Security Engineers Have Good Reasons Using P2P Software


By Dan Morrill
Expert Author
Article Date: 2008-12-08

Let us face it, I use P2P, and in many ways that people do not expect, I use it for Joost, I use it to down load software like open office, and Linux distro's, I also use it to download hacker tools to test and research.

P2P, Bittorrent in particular have legitimate uses, and I use Bittorrent for a great many things on the internet. I also use Bittorrent when a client has asked me to do Intellectual Property operations, find out what is out there, where it is, who has it, and how popular is it. Companies like Big Campaign and others use Bittorrent data to work out how popular titles, tracks, and movies are. Blizzard uses P2P like protocols to distribute game updates; there are a lot of very good uses for P2P protocols, and the systems that ride on top of them. Many of them are legitimate, and the open source community and the public domain community's use P2P to distribute massive files worldwide.

That does not mean that illegally downloading a movie is always a smart move. It is far too easy to track and trace what is happening on Bittorrent. But we do need to ask what is being downloaded when our friends and family start saying that they are downloading movies off the internet. The video below should be shown more often.



What is interesting is the ethical dilemma that security engineers find themselves in when it comes to P2P. Security engineers are held to a high standard in how we deal with ethics, the ISC2 security engineer code of ethics sets some of those ethical baselines when we use them, but then not every security engineer is a CISSP. When people we know and care for are engaging in activities like downloading a movie, we find ourselves holding them to our Security Engineer standards, and putting themselves at risk of huge fines. We should say something, but what to say is often a complex if not confusing jumble of thoughts in our heads.

The issue of downloading material is not cut and dried, the whole world of intellectual property is complex made even more complex by the internet. I'm not going to say there is a moral, ethical, and legal absolute on this question. However, making rationalizations is the wrong way to come to a solution. Source: Voltage Security


We rationalize many of the things we do, and as Steve Burnett found out, it is very hard to listen to your friends when they are admitting that they downloaded a movie. What is not apparent though in the article is was it a public domain movie; a Creative Commons released movie, a fan flick, or something else. We immediately jump to the conclusion that it was a first run movie, one that is protected by copyright. Bittorrent and P2P have been so stigmatized at this point, that we automatically jump to the conclusion that someone is doing something illegal with it, when there are a lot of legitimate uses for the protocol and the software that we use to access it.

What I primarily use Bittorrent for is research; it is fascinating to watch the dance of protocols, data, and to see some of the more buried data in the system. Just hook up a network monitor to your computer when Bittorrent is working and you can watch a complex interplay of data, protocols, signaling data, search data, and update data. It is also invaluable in working out how some of the more interesting ways that Bittorrent can be made to work, obfuscate the data sets and points. In intellectual property research and interdiction, that interplay is vital to make sure you are getting it right, and handing over the right IP addresses that are downloading the file. You want to make sure you don't end up in a honey pot somewhere or downloading from someone else hired by the same company to do the same thing.

When I talk about these things though, the assumption is that I am automatically doing something illegal, that I am downloading the latest movie, music, or software that has been broken into somehow. We need to move away from the stigma, and start working on the idea that there are a million legitimate uses for a technology, and not all uses for a technology automatically equate to doing something illegal.

The unfortunate part is that Bittorrent has its legal and illegal uses, and every time we fire up the software, we make a choice on what we are going to use it for today. Security engineers have a legitimate reason to use the software too, some hacker tools are only available via Bittorrent, research, protocol analysis, and IP operations all rely on the software and the protocols. If you hear someone saying that they are downloading something, ask them what they are downloading, then choose your answer to that question from there.

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About the Author:
Dan Morrill has been in the information security field for 18 years, both civilian and military, and is currently working on his Doctor of Management. Dan shares his insights on the important security issues of today through his blog, Managing Intellectual Property & IT Security, and is an active participant in the ITtoolbox blogging community.



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