Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/19/ofcom_detica/
Ofcom talks to spook firm on filesharing snoop plan
Peering inside your packets
Exclusive Ofcom has held talks over a monitoring system that would peer inside filesharing traffic to determine the level of copyright infringement, in preparation for new laws designed to protect the music, film and software industries.
The Digital Economy Bill, to be published by Lord Mandelson tomorrow, will require the communications regulator to measure how filesharers who exchange copyright material respond to a regime of warning letters.
If the overall level of infringement is not cut by 70 per cent in a year, further provisions will be triggered, compelling ISPs to impose speed restriction after warnings. Internet access will be suspended for the most persistent infringers.
Detica, a BAE subsidiary specialising in large volume data gathering and processing, is aiming for a central role implementing the plan. The well-connected firm has developed CView, a Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) product that looks at the actual content of peer-to-peer traffic to determine whether it is copyright, before calculating the overall level of infringement on a network.
The cost of such a system could be shared between ISPs and rights holders, Detica suggested in its September submission to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) consultation on copyright infringement via peer-to-peer networks.
It explained that CView "applies high volume, advanced analytics on anonymised ISP traffic data, and aggregates this information into a single measure of the total volume of copyright infringement". By examining the content of communications, it would measure copyright infringment via newsgroups, as well as via BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer protocols.
"Detica would like to explore with BIS and Ofcom how CView could be used to baseline the level of illicit file sharing activity — ahead of the proposed notification process — and thus measure the impact this remedial action has on filesharing," it added.
Under the government's proposals, it's envisaged that rights holder organisations such as the BPI and the Federation Against Copyright Theft will harvest the IP addresses of infringers from BitTorrent swarms. Detica suggested that a drop in the number of IP numbers collected would not be an accurate enough measure of the impact of the subsequent warning letters.
Ofcom told The Register it had met the firm to learn more about CView, in expectation of the Digital Economy Bill becoming law. "I can confirm we have met with Detica and other stakeholders," a spokeswoman for the regulator said.
In its submission to BIS, Detica said it planned to test its system with a UK ISP soon. "CView is targeted to move into beta trial with a UK ISP during the autumn of 2009," it said.
"CView does not, and cannot, identify individual internet users"
BT, which in common with most ISPs uses other Detica products, declined to confirm or deny whether it is the ISP referred to in the submission. "BT is not using or trialling CView," it said in a brief statement.
When pressed, a spokesman added via email: "You'll have to ask Detica what they meant... It's not our document."
It's understood that Sky and Virgin Media, the two other ISPs which are most active in development of DPI-based "network intelligence", are not the triallist firm referred to by Detica's consultation response.
Today Detica said it was unable to discuss details of the system beyond the document, but said the beta trial had not yet started.
The Register was particularly interested in details of how CView determines whether filesharing traffic is illegal or not, which is not explained in the consultation submission.
It's also unclear whether Detica envisages Ofcom measuring illegal filesharing across all ISPs, or by sampling a single network.
While the emphasis in the consultation response is on gauging the overall level of illegal filesharing - more of interest to the government and regulators than ISPs - Detica also claims CView could help ISPs operate a "carrot and stick" approach to rein in infringers and profit. It is clear the firm aims for a central role in future commercial deals between ISPs and the record industry.
"We have also been in active discussion with a number of the major music labels, the BPI and the UK Music and Performing Rights Society," it said.
A spokesman for the BPI confimed it had a meeting about CView and found the technology "interesting".
The licensing of ISPs by rights holders is an obvious new business for Detica to target. With its close links to intelligence agencies and law enforcement, it is also closely involved in the Home Office's contoversial Interception Modernisation Programme, which aims to use DPI to capture and store details of every communication that takes place online. There is no suggestion of a direct link between that project and CView, however.
Monitoring illegal filesharers' behaviour would mean they could be targeted with "tailored products and services" - such as legal music services - and hit with "tailored remedial actions" such as bandwith restrictions, expected to be part of the enforcement system government imposes on ISPs.
Such targeted applications, dependent on linking ISP subscribers to surveillance of their internet activity, are likely to prove the most controversial aspect of products like CView. Aiming to head off concerns, Detica said it would operate on an anonymous basis with no data stored.
"CView does not, and cannot, identify individual internet users," it told the government.
It appears CView would however classify users, making targeting them for legal music or film services possible. The approach seems similar to Phorm's targeted advertising system and relies on the same foundation of DPI technology.
Further announcements about CView, perhaps concerning the trial, are expected from Detica soon. ®
This story was corrected after publication to remove a suggestion in the first paragraph that ISPs were present at Ofcom's meeting with Detica.