Go After the Real Pirates
Hackers are, for the most part, people with an insatiable need to know what, where and how. They're clever, often brilliant, and they find cool ways to explore interesting systems. Surreptitiously. Unfortunately, a handful use their knowledge for illicit purposes, and "hacker" is now synonymous with "crook" to many people.
01/05/05 5:00 AM PT
"Warez is a computer slang term meaning copyrighted material (usually software) traded in violation of its copyright license. The term generally refers to releases by organized groups, as opposed to file sharing between friends." -- Wikipedia
The real warez action goes on in the soundless vacuum of deep, deep cyberspace, not the noisy atmosphere of the Net where 99 percent of the online population surf. In the far reaches, warez enthusiasts trade in movies, software, music, you name it. But whatever the file being traded, it's not about money. Rather, it's all about getting there -- first!
"Once a file is posted to a topsite, it starts a rapid descent through wider and wider levels of an invisible network, multiplying exponentially along the way," writes Jeff Howe in Wired Magazine's "The Shadow Internet," defining a "topsite" as one of about 30 "underground, highly secretive servers where nearly all of the unlicensed music, movies, and video games available on the Internet originate."
"They start with a single stolen file and pump out bootleg games and movies by the millions," Howe continues. "At each step, more and more pirates pitch in to keep the avalanche tumbling downward. Finally, thousands, perhaps millions, of copies -- all the progeny of that original file -- spill into the public peer-to-peer networks: Kazaa, LimeWire, Morpheus. Without this duplication and distribution structure providing content, the P2P networks would run dry. (BitTorrent, a faster and more efficient type of P2P file-sharing, is an exception. But at present there are far fewer BitTorrent users.)
"It's a commonly held belief that P2P is about sharing files. It's an appealing, democratic notion: Consumers rip the movies and music they buy and post them online. But that's not quite how it works."
Howe's piece on the warez-cum-trading groups makes an interesting, if not sensational, read. But there's not much new in it. And a p2pnet reader pointed out that the piece contained "a noticeable error" in stating that the files get transferred directly from ftp dump sites to Kazaa or Morpheus users.
"There are really several additional transport points along the way," the reader wrote. "IRC and newsgroups -- which were not even mentioned in the Wired article -- play a major role as the first publicly available access points for newly released files. Next in line would be BitTorrent, eDonkey, then last in line, the favorite of the unwashed masses: Kazaa. Many released files that do not have broad demand simply do not make it all the way to the n00b P2P networks such as FastTrack. The 'scene' might be highly organized and enthusiastic at the top and mid levels, but that's about where it ends. No self-respecting insider gives a flip about Kazaa users."
The elite groups have always worked in the same way. Only the means differ, or they are updated as new processing and acquisition technologies and methods come along. Most of the operators are in their teens or early twenties. And they don't do what they do for profit. They do it for fun.
Unfortunately, the elite groups are also training grounds.
Hackers are, for the most part, people with an insatiable need to know what, where and how. They're clever, often brilliant, and they find cool ways to explore interesting systems. Surreptitiously. Unfortunately, a handful use their knowledge for illicit purposes, and the activities of these few have ensured that "hacker" is now synonymous with "crook" to many people, particularly if they're members of one or other of the government or corporate enforcement agencies.
The same applies to warez traders.
Although 99 percent of them do what they do for the thrill, eventually going onwards and upwards and becoming useful members of society, a tiny handful are either recruited by organized crime gangs to produce "product" for the underground markets, or they set themselves up as suppliers.
In the process, all warez traders are labeled as criminals.
Howe is writing about a minority, and as he stresses, "Outside of a pirate elite and the Feds who track them, few know that topsites exist."
The tragedy is that thanks to ongoing, extremely successful misinformation efforts on the part of the entertainment industry through the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the mainstream media and substantial numbers of the public believe the people currently being prosecuted for sharing files online are either members of a "pirate elite" or work with them.
In reality, however, the two groups have nothing to do with each other.
The "file sharers" who have become such a great source of headlines for the mainstream media, thanks to the MPAA and RIAA, are actually people who've found a way to try before they buy.
They don't sell the tunes and flicks they download. And they still do what they did before P2P came along. They buy CDs and go to the movies.
Before the advent of the Internet and file sharing, they had to take things on trust. Now they can see and hear examples before they throw their money away on a $15 CD with only one decent track, or a bad film that looked terrific in the trailer.
Most of the movies -- and some of the music -- on the P2P networks may indeed have originated with traders, but by the time they reach the P2P network level, they're pale, low-quality imitations of the originals that no one would pay a dime for.
And while the entertainment industry casts as hardened criminals the men, women and children who share these kinds of files, or closes down sites such as SuprNova, the true hard-core criminals continue to dance rings around the various agencies, laughing all the way to the bank.
Jon Newton, a TechNewsWorld columnist, founded and runs p2pnet.net, a daily peer-to-peer and digital media news site focused on issues surrounding file sharing, the entertainment industry and distributed computing. P2pnet is based in Canada, where sharing music online is legal.