Reality check: Comcast packet forging proves you can't have Internet freedom with limited government

OK, class, it is time for yet another civics lesson.According to Electronic Frontier Foundation testing, Comcast is not only forging BitTorrent packets, but Gnutella and even Lotus Notes packets.

OK, class, it is time for yet another civics lesson.

According to Electronic Frontier Foundation testing, Comcast is not only forging BitTorrent packets, but Gnutella and even Lotus Notes packets. And Lotus Notes is a core application, not something you swap copyrighted music or movie files with.

Now I want you to read this report from the EFF and tell me how the hell the free market solves this issue.

Free markets can be fine, but only if everyone behaves. But sometimes companies don't behave, and their competitors who you might wish to run to if you get too ticked won't behave either. Sometimes there isn't a competitor you can jump to.

I'll say it again. Government regulation- as in Net Neutrality- is the only surefire brake against tech monopolists doing whatever they want with your packets and your money. 

So maybe some of you should deprogram your brains from the teachings of big business apologist/wack job Ayn Rand and regulation-hating Ron Paul and wake up to the real threats to your digital freedom.

That'd be, big companies who do whatever they want because they want to please their shareholders more than their customers.

Here's what the EFF's Peter Eckersley wrote Saturday:

Yesterday, we posted about some experiments showing that Comcast is forging packets in order to interfere with its customers' use of BitTorrent. There have been reports of strange things happening with other protocols, and we've been running some tests on two other file transfers protocols in particular — HTTP (which is used by the World Wide Web) and Gnutella. Comcast has also been strenuous in telling us, "we don't target BitTorrent". Perhaps not. Perhaps what they're doing is even worse.

In the limited tests we ran, we didn't see any interference with HTTP traffic. Comcast's network seems to behave correctly when you run a private web server and share a few of your photos or videos over it (we tested files up to about 25MB).

But when you try to run a Gnutella P2P node on your machine, things start getting strange. Gnutella operates in two stages: first of all, your node starts a conversation with other nodes on the network. Once that conversation is happening, nodes can say things to each other to organise searches for and downloads of files. We saw forged TCP reset packets that stop some of the nodes from being able to converse with each other in the first place.

Forged reset packets are normally the kind of thing that would only be present if a hacker was attacking your computer, but in this case, it's the ISP you pay money to each month that is sending them.

Strangely, the packet forgery only occurs when a non-Comcast node is trying to start a conversation with a Comcast customer's Gnutella node. If the Comcast customer starts the conversation, there is no Reset packet. This means that Comcast customers will not see Gnutella fail entirely — the network just doesn't work properly.

It isn't just BitTorrent and Gnutella that are affected. Kevin Kanarski has reported that Lotus Notes (a suite of software that many businesses use for email, calendaring and file sharing) is also being interfered with. We haven't tested this ourselves yet, but Kanarski's packet traces look a lot like the ones we've collected with BitTorrent and Gnutella.

When an ISP starts arbitrarily zapping some of the protocols that its customers use, they instantly endanger the cascade of innovation that the Internet has enabled. Before this kind of traffic jamming, anybody — huge businesses, small start-ups, college students and children in their bedrooms — could build new, innovative protocols on top of the Internet's TCP/IP platform.

If this type of conduct is allowed to continue, many innovators will have to get active assistance from an ISP in order to have their protocols allowed through the ISP's web of spoofing and forgery. Technologies like BitTorrent and Joost, which are used to distribute licensed movies and are in direct competition with Comcast's cable TV services, will be at Comcast's mercy.

It should also be remembered that in many parts of the United States, Comcast is a duopoly or even a monopoly provider of broadband Internet access. Competition might offer some protection against packet-forging ISPs, but under current market conditions, we can't depend on it.

So I say again: who will protect you against the packet forgers?

Those who are forging the packets for whose transit you pay for?

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