EFF fires an upper-cut at Internet traffic interference

Looking to keep the pressure on Comcast and any other ISPs who might be messing with Internet traffic, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today has released software and documentation instructing ‘Net users on how to test for packet forgery or other forms of interference by their own service providers.

The EFF also published what it calls a comprehensive account of Comcast's packet-forging activities. For a look at the report, click here.

In a release, the advocacy group said tests in October from EFF, the Associated Press, and others showed that Comcast was forging packets, in order to interfere with its subscribers' and other Internet users' ability to use file-sharing applications, like BitTorrent and Gnutella. Despite having been confronted by this evidence, Comcast continues to issue incomplete and misleading statements about their practices and their impact on its customers, the EFF said in a release.

In October, the Associated Press wrote: The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users. If widely applied by other ISPs, the technology Comcast is using would be a crippling blow to the BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella file-sharing networks. While these are mainly known as sources of copyright music, software and movies, BitTorrent in particular is emerging as a legitimate tool for quickly disseminating legal content.

As for detecting packet problems, the EFF says it describes how to use a network analyzer like Wireshark to run an experiment with a friend or another user and detect bad packet behavior."Please note that these instructions are intended for use by technically experienced individuals who are generally familiar with Internet concepts and are comfortable installing software, examining and modifying their computers' administrative settings, and running programs on a command line," the document states.

"The tests described here are most relevant as a means of debugging a specific observed and reproducible problem (for example, an inability to connect to another party) rather than as a speculative means of investigating ISP behavior. This is primarily because of the limitations of tools to automate the process of comparing packet traces from two ends of a connection. Traditionally, this comparison had to be performed by hand, which can be a quite laborious process if one isn't looking for anything in particular."

For the guide to Detecting Packet Inspection, click here.

The EFF has begun to develop tools to automate this process so that large packet traces can be compared automatically and packet injection can be detected even when it is not specifically suspected. The EFF says protocol-specific discrimination gives ISPs a tremendous amount of power over the kinds of new applications and services that can be deployed by innovators and competitors.

"To the extent that practices like those employed by Comcast change the "end-to-end" architecture of the Internet, those practices jeopardize the Internet's vibrant innovation economy," the international non-profit advocacy group said in a statement.

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