New vs. Old Media

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Revision3 CEO: Blackout caused by MediaDefender attack – ars technica:

Revision3, the Internet television network behind popular shows like Diggnation, experienced a serious network failure over Memorial Day weekend. CEO Jim Louderback revealed today that the outage was caused by a massive denial of service attack that he says was perpetrated by MediaDefender, a file-sharing mitigation firm that gets paid by Big Content to disrupt peer-to-peer networks.

Jim Louderback, the CEO of Revision3, discussing the denial of service attack, writes:

A bit of address translation, and we’d discovered our nemesis. But instead of some shadowy underground criminal syndicate, the packets were coming from right in our home state of California. In fact, we traced the vast majority of those packets to a public company called Artistdirect (ARTD.OB). Once we were able to get their internet provider on the line, they verified that yes, indeed, that internet address belonged to a subsidiary of Artist Direct, called MediaDefender.

So I picked up the phone and tried to get in touch with ArtistDirect interim CEO Dimitri Villard. I eventually had a fascinating phone call with both Dimitri Villard and Ben Grodsky, Vice President of Operations at Media Defender.

First, they willingly admitted to abusing Revision’s network, over a period of months, by injecting a broad array of torrents into our tracking server. They were able to do this because we configured the server to track hashes only – to improve performance and stability. That, in turn, opened up a back door which allowed their networking experts to exploit its capabilities for their own personal profit.

Second, and here’s where the chain of events come into focus, although not the motive. We’d noticed some unauthorized use of our tracking server, and took steps to de-authorize torrents pointing to non-Revision3 files. That, as it turns out, was exactly the wrong thing to do. MediaDefender’s servers, at that point, initiated a flood of SYN packets attempting to reconnect to the files stored on our server. And that torrential cascade . . . brought down our network.

Grodsky admits that his computers sent those SYN packets to Revision3, but claims that their servers were each only trying to contact us every three hours. Our own logs show upwards of 8,000 packets a second.

Mr. Louderback notes, “Denial of service attacks are illegal in the US under 12 different statutes, including the Economic Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.”

While various defenses may exist, as they do for crimes similar to this (think self defense, defense of others, defense of property, etc. in regards to old-school assault, trespassing, or false imprisonment), such defenses tend to have fairly high standards, and often require that the victim actually have committed a crime (which is why a “citizen’s arrest” is risky, since it could quickly become a charge of false imprisonment against you if you’re wrong…).

In short, we discourage vigilanteism and “self help,” believing instead that law & order are best preserved when the state controls the process. MediaDefender’s proactive approach is disturbingly close to vigilantism at the best of times, and when they get it wrong (like this), one can see one clear reason why we discourage such approaches: innocents suffer, innovation suffers, innovating new business suffer–and, from a public-policy perspective, society suffers too. (As a counter-argument, however, consider bounty hunters and their cousins, those brave souls in the vehicle repossession business. They can get away with a lot, even if they make a mistake. Is that the model we want for copyright enforcement?