Spook firm readies Virgin Media filesharing probes

'Witch-measuring not witch-finding'

By then the ISP plans to have launched a legal music download service, so could measure whether the new laws help it convert illegal filesharers into paying customers.

Detica's CView presentation also trailed "aspirational" monitoring of iTunes and other legal music services, which might present some interesting questions for UK competition authorities when ISPs enter the record business.

Both Detica and Virgin Media are at pains to emphasis that all CView monitoring will only be possible anonymously and in aggregate.

According to Klein there is "absolutely no way" CView could ever be used to report the IP addresses of individual filesharers. "We believe identifying the consumer is an invasive use of DPI," he said.

"The key thing is the first thing we do is throw away the IP address," agreed Andy Frost, Detica's director of media, who has been working on CView for 18 months, ever since it became clear the government planned to legislate against illegal filesharing. Of course, the firm originally developed its DPI probes for another use, at the behest its biggest customers, the UK intelligence agencies.

When the trial was announced at the end of last month, in comments pages of The Register and elsewhere it prompted repeats of well-worn discussions of how to beat DPI monitoring with encrypted peer to peer. Such concerns over being identified miss the point, at least of CView, said Klein.

"We're not trying to be 100 per cent accurate," he said. "We're taking a statistical view."

Scrambled peer-to-peer packets will be counted to measure changes in the overall level of encryption, but Detica is under no illusions that it will be able to identify what they carry. "It's not realistic and not something we would try," said Klein, a Cambridge engineering graduate.

Despite the assurances of anonymity - perhaps partly because of them - it's undeniable that CView in many ways recalls the Phorm targeted advertising fiasco. Both systems rely on the same DPI technology and both firms claim they comply with all the relevant privacy legislation.

The main difference, likely to limit opposition to CView as currently envisaged, is that with internet users are not to be targeted by the system, and there should be no change to their online experience when it is switched on. Rather, CView will merely measure filesharers as a group. The test for Virgin Media and Detica will be whether, once DPI monitoring of peer-to-peer is in place, they can resist the temptation to exploit it further. ®

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