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Peekabooty challenges online censorship

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A new peer-to-peer tool called Peekabooty, could defeat attempts to censor controversial Internet traffic.

Developed by the Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC), a group of hackers best known for creating security tools to exploit holes in Microsoft software, Peekabooty allows Web pages to be distributed directly between computer systems.

People living in oppressive regimes can use the Peekabooty client software to request prohibited Web pages from Peekabooty clients in other more liberal parts of the world. The request is sent through a distributed network of servers that dispatch a software agent to access the Web page and grab the content. The material is then sent to the requesting party in a compact and encrypted form, which its creators say cannot be filtered out using conventional technology.

In many counties, ISPs are liable for hosting illegal content and essentially do the government's bidding. But like the P2P file swapping system Gnutella, Peekabooty hosts exchange information without a central server. Since it is highly distributed, it will be difficult to control and shut down.

Peekabooty, for example, could frustrate efforts by the Chinese government to block news sources critical of its policies, or be used in other Asian nations that censor Web sites run by opposition political parties. It also could be used in counties, such as Australia, which blocks access to pornographic material, or France, which restricts Nazi memorabilia.

Even if you do not like the stuff being blocked censorship is censorship. If Peekabooty could defeat government filtering systems, perhaps it could also circumvent attempts by libraries in the U.S. to censor controversial Web content. A third of the libraries in this country use filters to block Web sites, and it is only a matter of time before clever users find ways to hack this pernicious practice.

The CDC's best-known tools to date are BackOrifice and BackOrifice2000 which lets hackers and security analysts probe for weaknesses in computers running Microsoft operating systems and take them over. The hacker group typically launches its new tools at the Defcon security conference and the developers plan to introduce Peekabooty at this year's show, which will take place in Las Vegas in July. As in years past, I plan to attend.

RELATED LINKS

Ann Harrison is a technology reporter in San Francisco. She can be reached at ah@well.com.

Peer-to-Peer archive
Past newsletters.

Hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow tries to convince world its Back Orifice tool is legit
Network World on Security, 07/14/99

More Back Orifice
Network World on Security, 01/25/99

Cult of the Dead Cow

Defcon


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