17:02 PM

Cybercops: Software industry takes p2p pirates more seriously

by Jochen Siegle for SiliconValleyWatcher.com

The media has gone wild with stories about internet copyright infringements for years now. Illegal file sharing of music and video files on peer-to-peer networks kept reporters (including me, I admit) busy writing thousands of stories on this issue as well as on how the entertainment industry has been blaming the p2p revolution for their gigantic downturn.

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Mark Ishikawa: Big brother is watching and tracking software pirates

But how about all the other industries affected by global mass cyber theft via KaZaa/FastTrack, eDonkey, Gnutella, et cetera? Not much has been written about other digital content producers, for example artists, photographers, web-designers, porn directors or other creative (or not so creative) content heads, protecting their intellectual property on file-sharing networks and fighting p2p pirates. Not even the software industry's challenge to stop the piracy of their products has been a significant media theme. The reason why: The software companies just didn't care much.

While the entertainment industry has sued thousands of peer-to-peer users since last year, hiring web-tracking companies as cybercops to pursue virtual pirates all over the world and to take down millions of illegaly distributed files, the multi-billion dollar software industry more or less just watched from the sideline.

It looks like that's gonna change.

One of the biggest players in providing these web-tracking and monitoring services to the entertainment moguls is Los Gatos based BayTSP, an internet security firm founded by Mark Ishikawa, curiously enough, a 39-year-old ex-hacker who was busted as a teenager for hacking into the Livermore National Laboratory's server. So far, BayTSP has recruited its main client base from the entertainment industry. Specific companies served is unknown, since Ishikawa is not permitted to release any names. "At least three of the five leading music labels and two of the seven top movie studios," Ishikawa says with a bright smile.

Now it seems the four-year-old company has extended its highly confidential business heavily into serving software companies. For the last couple of years, BayTSP released monthly statistics for the top pirated movies on peer-to-peer networks. This week, the Silicon Valley venture for the first time published additional stats for top pirated software titles on the leading p2p services, FastTrack and eDonkey. According to BayTSP spokesperson Jim Graham, the firm has compiled test data for pirated software apps for the last five months.

The top pirated software application in November 2004 was Norton Antivirus 2005 with almost 41,000 copies available for download on the mentioned p2p networks. Other top ten titles include Adobe's Photoshop and MS Office 2003, as well as the Nero 6 CD and DVD burning software. Novell's SUSE Linux 9.0 ranked #10. "Surprisingly, people are not just sharing Windows applications through p2p services," Graham says. Only three applications from Redmond made the cyber underground's most-wanted software list.

However, even more interesting than these statistics are indications that the software industry is starting to take the p2p-phenomena more seriously. "These companies are definitely watching the p2p space much more closely these days," says Graham. His boss Ishikawa confirms that BayTSP is currently working with leading software companies but he is again not allowed to name clients. "Much like the entertainment industry, they are very low key about it," Encryption expert Ishikawa says.

Another interesting angle from the latest online tracking data: The most prominent peer-to-peer service, KaZaa, has been overtaken by eDonkey. The eDonkey network now counts a daily average of more then 2.8 million users compared with Fast Track's 2.43 million users. One of the main reasons for the climbing numbers: The media industry has succesfully flooded the former number one file-sharing service KaZaa with millions of fake audio and video files, so-called "spoofs." Interdiction specialists such as Overpeer, MediaDefender or MediaSentry do that job for the entertainment giants.

It seems like it is the software industry's turn now to use these companies' effective tactics. On the other hand, it has to be a combined effort for all players involved -- interdiction experts, entertainment companies, software firms or other intellectual property owners -- to figure out a way to stop the increasing popularity of eDonkey.