Page last updated at 08:13 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 09:13 UK

ISP in file-sharing wi-fi theft


TalkTalk security expert Matt Roxburgh demonstrates the problem to Rory Cellan-Jones

UK ISP TalkTalk has staged a wireless stunt, aimed at illustrating why it thinks Lord Mandelson's plans to disconnect filesharers is "naive".

TalkTalk has long been an outspoken critic of government plans to cut off persistent file-sharers.

The stunt demonstrates how innocent people could be disconnected from the network if the plans become law.

The British Phonographic Industry stressed that any new system would educate before disconnecting users.

The music industry has been lobbying government on the issue of internet piracy. According to its figures, there are around six million active file-sharers in the UK.

The government is mulling whether to give regulator Ofcom the power to disconnect pirates who repeatedly download illegal content.

It follows intervention from Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to beef up the file-sharing policy originally outlined in the Digital Britain report.

Presumed guilt

File-sharing is not illegal. It only becomes illegal when users are sharing content, such as music, that is protected by copyrights
The crackdown will be aimed at people who regularly use technologies, such as BitTorrent, and websites, such as The Pirate Bay, to find and download files
There are plenty of legitimate services which use file-sharing technology such as some on-demand TV services

But ISPs have argued that it is not their job to police the network. In previous court cases it has been ruled that ISPs are "mere conduits" of content.

Furthermore, they argue that under current plans anyone with unsecured home wi-fi could be held responsible if it were stolen by those intent on downloading music illegally.

They would face the penalties even though they might be unaware their network had been used for nefarious purposes.

The fact that the music industry would presume guilt rather than innocence is a step away from the due process of law in the UK, they say.

"The Mandelson scheme is every bit as wrong-headed as it is naive," said Andrew Heaney, director of strategy and regulation at TalkTalk.

"The lack of presumption of innocence and the absence of judicial process combined with the prevalence of wi-fi hacking will result in innocent people being disconnected," he said.

Barry Manilow

TalkTalk engineer in road with laptop
TalkTalk visited a street to prove stealing music was easy

In order to illustrate the point Matt Roxburgh, a security expert from TalkTalk, visited an ordinary street in Stanmore, Middlesex.

Within a couple of hours he had identified 23 wireless connections on residential street The Highway, which were unsecured.

He downloaded music files from two connections, including Barry Manilow's hit Mandy and the soundtrack to the 1992 film Peter's Friends.

In both cases, the residents had given prior permission to "be hacked" and the content downloaded was legal.

TalkTalk plans to offer advice to all residents about how to secure their wi-fi networks.

Which? Computing magazine has highlighted several cases where net users were wrongly accused of illegally sharing video games.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) remains confident that its "robust" evidence-gathering system will not allow innocent people to be caught in the net in the same way as has happened in the video game industry.

For those who have had their wi-fi connection hacked into, there would be no immediate threat of disconnection, said BPI spokesman Adam Liversage.

"The account holder would receive a notification in the first instance, which would represent an opportunity to discuss filesharing with others in the household and which would provide the account holder with the information and tools to help ensure that the account is not used illegally again," he said.

"This information would extend to explaining to the account holder how they can secure their wireless router to ensure that it isn't accessed by unknown third parties," he added.

'Mistakes occur'

But ultimately, householders will be held to account for what happens on their own networks, he added.

"The responsibility for ensuring that an internet account shared throughout a household is not being used for illegal filesharing clearly lies with the account holder," he said.

A statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said:

"We realise it's possible for mistakes to occur or for people to have their wi-fi connection hi-jacked. So it's important we have an independent and easy route of appeal at all stages in the process.

At the moment we envisage a tribunal system to which people would have recourse before any action was taken against them."

The government's decision is due at the same time as the draft Digital Economy Bill, which will appear alongside or shortly after the Queen's Speech to parliament in November.

Print Sponsor

Squeeze file-sharers, stars say
25 Sep 09 |  Entertainment
File-sharers' TV tastes revealed
28 Aug 09 |  Technology
Music stars at war over file-sharing
22 Sep 09 |  Entertainment
Man arrested over file-share site
25 Aug 09 |  Somerset
Musicians hit out at piracy plans
10 Sep 09 |  Entertainment

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific