Music trading spawns secure software
Swappers rush to protect identities amid crackdown
By Alex Veiga
LOS ANGELES -- As the recording industry prepares hundreds of copyright lawsuits against online music swappers, the makers of file-sharing software are fortifying their programs to try to mask users' identities.
Some of the upgrades reroute Internet connections through so-called proxy servers that scrub away cybertracks. Others incorporate firewalls or encryption to thwart the sleuth firms that the recording industry employs.
"Everyone is concerned about their privacy," said Michael Weiss, chief executive of StreamCast Networks. The upgrade to his Morpheus file-sharing software has been downloaded more than 300,000 times since its release last week.
Music industry officials insist file-swappers can't hide.
"Nothing that has been invented has prevented us from being able to identify substantial infringers and collect evidence," said Matt Oppenheim, senior vice president of business and legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America.
Yet experts say some of the countermeasures could make it more difficult to trace individuals on peer-to-peer networks. Though none can guarantee total anonymity, they ultimately may not have to.
"With enough technology it may not be worth the effort for the RIAA to come after somebody," said Mark Rasch, a former U.S. Justice Department computer crimes prosecutor. "At some point it can become so difficult to find out who did something that it becomes practically anonymous."
Seth Schoen, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for online civil liberties, said many of the upgrades remain unproved.
"I'm not aware of independent testing or review to verify the claims that people are making," he said.
The RIAA, which represents the major recording companies, announced last month that the industry would soon begin suing individuals who swap copyrighted music online in a bid to discourage piracy. It has already issued more than 900 subpoenas and its lawyers say they expect to file lawsuits in the next few months.
The RIAA scours the most popular file-swapping systems for users with large collections of copyrighted works and tries to identify their Internet service provider through the Internet Protocol, or IP, numbers assigned to computers on the Internet. The RIAA can then subpoena a service provider demanding a user's identity.
Upgrades to the file-sharing software seek to short-circuit that detection process.
Morpheus, for one, lets members connect to a Web site that links to several public proxy servers, which help mask the user's IP number. The more proxy servers involved, the more difficult it can be to trace connections to their source.
Rasch said proxies only make tracing more difficult. "That's all it is, a cat-and-mouse game."
In a separate countermeasure, the new Morpheus edition and several other file-sharing programs, including Kazaa Lite and Shareaza, help users identify the IP addresses of companies hired by recording companies to troll networks for pirates. Users can then try to block access from those addresses using software such as PeerGuardian.
Two Spanish-based peer-to-peer services -- Filetopia and Blubster -- claim to have the strongest privacy protections.
Filetopia uses encryption to scramble data on its network. Users also have the option to use a program that reroutes data similar to a proxy server.