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Cracker site Icefortress benefits from IBILL challenge

Back on line and more popular than ever

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Exclusive When the popular Icefortress Web site was taken down in response to legal threats from porno billing-service outfit IBILL, no one was even sure what the company was objecting to. Following a few initial scare-o-grams from IBILL lawyer Edward Cherry and outside lawyer Stephen Workman, the ICE crew's first inclination was to fold in order to avoid a costly court battle with a far-better-funded opponent.

Things changed as the crew got a bit of legal advice from San Francisco lawyer Jennifer Granick, and encouragement from free-speech advocate and Carnegie Mellon University Computer Science Professor David Touretzky. After talking the case through, the ICE crew began to suspect that IBILL was bluffing.

Even after retaining Granick's services it remained anyone's guess what exactly had got under IBILL's skin -- the site offered a range of cracking tools, security bulletins and advice, but little that one couldn't have found elsewhere. Why was Icefortress being singled out for persecution?

No one knew, not even ICE's lawyer. Eventually it became apparent to us that a rather innocent essay reminding crackers to load a proxy for their security (SSL) port in order to maintain a measure of anonymity whenever attacking an IBILL-protected site had to be the offending item.

IBILL's numerous threats citing copyright infringement would only make sense if the company actually considers SSL to be its own proprietary development -- which it certainly isn't, having been developed by Netscape. Perhaps they consider their use of it to be novel.

We are unfortunately left to make educated guesses, as a non-disclosure agreement prevents ICE from talking about the case, and IBILL's Cherry instantly blew off our telephone call with sarcastic defensiveness.

We guess, therefore, that things didn't quite go IBILL's way. We know that ICE has since taken down the essay which we suspect started the whole thing, and imagine that IBILL paid the crew a reasonable sum for its trouble.

We base that on two observations: first, correspondence between Granick and IBILL indicates that the crew was looking for modest compensation in exchange for having its Web site pulled without due process; and second, we're personally acquainted with a third party who donated rather generously to the ICE defence fund. That good Samaritan had his money refunded at just about the time when the ICE site came back on line, prompting us to imagine that some money did in fact move from IBILL to Icefortress when the matter was resolved.

Touretzky expressed some disappointment in ICE's decision to pull the essay as part of the settlement we imagine they reached. "I think the author of that essay deserves to be heard in his own words," Touretzky told The Register. "Even though it's a trivial piece, there are free speech issues here."

Being something of a free-speech purist, he has mirrored it on his own Web site. "If IBILL has a problem with that, they know where to find me," he told us.

Sweet Irony

Irony rarely fails to attend disputes of this nature. As a result of IBILL's unsuccessful assault, the ICE site is now more popular than it ever had been.

"We could have done better if we brought them to court, but that is my opinion and not the group's as a whole," ICE crew member Quacker2k told The Register. "In the short term it did us harm but over the long term has made us more popular. ICE is back and a stronger group then ever."

Indeed, the site has in the past month enjoyed over 800,000 page hits; and the number of registered BBS users has grown from approximately 400 in the days before the troubles to 640 now, and continues to grow, member Blind Guardian told us.

In a previous story we speculated that outside lawyer Workman was stringing IBILL along, over-promising what he could accomplish for them under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), as a means of promoting himself at IBILL's expense.

One of the crew members remarked that it appeared to him that Workman had been dismissed along the way, though he was unable to confirm it.

Our personal impression of Workman was overwhelmingly negative when we spoke with him this Summer. He struck us as a self-promoter more concerned with publicity than his client's interests. At the time, however, IBILL's Cherry gushed about Workman's fine efforts and brilliant legal insights.

As it appears now that IBILL folded in confrontation with a poorly-funded collection of young crackers, we're even more convinced of our original suspicion that Workman's magic was pure smoke and mirrors. We imagine IBILL has since come to the same conclusion, undoubtedly at considerable expense. ®

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