ISP Patent to Monitor Traffic

AT&T has just patented a new technology for tracking file sharing activities. The technology is geared towards helping the Internet provider to track peer to peer networks like BitTorrent. This technology includes a feature that allows them to discover downloads of pirated contend shared over the P2P networks. It also helps them deal with network congestion. Whether or not this technology is already in use by AT&T is unknown.

There are already a lot of tools being used for tracking and monitoring on networks. Many are designed to specifically track file sharing traffic. But AT&T is the first ISP known to develop and patent its own P2P targeted monitoring system. VPN users will not be affected by this system, but all other AT&T user traffic will be detected by this file sharing tracker.

AT&T is part of the six-strikes copyright alert system that warns ISP customers of copyright infringement activities on their accounts. The goal of this system is also to control illegal file sharing. Monitoring on six-strikes was done by a third party where content title data was gathered from MPAA and RIAA exclusively. AT&T has now developed a new technology that compiles a more comprehensive torrent list. They say the new system will better combat piracy over their network.

The issues surrounding six-strikes focused on hijacked networks and customers being mistakenly identified as punished as illegal file sharers. One connected issue was the accuracy of the monitoring tools, which if faulty could erroneously tag a user as an illegal downloader.The new system faces the same protests. After six-strikeswas launched, many users not already connected through VPNs began to use them as a means of determining whether another party was accessing their connections. Traffic through the VPN could not be tracked and monitored by their ISPs. This meant that any illegal file sharing detected was not done by them, the account holders.

AT&T has not disclosed whether or not it has intentions of targeting pirated content to throttle downloads and shares. The system is capable of this, and if AT&T does target only pirated content, they will be operating within the bounds of the neutrality rules set by the FCC.

During peak hours, over 30% of upstream traffic in the US comes from BitTorrent transfers. Internet providers have long been concerned about this heavy network load. They are also pressured by media companies for the massive illegal file sharing that goes on over their networks. Massive revenue losses for copyright holders has pushed them to pressure ISPs to take action against infringing file sharers. AT&T has therefore developed the technology to track P2P file sharing as a response to both piracy and network use.

According to AT&T’s Intellectual Property division, the technology is a system designed to accurately measure traffic, making a distinction between traffic attributed to legal and illegal file sharing. The patented technology is called “Method and apparatus for automated end to end content tracking in peer-to-peer environments.” It is acutting-edge monitoring system that also records how often a certain file is downloaded. The features in combination work to combat illegal file sharing to reduce network congestion.

The model focuses on torrent files collected from various websites and search engines through RSS feed. The tracking process collects and stores Title, Site and RSS feed data in a database. It downloads the torrent and monitors people downloading files. Through a content analysis module and torrent list, the files are filtered to detect pirated files from the list. Swarm population data then feeds into the peer progress monitor to show the resulting peer response.

Legal copies of a variety of content can be purchased and downloaded over P2P networks. AT&T had to come up with a system that made the distinction between these and illegal copies. By monitoring what files are most downloaded, the system can track specific downloads and pinpoint the illegal ones. The tracking is automatic and so can immediately detect the most downloaded files for monitoring as it isolates the individual peers handling each piece of content.
The AT&T system can analyze the content to determine whether or not the content title of each file corresponds to its actual contents. The database is kept clean in this way by eliminating instances of mismatched labels. This helps to additionally separate spam and viruses that have been masquerading as content on the monitored P2P networks. The torrent list is then automatically updated for the new values. It is a dynamic process that happens every time a new file is available from peer networks.

By isolating the different files, the system can also determine which files take up the most bandwidth and cause congestion on the network. For legal file sharing, the data can be used to plan out capacity expansion and other network related upgrades. This answers, in theory, the previous system’s fault of inaccurately detecting pirated downloads.

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