Beyond Fear and Deep Packet Inspection

securitybooksOver the past few days I’ve been able to attend to non-essential reading, which has given me the opportunity to start chewing through Bruce Schneier’s Beyond Fear. The book, in general, is an effort on Bruce’s part to get people thinking critically about security measures. It’s incredibly accessible and easy to read – I’d highly recommend it.

Early on in the text, Schneier provides a set of questions that ought to be asked before deploying a security system. I want to very briefly think through those questions as they relate to Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) in Canada to begin narrowing a security-derived understanding of the technology in Canada. My hope is that through critically engaging with this technology that a model to capture concerns and worries can start to emerge.

Question 1: What assets are you trying to protect?

  • Network infrastructure from being overwhelmed by data traffic.

Question 2: What are the risks to these assets?

  • Synchronous bandwidth-heavy applications running 24/7 that generate congestion and thus broadly degrade consumer experiences.

Question 3: How well does security mitigate those risks?

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Deep Packet Inspection and the Discourses of Censorship and Regulation

boredomIn the current CRTC hearings over Canadian ISPs’ use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to manage bandwidth, I see two ‘win situations’ for the dominant carriers:

  1. They can continue to throttle ‘problem’ applications in the future;
  2. The CRTC decides to leave the wireless market alone right now.

I want to talk about the effects of throttling problem applications, and how people talking about DPI should focus on the negative consequences of regulation (something that is, admittedly, often done). In thinking about this, however, I want to first attend to the issues of censorship models to render transparent the difficulties in relying on censorship-based arguments to oppose uses of DPI. Following this, I’ll consider some of the effects of regulating access to content through protocol throttling. The aim is to suggest that individuals and groups who are opposed to the throttling of particular application-protocols should focus on the effects of regulation, given that it is a more productive space of analysis and argumentation, instead of focusing on DPI as an instrument for censorship.

Let’s first touch on the language of censorship itself. We typically understand this action in terms of a juridico-discursive model, or a model that relies on rules to permit or negate discourse. There are three common elements to this model-type:

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Universities Struggle to Cope with Anti-Piracy Requirements

copyrightussatireUniversities in the US have been deeply burdened by the Higher Education Opportunity Act that President Bush signed into law last year. In particular, the Act require that “schools ensure they are doing all they can to combat illegal file sharing among students. The new rules, according to the wording contained in the legislation, requires institutions to develop plans to “effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including through the use of a variety of technology-based deterrents.” Schools must also “to the extent practicable, offer alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property.” Any institute found to be non-compliant could lose federal funding” (Source).

To combat unauthorized distributions, technological solutions such as bandwidth shaping and traffic monitoring need to be implemented. Such solutions need to be integrated with advanced DMCA response practices. Of course, some of the companies that are being courted to meet these demands are those that incorporate DPI into their copyright ‘solutions’. I’ve discussed, generally, how these technologies work on campuses from iPoque’s position when writing about one of the company’s whitepapers. In that post, I wrote, Continue reading

Byte-Based Billing and Smart Pipes

cyberspacemapThere are worries that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may inject intelligence into their networks to try and unfairly differentiate their services from competitors’. Time Warner’s recently reformed End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) may be the most recent demonstration of this kind of differentiation. The EULA recognizes a difference between third-party video streaming, and streaming content from Time Warner’s own network spaces, and authorizes Time Warner to:

…monitor my bandwidth usage patterns to facilitate the provision of the HSD Service and to ensure my compliance with the Terms of Use and to efficiently manage their networks and their provision of services. TWC or ISP may take such steps as each may determine appropriate in the event my usage of the HSD Service does not comply with the Terms of Use. I acknowledge that HSD Service does not include other services managed by TWC and delivered over TWC’s shared infrastructure, including Video Service and Digital Phone Service. (Source)

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Analysis: ipoque, DPI, and bandwidth management

Bandwidth-exceededIn 2008, ipoque released a report titled “Bandwidth Management Solutions for Network Operators“. Using Deep Packet Inspection appliances, it is possible to establish a priority management system that privileges certain applications’ traffic over others; VoIP traffic can be dropped last, whereas P2P packets are given the lowest priority on the network. Two  modes of management are proposed by ipoque:

  1. Advanced Priority Management: where multi-tiered priorities maintain Quality of Experience (rather than Service) by identifying some packet-types as more important than others (e.g. VoIP is more important than BitTorrent packets). Under this system, less important packets are only dropped as needed, rather than being dropped once a bandwidth cap is met.
  2. Tiered Service Model: This uses a volume-service system, where users can purchase so much bandwidth for particular services. This is the ‘cell-phone’ model, where you sign up for packages that give you certain things and if you exceed your package limitations extra charges may apply*. Under this model you might pay for a file-sharing option, as well as a VoIP and/or streaming HTTP bundle.

The danger with filtering by application (from ipoque’s position) is that while local laws can be enforced, it  opens the ISP to dissatisfaction if legitimate websites are blocked. Thus, while an ISP might block Mininova, they can’t block Fedora repositories as well – the first might conform to local laws, whereas blocking the second would infringe on consumers’ freedoms. In light of this challenge, ipoque suggests that could ISPs adopt Saudi Arabia-like white-lists, where consumers can send a message to their ISP when they find sites being illegitimately blocked. Once the ISP checks out the site, they can either remove the site from the black-list, or inform the customer of why the site must remain listed.

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Update: Associating Canadian ISPs with Anonymized Data Traffic Submissions

200902142238.jpgI’ve just posted a document that draws together the CRTC’s February 4, 11, and 12 filings for PN 2008-19. The document ties ISPs with categories of anonymous data for easy reference, and is also meant to contextualize each data set by reproducing the questions that led ISPs to develop these data sets in the first place.

Items of note:

  • Responses to question 1 (a) show that, save for a single ISP, ISPs’ annual percentage growth of total traffic volume has decreased. ISPs required to anonymously submit data: Barrett, Bell Canada et al., Cogeco, MTS Allstream, QMI (Videotron), Rogers, Sasktel, Shaw, Telus.
  • Responses to question 1 (b) show that the percentage of HTTP/Streaming traffic has increased, two companies report that the percentage of P2P traffic has increased and two report it has decreased slightly, UDP traffic has increased slightly, and the “Other” category now accounts for a smaller percentage of total traffic than in the first months measured. ISPs required to anonymously submit data: Barrett, Bell Canada et al. (for Bell Wireline), Bragg, Rogers, and Shaw.
  • Responses to 2 (a) reveal the annual percentage growth of monthly average usage per end-user. We find that growth is occurring on company networks, and that this growth has been uneven (e.g. Company A experienced 16% growth one year, 47% the next, and 13% in the final year). This suggests, to me, that developing an accurate forecast of expected bandwidth growth would be challenging. Without knowing what companies are associated with each data set, it is challenging for analysts to determine if Network Management Technologies might be responsible for the changes in growth rates. ISPs required to anonymously submit data: Barrett, Bell Canada et al. (for Bell Wireline), Cogeco, MTS Allstream, QMI (Videotron), Rogers, and Telus.
  • Responses to 2 (b) discuss the percentage growth for ISPs’ top 5% and 10% users. Data for the top 5% shows that two companies experienced negative growth in 2007-2008, one only 2% growth in 2007-2008, and the last a 25% growth. Data for the top 10% shows that two companies experienced negative growth in 2007-2008, one 1% growth, and the last a 25% growth. ISPs required to anonymously submit data: Bell Canada et al. (for Bell Wireline), Cogeco, MTS Allstream, QMI (Videotron), Rogers, and Telus.
  • Responses to 2 (c) identify how much of the total traffic that top 5% and 10% users account for. Top 5% account for 37%-56% of total traffic. The top 10% account for 52%-74%. These are fairly damning numbers, given that they clearly demonstrate that massive proportions of the network are being used by a relatively small minority of users. ISPs required to anonymously submit data: Barrett, Bell Canada et al. (for Bell Wireline), Bragg, Cogeco, MTS Allstream, Primus, QMI (Videotron), Rogers, Shaw, and Telus.
  • Responses to 2 (d) break down the application usage numbers for the top 5% and 10% of ISPs’ users. For the top 5% of users, HTTP/Streaming has remained relatively constant, P2P use decreased for only one company, UDP traffic is up, and “Other” traffic has decreased for two of three companies. For the top 10% of users, HTTP/Streaming traffic makes up a higher percentage of total traffic, in all but one case P2P traffic represents a larger percentage of total traffic, UDP is up, and “Other” is down for two of three companies. ISPs required to anonymously submit data: Bell Canada et al. (for Bell Wireline), Bragg, and Shaw.