Tackling College Piracy: The P2P Quiz

Under the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, colleges and universities that get federal funding have to come up with ways to deal with "Campus-based Digital Theft Prevention". The bill doesn't give specific methods, and universities can come up with their own methods, as Missouri S&T has done with their P2P quiz.

Missouri S&TThe subject of universities and (illicit) filesharing has been slowly gaining prominence over the past year, and more now than ever, with the passage of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008. We have taken a look into the different ways universities around the US are dealing with the subject. In part one, Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Initially a mining school, the university, known until the start of the year as University of Missouri,Rolla, is not exactly the largest around. Even though the university has just over 6,000 students, they have not been ignored in the scattergun campaign that is Internet-copyright-enforcement by organizations such as the RIAA.

In a recent press release, however, the university claims to have reduced its influx of notices, and credits it to a new system. This groundbreaking system is a multiple choice test, that students have to get completely correct each time, before being allowed access to filesharing applications. Once the test is ‘aced’ the student is granted 6 hours of p2p access. A student can use no more than 8 six-hour periods (48 hours total) a month.

In theory, this could work, but as more things move to a p2p based distribution model, having the ability to access things only on a timed basis is somewhat shortsighted. The content industries are pushing for this kind of restriction, and might see this as a promising development, but have been quiet on Missouri S&T’s program.

Also, the restriction on what can be seen as ‘mainstream p2p’ could lead to an increase in p2p that is harder to monitor and notice, as students will most likely encrypt their traffic or attempt to access content in ways not restricted. Sites that host files like rapidshare wouldn’t be affected by the time restrictions, and internal dc++ hubs, to share what is transferred in during the 6-hour windows would spring up.

It is also unclear which protocols are counted as p2p for these purposes. Newsgroups, as well as showing a resurgence in popularity for file sharing, are also a valuable tool for information exchange in general (and one sometimes embraced by major content producers. J. Michael Straczynski has been posting regularly to rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated, and Terry Pratchett is a regular on alt.fan.pratchett). However, it’s one potential way to prevent WoW addiction in students.

Requests to the university’s system security analyst, Karl Lutzen, were not answered at the time of publication.

Update 12-08-08:

Karl Lutzen did get in touch with us. He explained how the system worked “All p2p protocols known by the technical controls, plus behavioral matches are all blocked by default. This is the default setting that everyone has and the only way to enable the protocols is to go through the application and pass the quiz.”

He also explained how the system stops computers that are set up to use popular p2p networks on a home connection, suddenly throwing out lots of data when connected to the faster university connection, and acting as a magnet for notices. Also, internal P2P networks seem not to be prohibited. When asked about WoW updates, as an example, he told TorrentFreak “In the case of WoW, there is an automatic HTML fallback, but as players within our network start downloading updates, they end up sharing the updates via P2P locally just fine.”

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