May 15, 2007
By Sally Linder
Ohio University's chief information officer says illegal file sharing on the university's network has essentially ceased.
After two weeks of monitoring the network for unauthorized file sharing, traffic has "virtually stopped," said CIO Brice Bible, whose IT group has been denying network access to users who engage in high volume peer-to-peer file swapping with the outside world and within the university's walls.
Since April 27, the information technology team has shut off 240 network users for unauthorized file sharing. That includes a file-sharing setup operating within the university network.
"After just two weeks, Recording Industry Association of America notices of illegal file sharing detection have dropped to nearly zero as compared with 10 to 50 per day before," Bible said. RIAA recently mounted a prelitigation campaign to eliminate illegal file sharing on campuses, including Ohio University.
"I am pleased that we had such good results in a short time," Bible said. "And we did it without having to restrict legal uses of P2P technology."
Through technical and experts' refinements, the system is now sensitive enough to filter out illegal file sharing while leaving most legal file sharing untouched. Only about 20 users came forward to request exceptions before the monitoring began but, as it turns out, even that was unnecessary.
"Our system is now set up to automatically let through the types of traffic legal users are asking for," Bible said.
In other words, users can grab a new Unix patch, turn in a film assignment to a professor, download a movie trailer or send a friend the latest uncopyrighted indie cut without having to ask for special permission.
The filters look for and block both encrypted file sharing and unencrypted P2P programs sharing copyright information. Illegal forms of P2P commonly employ encryption to keep their activity hidden from detection.
On a campus that weathered extended public scrutiny for data security issues, the network safety gains of blocking illegal P2P programs are vital, Bible said.
"P2P protocols can make the system prone to security vulnerabilities, making it easier for hackers to find ways into a computer system," Bible said. "Some P2P protocols also can act like spyware. The fewer of these malicious tools on our system, the better."
Meanwhile, the reduced file sharing has resulted in increased bandwidth for primary academic uses -- so much so that people have commented to Bible about the improvement. Anyone trying to skirt file-swapping restrictions will face sanctions. Students will automatically lose Internet access and can't regain it until they go through network-use re-education and run an uninstaller that finds and removes offending programs. That constitutes strike one. If caught a second time, P2P offenders are referred to University Judiciaries for a Code B offense.
"Before, we were waiting to hear from the industry before taking steps. Now we're doing our own monitoring, which gives us early warning and allows us to deal appropriately and uniformly with offenders," Vice President for Student Affairs Kent Smith said.
Restricting unauthorized file sharing is allowing everyone to get back to their priorities. IT staff put in hundreds of hours dealing with RIAA's prelitigation notices alone. That doesn't even take into consideration the time Student Affairs, Legal Affairs and other departments spent on the topic.
"The effort we put into blocking was still less than dealing with one RIAA prelitigation round," Bible said.
President Roderick J. McDavis said he is pleased with the progress the IT team has made on this issue.
"Illegal file sharing is a problem on campuses across America, and Ohio University has been no exception," he said. "Our new approach is working. Those individuals who have been doing this illegal activity have gotten the message that it is time to stop.
"Illegal file sharing is unfair to the copyright owners. It is unfair to other network users. And it exposes our network to unacceptable security risks. We will not tolerate this illegal activity," he added.