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FBI launches investigation against DDoS attacks

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November 10, 2010

Late yesterday, the FBI has confirmed that it launched a full-scale investigation into an Internet protest that took down many popular websites belonging to antipiracy and entertainment groups, as well as the U.S. Copyright Office, among others.

Since mid-September, a group calling itself "Anonymous," with links to the 4chan Web forum and image board, has launched distributed DDoS (denial-of-service attacks) against websites operated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), The Recording Industry Association (RIAA), Hustler magazine, rocker Gene Simmons, The British Phonographic Industry and other similar groups in France, Australia, Spain and in other countries.

The definition of a DDoS attack is hitting a website with enough traffic and http requests to simply overload the site's hosting servers, rendering it extremely slow or crashing it altogether.

While there are a few reports that the group 'Anonymous' plans to reduce some of the attacks, they are the latest sign that a war between copyright and content owners and file sharers is turning red hot as they battle for control of the Internet.

According to several messages posted from those claiming to speak for Anonymous, the group said it is motivated by protecting the free flow of information and that copyright is a form of censorship. Copyright owners and content providers argue that these groups are pseudo freedom fighters who are trying to justify theft.

They say the only people losing anything in this struggle are those who make movies, software, music and other IP (intellectual property) pilfered with the help of the Web.

Just how much damage these attacks are actually causing is unclear at this point, but many of the targets hit provide little more than information about the organizations. But the Copyright Office maintains records of copyright ownership, issues new copyrights and assists the U.S. Congress in developing copyright policy.

As part of the Library of Congress, the Copyright Office is under the management of the U.S. government's executive branch. Matthew Raymond, a spokesman for the U.S. Library of Congress, which oversees the Copyright Office, said in an e-mail that the DDoS attack "significantly degraded the ability of users to access that server."

While one of the 4chan group's most recent attacks came last week against the Copyright Office, it is now believed that the FBI began asking questions prior to that. But since the Copyright Office attack, FBI investigators have begun working closely with many of the organizations attacked.

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"It's actually troubling that these groups seem more concerned about the rights of those who steal and copy films, music, books and other creative resources than the ultimate rights of American workers who are actually producing the content," said an MPAA spokesperson late yesterday.

The DDoS attacks have occurred against a backdrop of increasing litigation by independent film and pornographic studios against individual file sharers, and at the very same time that the music industry pursues two high profile file-sharing cases.

In February, a group of film companies, including Voltage Pictures, makers of the Oscar-winning motion picture "The Hurt Locker" began filing copyright complaints in federal court against thousands of accused illegal file sharers. More recently, adult film studios such as Hustler and Third World Media, followed suit and filed similar lawsuits.

Also in 2010, the RIAA, the trade group for the four largest record labels, won court decisions that resulted in the dismantling of LimeWire, one of the country's most popular file-sharing networks. Last week, the RIAA also saw a jury decide that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, an accused file-sharing mother from Minnesota, should pay $1.5 million in damages to the RIAA.

Last week, Mitchell Frost, 23, was sentenced to 30 months in prison after launching DDoS attacks in 2006 and 2007 against the Web sites of former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani and political commentators Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter. In May, Frost pleaded guilty to causing damage to a protected computer system and possessing unauthorized access devices.

As some on the file-sharing sites have lashed out against the entertainment sector's attempts to enforce copyright, some copyright owners say the Anonymous group and its supporters are hypocrites. They note that the DDoS attacks do little more than silence dissenting opinion.

People supportive of the entertainment industry took the opportunity to ask where was the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), the ACLU and other free-speech proponents when their sites were being gagged by Anonymous' traffic.

EFF advocates for Internet users and tech companies and is typically at odds with entertainment companies over copyright issues. "The silence here is deafening," said RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy. "Where's the outrage? Apparently, not all First Amendment free speech rights are created equal. At best, it's convenient indifference. At worst, it's quiet cheerleading."

Rebecca Jeschke, an EFF spokeswoman rebutted "We generally don't comment on DDoS attacks, even when they happen to us. DDoS attacks get in the way of people seeing content they want to see on the Internet, and of course that's not something we support. But we certainly don't comment on them in part because it gives these people what they want: publicity for their cause. As for the entertainment industry calling on us to criticize it? This is just silly public relations gamesmanship, used in place of talking about the real issues of copyright."

Jeschke's statement is reflective of the controversy the DDoS attacks have stirred even among some of file sharing's staunchest supporters.

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Source: The U.S. Department of Justice.

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