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KaZaA founders to ‘borrow’ your PC to distribute content

Joltid wants your unused bandwidth, disk space, CPU cycles

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Joltid, the Swedish peer-to-peer software company formed by KaZaA founder Niklas Zennstrom, has launched PeerEnabler, a secure content distribution technology that utilises users' own PCs to disseminate content for publishers.

PeerEnabler essentially uses peer-to-peer software to get content even closer to the edge of the network that content distribution services like Akamai.

But where Akamai mirrors content to servers around the globe and connects users' requests for content to their nearest servers, to improve users' access and download experience, PeerEnabler turns users' own machines into the equivalent of those local servers.

So if a software company, say, ships an update via the PeerEnabler network, users may actually download the code not from the developer's server but from a nearby user who has already grabbed the file.

Joltid's pitch is that this ensures users get a better experience and publishers "dramatically reduce bandwidth usage", presumably saving them money because they won't need to buy and operate as many servers in future.

Joltid says PeerEnabler is based on the company's P2P Networking software that is "currently being downloaded by web users and will shortly be delivered to and used by tens of millions of consumers" - it reckons "end users will be asked to install the P2P Networking by an application or web site".

P2P Networking is a 400KB secure peer-to-peer engine which sits in the background securely sharing files and bandwidth. So if you're not downloading the latest Doom 3 demo, P2P Networking is grabbing your unused Net connection bandwidth to share files with other users, on behalf of software developers and content providers

Naturally, you have to agree to this, specifically to "grant permission for the Joltid software to utilise the disk space, processor and bandwidth of your computer to provide and re-distribute content", as the licence terms put it.

To be fair to Joltid, the terms continue to say that such permission is granted "for the limited purpose of sharing files you have downloaded through the Joltid software", so it's not like your PCs going to host a heap of stuff you've never used yourself. Equally, it promises to "protect the privacy and integrity of your computer resources and files". All files are digitally signed to prevent tampering, the company claims, and that the software contains no spyware.

It also says the utilisation of your computer will be "unobtrusive". That may be so, but the licence still grants Joltid the right to use your computer whenever it wants to for the benefits of content providers.

It's a bit like saying HP's distribution team can use your car to deliver PCs to any of its customers just because you once went to a store, bought an HP PC and brought it home in said vehicle.

Joltid's P2P Networking software does allow you to limit the maximum upload bandwidth the software can use, but we'd bet it's set to Automatic as default.

PeerEnabler's success depends on users' willingness to allow their computers to be used this way. At first sight, there's something wonderfully co-operative about the gig not unlike the spirit in the open source community. Or cancer-busting grid computing schemes. Or the rather less commercially focused and more community-oriented BitTorrent. Joltid has even gone as far as to use OpenOffice as an example of how the network might operate. Indeed, if users want to volunteer their unused disk space, processor cycles and network bandwidth, that's fine for them.

But it's not hard to imagine commercial pushing the software as a download mechanism without making the small print as obvious as perhaps it should be. How many users will merrily click the 'I Accept' button on the P2P Networking installer without reading the Ts&Cs? Rather a lot, and while that's the case the 99.9 per cent of the software they install, this code's Ts&Cs require them to offer up rather more than the usual EULA.

No doubt that's where the "tens of millions of consumers" will come from - folk who've blindly signed away their computing resources just to download a minor application bug fix.

Or a demo, which they later decide they don't want and erase. But P2P Networking will still be there, routing files for companiest the user might no longer have any dealings with.

Uers will get nothing out of it but slightly faster (we hope) downloads.

Joltid is no charity, it's a commercial operation out make money selling PeerEnabler upload licences to content publishers. And by selling PeerCache, server-side software that more effectively manages all the P2P traffic at the ISP end.

"More than 50 per cent of all Internet traffic is caused by peer-to-peer applications," says Joltid without a hint of irony. "This has led to huge costs for ISPs and other network operators... PeerCache will dramatically reduce bandwidth costs without blocking or throttling the end-user experience. Savings of up to 60 per cent of the P2P traffic are possible with PeerCache."

If that's not like the guy who burgled your apartment turning up the next day to sell you an alarm, we'd like to know what is... ®

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