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Altnet wakes up as worm spreads through KaZaA

Coincidence, cock-up or conspiracy?

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A worm is spreading through the KaZaA file sharing network: we hope it's unrelated to today's activation of the controversial Altnet piggy-back P2P network.

The worm, dubbed Benjamin, creates a directory accessible to other users of the KaZaA network and regularly copies itself into this directory under a multitude of different names.

When a network user conducts a search for a file under a name corresponding with one the worm's pseudonyms the unsuspecting user is given the chance to download it from the infected computer, facilitating its spread through the KaZaA network.

In addition to eating up free disk space, Benjamin opens an anonymous Web site from which it displays advertising banners - possibly in an attempt by its creator to scam profits from increases in advertising displays. AV firms have released updates to detect the worm and protection is now largely in place.

News of the worm Benjamin comes as Brilliant Digital Entertainment today announced the first use of its controversial Altnet P2P network, which sits on top of KaZaA.

The move means search results by users on the KaZaA network will return links to "listings of secure, copyrighted content from Altnet's content partners" as well free MP3 and movie files. Paid listings from the TopSearch sponsored link engine will display faster than non-paid listings and will be placed at the top of the returned search results.

In addition, Altnet has a deal with Trymedia to provide videogames protected by Digital Rights Management Technology. Brilliant/KaZaA is testing the commercial waters with the introduction of sponsored links, and plans to extend use of Altnet to perform computing tasks using the spare processing power, storage and bandwidth on consenting users' PCs who 'opt-in'.

Altnet created a privacy backlash last month after it emerged that KaZaA downloads contained 'sleeper' software which let Brilliant Digital Entertainment, a 3D advertising and modelling software start-up, build Altnet.

Brilliant/KaZaA promised to be more upfront about its activities following its public mauling, but there's still a question mark about the security of Altnet, which has attracted vehement criticism from some segments of the security community, most notably Nicholas Weaver of Berkeley University.

We don't think the (modest) spread of Benjamin is anything to do with the firing up of Altnet but we're not sure and we couldn't get any clear answer from the security researchers we asked.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence; after all this is not the first time that a worm has exploited public access P2P file exchange networks. In January this year, popular file-sharing software from Grokster and the Limewire Gnutella Client was found to harbour the DlDer Trojan, a spyware application which poses as a lottery game.

So we incline towards the cock-up - rather than conspiracy - theory. Do you know better? ®

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