USF plans to monitor file sharing

In a move that underscores the University’s efforts to combat illegal file sharing amid increasing pressure from record and movie industries, Academic Computing is setting up software this week that will monitor students’ file sharing on USF’s network.

Students who don’t confirm their file sharing is legal or who knowingly engage in illegal file sharing will be barred from using the network.

The push comes about as the Recording Industry Association of America is increasingly targeting USF and other universities for alleged illegal file sharing taking place on their networks.

Since February 2007, the University and a handful of its students have been embroiled in a tricky legal battle with the RIAA. To date, the association has sent 124 pre-litigation letters to USF students accused of using the University network to illegally download music or movies. The letters give students 20 days to settle with the RIAA for $3,000.

In August, it subpoenaed the University to reveal 54 students’ personal information.

As of November, the RIAA has sued 54 students, according to past issues of the Oracle.

The University launched Ruckus, a program that allows students to legally download songs, in October as one way of addressing illegal downloads. So far, 22 percent of USF students – 7,200 – have used the program, and 1.5 million songs have been downloaded, Chief Technology Officer Mike Pierce said.

Pierce said this new initiative, which uses a combination of software including Red Lambda and Dragon Products, is the educational part of the University’s program to curb illegal file sharing. He wants students to know they are sharing files and also wants them to know the policies so they can follow USF’s rules.

“We’re going to identify that you are using a file-sharing application and that you have it turned on, be aware that you’re sharing information and that there are University-acceptable use policies and legal ramifications if you’re doing illegal stuff,” Pearce said. “I want you to know you’re doing this and I want you to be responsible in making the decision and that you’re doing (it) appropriately.”

This is how it works: If a student is using person-to-person file sharing – it’s the type most commonly associated with illegal music and movie distribution, but can also be used by companies to send out updates and additions to software – the software will redirect the user to a Web page. There, users will read a notice informing them that they are using a file-sharing application. Users will click to acknowledge they read the notice and agree that they’re complying with the University’s policies. If the user does not agree, he or she cannot use the University network.

Such software combos can detect file sharing by looking at the file-sharing program, traffic patterns (the number of downloads) and what are called signatures – tiny pieces of information like the names of movies or songs that could be included in a file.

Pearce said USF’s software is mainly looking at file-sharing programs like LimeWire and Bittorrent. USF is not looking at signatures.

He said USF chose Red Lambda and Dragon products because they are more reliable and less costly to maintain than other alternatives.

The RIAA is generally supportive of such initiatives, but some question whether the University is compromising network users’ privacy.

“I think it’s kind of frightening because any Internet traffic can and will be monitored,” said Dane Harmon, who maintains a blog and a Facebook group called “Big Sister is Watching You” that tracks USF’s relationship with the RIAA.

Harmon is also concerned about whether passwords or other sensitive information will be stored or whether network administrators will be able to see it. His concerns stem from the agreement students must comply with at the beginning of every semester in order to connect to the University network, which indicates that all file transfers and Internet activity may be monitored.

“They say they’re going to monitor very specific file-sharing things, but in their agreement it’s more broad,” he said.