3 believes Comcast’s current position violates the spirit and letter of the FCC’s proposed Internet Policy principles and other regulations and statutes, as well as Comcast’s previous public statements about favoring an open Internet.
“While the network neutrality debate in Washington has focused on what actions a broadband access provider might take to filter, prioritize or manage content requested by its subscribers, Comcast’s decision goes well beyond this. With this action, Comcast is preventing competing content from ever being delivered to Comcast’s subscribers at all, unless Comcast’s unilaterally-determined toll is paid – even though Comcast’s subscribers requested the content. With this action, Comcast demonstrates the risk of a ‘closed’ Internet, where a retail broadband Internet access provider decides whether and how their subscribers interact with content.
“It is our hope that Comcast’s senior management, for whom we have great respect, will closely consider their position on this issue and adopt an approach that will better serve Comcast and Comcast’s customers.
“While Comcast’s position is regrettable, Level 3 remains open and willing to work through these issues with Comcast. However, Level 3 does not seek any ‘special deals’ or arrangements not generally available to other Internet backbone companies.
“Given Comcast’s currently stated position, we are approaching regulators and policy makers and asking them to take quick action to ensure that a fair, open and innovative Internet does not become a closed network controlled by a few institutions with dominant market power that have the means, motive and opportunity to economically discriminate between favored and disfavored content.“
Taking it to the extreme, some fear this is what may result with a non-neutral Internet:
(Click image for larger image.)
Level 3 has inaccurately portrayed the commercial negotiations between it and Comcast. These discussions have nothing to do with Level 3’s desire to distribute different types of network traffic.
Comcast has long established and mutually acceptable commercial arrangements with Level 3’s Content Delivery Network (CDN) competitors in delivering the same types of traffic to our customers. Comcast offered Level 3 the same terms it offers to Level 3’s CDN competitors for the same traffic. But Level 3 is trying to gain an unfair business advantage over its CDN competitors by claiming it’s entitled to be treated differently and trying to force Comcast to give Level 3 unlimited and highly imbalanced traffic and shift all the cost onto Comcast and its customers.
To quantify this, what Level 3 wants is to pressure Comcast into accepting more than a twofold increase in the amount of traffic Level 3 delivers onto Comcast’s network — for free. In other words, Level 3 wants to compete with other CDNs, but pass all the costs of that business onto Comcast and Comcast’s customers, instead of Level 3 and its customers.
Level 3’s position is simply duplicitous. When another network provider tried to pass traffic onto Level 3 this way, Level 3 said this is not the way settlement-free peering works in the Internet world. When traffic is way out of balance, Level 3 said, it will insist on a commercially negotiated solution.
Now, Level 3 proposes to send traffic to Comcast at a 5:1 ratio over what Comcast sends to Level 3, so Comcast is proposing the same type of commercial solution endorsed by Level 3. Comcast is meeting with Level 3 later this week for that purpose. We are happy to maintain a balanced, no-cost traffic exchange with Level 3. However, when one provider exploits this type of relationship by pushing the burden of massive traffic growth onto the other provider and its customers, we believe this is not fair. To use Level 3’s own words:
“To be lasting, business relationships should be mutually beneficial. In cases where the benefit we receive is in line with the benefit we deliver, we will exchange traffic on a settlement-free basis. Contrary to [other ISPs] public statements, reasonable, balanced, and mutually beneficial agreements for the exchange of traffic do not represent a threat to the Internet. They don’t represent a threat to anyone other than those trying to get a free ride on someone else’s network.”
To be fair, this is all happening within the same month that Netflix begins offering a streaming-only plan and signs a multi-year deal with Level 3 for CDN functions. Perhaps Comcast has reason to be concerned for its bandwidth and network health.
Level 3 responded to clarify and dismiss Comcast’s complaint that they were just taking the price negotiations public to get a lower price:
Level 3 Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: LVLT) today issued the following statement, which can be attributed to John Ryan, Assistant Chief Legal Officer of Level 3 Communications, Inc.:
“It is regrettable that Comcast has sought to portray this simply as a commercial disagreement or a peering dispute. They miss the point and are attempting to distract from the fundamental issue. What is at stake is the following:
”The fundamental issue is not whether Comcast sends more traffic to Level 3 or whether Level 3 sends more traffic to Comcast. Both Level 3 and Comcast are responding to the requests of Comcast’s subscribers, who want to be free to see and use the full suite of content and applications that are available on the Internet today and in the future. Level 3 wants to assure that freedom is preserved.
”Instead, the fundamental issue is whether Comcast, as the largest cable company in the country with absolute control over access to its cable TV and broadband access subscribers, has the right to unilaterally set a ‘price’ for that access that effectively discriminates against competitors of Comcast’s cable and Xfinity content.
”Our interest is in preserving and protecting openness and innovation within the Internet, which is threatened if those who control access to subscribers can charge a toll set at their discretion for delivery of independent content and applications.
“Respectfully, we once again call on Comcast to reconsider its untenable position.”
It’s always hard to judge intent, over the Internet and being the intent of corporations doesn’t make it any easier. We’ll have to monitor this Comcast/Level 3 stand off and see if the FCC will jump in with a ruling.
There you have it. I think that catches us up on some of the hottest topics in tech. Unfortunately, they all seem to be quite the downers. Here’s to hoping the rest of the week picks up the slack.
Have an opinion about any of this week’s news? Share it in the comments below.