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P2P sleeper poses security risk

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The bundling of distributed computing software within file sharing software used in the KaZaA network continues to generate controversy across the Internet.

Since late last year KaZaA downloads have contained 'sleeper' software which let Brilliant Digital Entertainment, a 3D advertising and modelling software start-up to activate Altnet, its own P2P network.

Altnet, which is yet to be switched on, is designed to allow the distribution of secure content or for complex number crunching tasks, using spare processing power, storage and bandwidth on users' PCs.

The news has triggered a backlash from users of networks such as KaZaA.com and Grokster that the partners in the scheme had failed to get their informed consent before the software was downloaded onto their PCs. In an interview with ZDNet, Brilliant's chief executive, Kevin Bermeister, has pledged to be more "up front" about the future downloads of Altnet or the activation of the network.

Altnet, however, continues to attract criticism with security researcher Nicholas Weaver of Berkeley University publishing a paper arguing that the security methodology used in the scheme is hopelessly flawed.

He describes Altnet as a "trojan program", which thanks to its widespread distribution with KaZaA to millions of computers, could be used by vandals to launch potent distributed denial of service attacks.

How great a risk Altnet presents remains unclear (Weaver poses more questions than answers in his paper) but the array of attack mechanisms - he suggests - may be possible gives another reason to consider uninstalling the software. We haven't tried to do this ourselves, so do this at your own risk. ®

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