Virgin Media to monitor traffic for file-sharing

Virgin Media to monitor traffic for file-sharing

Summary: The ISP will begin a trial within days to monitor 40 percent of its network in order to gauge unlawful file-sharing levels

TOPICS: Security

Virgin Media is to monitor its customers' data packets in an effort to gauge the level of unlawful file-sharing on its networks.

The company announced on Thursday that it would perform a trial of deep packet inspection technology from Detica to gauge the levels of unlawful file-sharing on its network, on behalf of music companies and other rights holders.

A Virgin Media spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Thursday that customers would not be asked for consent before the trial, and that data would be anonymised.

"There is an element of deep packet inspection," said the spokesperson. "There isn't an opt-in or opt-out for the trial, because it's not affecting individual customers."

The trial, which will cover approximately 40 percent of Virgin Media customers, will use a product called CView by Detica, a BAE subsidiary that until now has dealt almost exclusively with law enforcement and the intelligence services. Detica provides intelligence products.

In CView, web traffic first enters a network device, or 'black box', where IP address information is discarded, Detica media accounts director Dan Klein told ZDNet UK on Thursday. The data packet is then scanned to see if it follows one of the three main file-sharing protocols — BitTorrent, Gnutella and eDonkey — said Klein.

"We don't look at anything else, because we don't have the processing power," said Klein.

If the packet does follow one of those protocols, it is opened to check whether the data inside is licensed. Detica is currently testing different music-fingerprinting products, including Shazam, Gracenote, Digimark and Audible Magic, to gauge whether the file contains licensed or unlicensed data.

Klein added that encryption of data would cause major problems for CView. "Encryption of the data packet would defeat us," he said. "We're not going to put the processing power into defeating it."

Virgin Media executive director of broadband, Jon James, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the trial will go live "within days". He added that the use of such traffic-monitoring technology was part of its distribution deal with media company Universal.

Privacy campaigners said they were "very disappointed" that Virgin Media is performing the trial without gaining customer consent, and that this may breach European privacy law.

"We're very disappointed that Virgin Media will start trialling the technology," said Alex Hanff of NoDPI. "We feel this breaches the e-Privacy Directive, which says interception of communications requires either consent or a warrant."

Hanff compared the trial to those of Phorm's behavioural advertising technology by BT in 2006 and 2007, which were performed without customer consent. The UK government was told by the European Commission in October that it must strengthen UK privacy safeguards in light of the Phorm trials.

Virgin Media told ZDNet UK it had taken legal advice, and that the trial would not contravene the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) or the Data Protection Act (DPA).

David Meyer of ZDNet UK contributed to this article


Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • This is wrong

    Its not for ISP's to monitor packets in this way. If the music industry have a problem then they should put there own solution in place at their own cost etc.

    I hope that Virgin lose customers over this and that someone takes them to court over it (in the EU as its the EU law they will be breaking).

    At Detica's own admission people can easy get around this filtering by simply manipulating the protocol and encrypting data.

    This to me means that the people you might want to catch will simply adapt and keep on doing what they do, whilst everyone else gets lumbered with costs for something thats ineffective and pointless.

    I wrote to Virgin (as they are both Music company and ISP) to ask them who they thought should foot the bill for putting a solution in place...they completely ignored the letter!

    I personally think that the music industry don't want to apply restrictive rights directly to their music simply because whoever did would see reduced sales whilst also becoming very unpopular.

    I also wonder where these leaks of music etc. originate from in the first place. Maybe the music industry should pull its own socks up with regards this matter instead of blaming everyone else and crying to the government thats its not fair!
  • File sharing stupidity?

    Take an instance, a true one:
    I download 7 tracks of the same music
    find the version I want
    delete all
    go & buy a CD
    Where is the loss, a sale has been made, profit!
    I wouldn't have bought the CD as it's not possible to listen like this in a shop.
    However I could be fined
  • File sharing info. useless

    Just had a thought.
    Information gained by phone tapping, which this is, isn't admissible as evidence in court.
    Is some sinister action about to be unleashed
  • Virgin..

    Doing them self's no favors with this one there already having a hard enough time providing a clear and concise service, so i'll just put this down to them kissing ass.
  • What else DO you expect. . .

    from fools.
    From fools you can expect foolishness and very little else.

    As long as the "media-mafia" thinks they own the public, stupid things like this will come up again and again.

    Remember: They went strongly against:
    Tape-recorders. Audio cassette recorders "was the end of it all".
    Video-recorders: "End of ALL film-making forever."
    Recordable CD and DVD had the same song.

    Oh and Internet was Armageddon.

    Now tell me these people has all the brains anyone will ever need.
  • I don't see why we should be sympathetic to the music industry for their so called losses to file sharing, they should get their revenue from live concerts, which means they get paid by earning it. Just as the film industry used cinemas before the internet was born, they seemed to survive. You here tales of so called music writers who admit they wrote such and such on the bus on their way to the studio, as an 80 year old retired carpenter and joiner, I got paid to make a door, staircase or window, I don't get paid every time someone uses them, back to the movie makers, do the chippies or the sparks and prop people get repeat payments if a film makes millions? signed Ex Studio chippy
  • The real losers in all of this are the genuine musicians and the recording studios.

    The musicians get thoroughly screwed over by the industry, performing rights societies etc. as well as by the shysters that want everything for nothing.

    The recording studios lose out also to the industry, but also in that really good quality productions requires skilled staff and expensive equipment. If they don't get a decent return (whether by bootlegging or restrictive practices) then they fold.

    Iconic though it is, Abbey Road hasn't made a profit for years.
  • will this include SSL usenet?