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Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

Level 7

As you might imagine, we here at SolarWinds get to talk to quite a few folks in the IT world, and we hear many interesting stories and product uses.  I wanted to share one particular anecdote with you as it really does seem to be a nightmare scenario for some of our customers.

No one in IT is a stranger to digital piracy.  It has been happening on a small scale since the days when floppies were the norm.  Now that we’re all online, it’s a much different story.  With the advent of simple peer-to-peer software and some moderately fast transfer speeds, the rate at which files spread has increased dramatically in the last 10 years.  One of the first items to be shared so widely in this fashion was music.  The mp3 standard was perfect for this, as the small file size and the population’s desire to fill their new portable music players created an environment perfect for song swapping.

mp3 bliss

Early file sharing systems like Napster and Audiogalaxy proved wildly popular, but used a centralized model which gave industry watchdogs like the RIAA an easy target for lawsuits.  As these sites were shutdown, Internet users and music lovers still yearned for a cheap and easy way to fill their mp3 players.  iTunes was still gathering steam, and there were not yet any other viable commercial vendors who could offer enough music to satisfy the audience.  Still leveraging the convenience and power of peer-to-peer file sharing, decentralized versions were created, with the BitTorrent protocol emerging as the most popular.  Lacking a central server to query, this method of file sharing was not quite as easy to use as its predecessors, but rapidly gained popularity with savvy users.  An important aspect of this model was that there was no longer a central entity with which to threaten a lawsuit, once wrongdoing had been established.  Since the connections were all ad-hoc, no one was “in charge”, and it became very difficult to pin the blame on any single entity.  This also makes it very difficult to stop.

Any idea where these files came from, son?

A new strategy was required to combat this decentralized style of file sharing.  In order to focus their efforts where they would have the greatest effect, groups like the RIAA began to analyze the p2p traffic.  They were looking for tech savvy people who shared many files, and enjoyed fast Internet connections.  Universities fit the bill, and had the added benefit that they would be sensitive to government pressure and laws.  Through lobbying efforts, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 included several provisions that represented the ongoing pursuit to curb illegal file sharing on campuses.  Each campus must annually distribute information detailing copyright law, and the penalties of violation.  They were also directed to describe their policies and disciplinary actions regarding unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, in addition to tracking down the offenders that are discovered. It is this last item of assisting investigations that represents a technical challenge to the IT staff.


If only it were this easy

After receiving a DMCA notice, it is up the IT staff to track down and then serve the notice to the individual responsible.  Oftentimes, only the public IP address and port are given in the notice, and this must be translated to a person. We’ve heard of several different methods to discover the internal IP address that corresponded to the public IP and port, but there is one final step they all face.  The internal IP address must now be traced back to an individual person.  Unless the institution requires registration of all devices, this can turn into a daunting task of wading through log files.  This is where our software is saving people time and money.  User Device Tracker keeps historical information about the devices on the network, and can correlate IP Address, MAC Address, and Hostname.  With this data at one’s disposal, it is a trivial matter of looking up the history of an IP address to see what MAC or Hostname was behind it at the time.  We're happy this function is saving our customers so much time and energy!


Would you like to see how easy it can be to keep tabs on your network with User Device Tracker?

Download a free trial today!

About the Author
Product Marketing Manager