Torrent Floods, ADA Abuse, More Piracy & Phony Biodiversity

My Thoughts On: August 30th, 2005

Well, I got some fun for you today, but first the more important stuff.

The Bit-Torrential Floods are coming! - Potential Solutions to Torrent-Related problems inside the shelter! Quick!

Myself and Xavier are both torrent users. We download from bit torrent networks all the time. Now, the MPAA and RIAA of course are on a crusade to end torrents... but some good torrent sites still exist for those of us who know it's the best medium out there for transferring data (and, as I'll show later, a little bit of piracy may actually be a good thing from time to time).

Anyways, we have stumbled upon one of the strangest and potentially deadly features of torrents. One day, we were going about our daily business, and noticed our internet connection was bogged down. For a couple of days it was manageable but afterwards the flood gates broke. Our IP was being bombarded in a massive distributed denial of service type attack... we couldn't identify the origin. This DDoS was everywhere, all-encompassing, thousands of IPs attempting to request information from our network. At first, we started raising eyebrows... but then we noticed a pattern.

All of them were hitting a single port, 6881, the default port for Azureus, our bit-torrent manager. Our network has multiple computers... when the bit torrent requests came into the network, they kinda fizzled in our router or firewall, that is, if Azureus wasn't running. If Azureus was running, it would service the port these connection attempts would come in on and eat them up, thus kinda creating a "reservoir", if you will, for the flooding connections. This helped, but did not solve the problem... eventually too this became an unmanageable solution. The hail of the hits was so hard that eventually it started knocking our modem offline, and then we could do nothing between our router or our computers to help block it. After all, you're nowhere if you're offline. It took us a while to learn how to counteract it, but we managed. We had a reason to believe, then, that it was bit-torrent that was the cause. But we didn't know why...

Until it happened again. Like I said, we download a lot. Our net had been getting slower over a period of a month, but Xavier, who downloads the most, kept Azureus on virtually at all times. His Azureus would consume the bogus connection attempts he had latently hitting him. Me, on the other hand, I tried to download a few popular torrents. Some of these created bogus connects to my port, and since I didn't run Azureus, they went nowhere but the network. Eventually even with Azureus on for both of us, this problem again escalated.

The problems were uniquely related to bit torrents. They only hit ports we used for bit torrents, and only subsided when we ran bit torrent clients to defray the misguided connection attempts. So, here come the theories, and potential solutions for this deadly "torrent flood"...

1. The first theory we had was that our bit torrent client, Azureus, had a bug which kept us broadcasting ourselves as available. We updated, waited, and hoped that was not the case. This line of thinking didn't seem to help much.

2. Then we theorized that other bit torrent clients perhaps had a bug where they would remember lists of clients to connect to, but would not forget them. It seemed like if this was true then more people would be experiencing this problem. This didn't pan out because we couldn't find any information anywhere online about this issue.

3. Then I came up with the idea that maybe it was the result of honeypots. The MPAA and RIAA interests have been hiring companies to put up fake torrents to distract us. There is an epidemic of people downloading fake torrents that mysteriously stop at 97.6% and such. This is of course because the torrent is corrupt and meant to be a waste of your time and bandwidth. They use the IPs from these torrents to report them to ISPs which generally results in nothing much.

So I theorized that honeypots could also be made on false trackers, and that they could be designed to retain IPs well after connection. This would make other new downloaders query a whole list of IPs that wouldn't even be active. As the torrent grows in popularity, so would the perpetuation of bogus traffic. However, Xavier hasn't had a problem with honeypots, only I have (being that I download the occasional cam/telesync/telecine movie rip). This problem happened twice to him and once to me, so we thought there was a different issue.

It was at this point that we got the first confirmation that a friend of ours was suffering the same problem. We were not alone! Now we had a reason to bust our ass to figure this one out. While the above theories might have each been valid, we didn't think they were very good explanations, so we kept looking.

4. We thought that since we shared the same ISP as our friend, that maybe it was an ISP-related upgrade of our modem's firmware causing it to interfere with the way our torrents broadcast. But even if that was true, it was a pretty futile thing to try to fight, that's basically your ISP's territory. We later ruled it out just because it didn't seem very consistent with the nature of the problem.

5. So, I decided to look at the timeline here, to see if there was some kind of relation to what was going on. Our problems started a few months ago... so we decided to take a look at what might've changed about torrent technology recently. Then I found it... in May, right around the same time we started having problems, bit torrent technology evolved to allow a new trackerless model. Normally bit torrents require a .torrent file, a tracker to keep a list of the potential downloaders and seeders, and some seeders to start up the swarm. This new trackerless torrent technology would allow clients to handle the information of downloaders and seeders alongside their torrents, so every downloader would operate as a mini-tracker. Instead of having a central tracker, the tracking of a torrent becomes nebulous... a system based on Kademlia distributed hash tables that allows any client in the stream to efficiently store and retrieve more info from others. This opens up a wide variety of potential problems.

The main tracker keeps track of the clients who are available for upload/download, letting everyone go to one place for the available list. Well, in an increasing volume these trackers are being passed up for trackerless direct passing of the info. Torrents thus rely on "quit" signals from other machines to resonate with the entire swarm before you will get a true stop in traffic. Should a "go" signal for your IP resonate quicker than the "quit" signal, it's very possible that the nebulous swarm will get a loop of requests that make you appear active for an indefinite period of time afterwards, minutes, hours or even days. Imagine a few thousand downloaders thinking you are available and requesting a connection to your machine even when you don't even have your torrent client running... the practical result being an unintentional DDoS flooding your internet connection. And, like our situation, the only sensible thing to do to stop these requests would be to run a silent bit-torrent client to blackhole these bogus requests so you don't have to individually reject each one.

With an increasing ability for any individual client to edit a torrent's history and swarming directions, it's possible for malicious torrent users - like the kind the MPAA/RIAA interests hire to set up fake torrents - to begin a hijack process with the swarm. Trackerless swarming may make it easier to publish a torrent, but it could also make it easier for someone else to interfere in the proper operation of the torrent, and even create hard to track and potentially disastrous conditions. A new malicious client signs in, erases the list of seeds, and names itself the new sole seeder. Then this user intentionally saves IPs that had a history of past connection and broadcasts this with other bogus info back at the swarm. The swarm then spends all its time attempting to connect to bogus IPs instead of doing its downloading.

While trackerless may not be maliciously abused right now, it certainly opens that avenue. After consideration, we thought the last explanation, #5, made the most sense. Thankfully, Azureus (and likely other clients, although you may have to check with yours) have the option to turn off decentralized tracking from it's list of legitimate peer sources. So, we had our friend, who was suffering this dehabilitating traffic like we had the first two times, turn off decentralized tracking. It seemed to take a long time to get the swarm to stop making the bogus connects, but after 3 days the flood of data fully subsided.

We tried this solution and have since resumed downloading without major incident. We have not detected the same activity as before that was causing us the problems. I definitely recommend, for now, that people turn off decentralized tracking or data gathering from everything but the central tracker itself, if that option exists in your bit torrent clients. This may help you avoid this same problem.

Until we fully test this, this is mostly theory, we could be full of shit. However, it did seem to make the most sense, it did seem to directly help our friend, and it may very well help you. So don't be stupid like the people on Bourbon street the night before Hurricane Katrina... do your best to avoid this kind of flood! If you have a non-dynamic IP, like many of us who use cable internet, this could be deadly (your ISP won't help you, it's hard to block, and the torrent won't relent on it's own, it is relentless).

Scruffy is as annoying as your baby. I already have to deal with one, why the other too?

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides for a number of requirements of top-down federal oversight that is supposed to help the disabled live normal lives. Yes, when I say federal top-down oversight, I mean it self-declares that it trumps state and local laws, despite the federal government properly having no such authority according to our Constitution. While helping the disabled is a noble idea, as a Libertarian I have to repeat in a form of reverberated mammoth god-like proclamation...

Making laws to impose social visions is intellectual sloth and typically results in unintended and perverse consequences!

So, while I'm all for helping out the disabled, I can only naturally expect that the ADA like all laws like it ever before will result in "unintended and perverse consequences". This is the result of attempting to codify into law every minor impropriety you can imagine a disabled person might suffer. Today though, I'm not going to dissect the whole act, while I may someday. Today I'm going to focus on a pet peeve...

That is, a service animal peeve, because the ADA redefines trained service animals as "non-pets". The ADA does not have a clearcut definition for what a service animal is, nor is there a registration program or anything of that nature in place that affects the most obvious problem this causes - accommodation of service animal owning people without compromising the existing mountains of laws and private policies regarding prohibiting animals on private property. Most places like restaurants, shops, movies, libraries, etc. will not allow animals. Many residential areas won't let you have animals. However, since the ADA feels it is discriminatory to deny someone service based on their service animal. With basic needs like housing this makes some sense although the attempt to codify it into law is so poor that it should be ignored. Likewise I've always felt that private people are best capable of dealing with these disputes themselves.

But let's get to what it actually says about service animals. According to the ADA guidelines,

Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III, Regulation 28, CFR Part 36 Section 104:

Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.

So, this means that the animal must be trained or must perform a function related to someone's disability. If someone is deaf and the dog fetches the paper, it is not a service animal - it may help the deaf person, but picking up a newspaper from the ground is not related to the person being deaf. So this requires we ask ourselves, what does "disability" mean, and what does "performing a function" entail?

Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III, Regulation 28, CFR Part 36 Section 104 (again):

Disability means, with respect to an individual, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.

(1) The phrase physical or mental impairment means --

(i) Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine;

(ii) Any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities;

(iii) The phrase physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, such contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism;

(iv) The phrase physical or mental impairment does not include homosexuality or bisexuality.

(2) The phrase major life activities means functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

(3) The phrase has a record of such an impairment means has a history of, or has been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

(4) The phrase is regarded as having an impairment means --

(i) Has a physical or mental impairment that does not substantially limit major life activities but that is treated by a private entity as constituting such a limitation;

(ii) Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward such impairment; or

(iii) Has none of the impairments defined in paragraph (1) of this definition but is treated by a private entity as having such an impairment.

(5) The term disability does not include --

(i) Transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders;

(ii) Compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or

(iii) Psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.

So mostly anything is considered a disorder, even depression. Unless you use your dog to attract children to molest or you strap a camera to it's back to get upskirt footage, you got a good argument the animal you have in your possession can be considered a service animal. Now that leaves us to ask what qualifies the animal as "performing a task" for a disabled person, which as established before, must be related to the disability to count. It is a new trend in psychology to assign "comfort animals" to patients to provide them emotional stress relief. Does the animal really "perform a function" for this person? The animal doesn't have to do anything for the depressed person to find it cuddly and warm. That's something projected onto the animal by the patient. The ADA has no clear resolution for this kind of confusion, I heard an ADA official quoted as saying it "probably" wouldn't count, although some concerned groups, for this very reason, want them to clarify the law. The government is of course not receptive to these efforts.

So the easiest way to resolve this problem if you are at a private place where you normally have a no pets policy is to have the person with the "service animal" cite some kind of document or identification. Well... no. The ADA forbids this. Yes, they actually forbid you require proof that the animal is a service animal. According to the ADA, there is no standardization of identification for disability-serving animals everywhere and such identification is tied to a patient's ailment which is considered protected by their "right to privacy" (which has nothing to do with the Constitution or anything called a "right" naturally). As such, to require the ID, even though the ID typically does exist, is against ADA regulations and you can be in violation. Likewise you are not even allowed to ask about the disability because this is tantamount to discrimination.

So in other words, no specification requires proof that a service animal is a service animal, because the ADA is too lazy to standardize the process in a way that is not invasive to the privacy of the service animal owner (and they argue it would be like treating the disabled person like a "second class citizen", I guess as opposed to the "first class citizen" they are who can trump all those pesky second-classers - like us regular pet owners). Likewise, it makes the issue of what is and isn't a service animal vague. I would not consider a "comfort" animal a service animal.

So, the end result is that anyone who feels like arguing can take their pet anywhere without any virtual detection, where every business has policies that will allow them to subvert the no-pet policy. You can't require ID nor ask about the disability, all you can ask is what the pet is trained to do. Sorry, not "pet", "service animal". So what pet-owning activists do is memorize these simple rules and take their pets everywhere, then pitch a rude fit when they can't take the pet in hoping to call the bluff of the establishment owner, which almost always works because the establishment owner is always wanting to avoid lawsuits.

While I love my pets I don't want to see everyone walk around with pets. I don't want to see people walking around with their babies either, but that's a whole different update. The point being, if you want to take your pet with you everywhere, it seems pretty legal now. Just call it a service animal and make up a matching psychological mental illness that requires you have it. Psychologists using tricks like this to "treat" their patients make the real occurrence of this common enough to where you can get away with faking it.

As for me, I'll hope we can let private individuals go back to deciding how they want to treat others and stop trying to impose a vision of perfect "equal" society on people who must struggle with obscure and contradictory laws to abide by it. For state rights reasons and for general common sense, this whole section of ADA needs to be thrown out and replaced by local/state standards, which will all make more sense in their own set of laws. ADA in this regard openly admits that it may make you have to break a local/state law to abide by it, of course, it says it supercedes that because it's federal. Anyone who knows how our government properly functions knows that is not true.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so annoyed by this if every bastard who wants to bring in their dog/ferret/snake into the movie theater wasn't a total asshole every time they decided to do it. If they were nice, maybe I'd just let them take it in... with laws like this, why should anyone be nice? Civility doesn't prevail where force is used, and it never will.

Quick, someone call MC DP!

I read a fascinating article suggesting that there is an optimal level of piracy in the market. Too much piracy and it defeats the profit earnings. Too little piracy means that not only does the product not fully penetrate the market, but it will likely be too cumbersome to be favorable and it's prices would necessarily be lower than average perhaps reducing profit overhead. By allowing a little piracy, the software/movie/music markets not only expand their exposure - thus increasing their market - they increase dependency of some on their products. For instance, in India and China, IT tech was poor before the widespread piracy of Windows operating systems. Afterwards, there was so much expansion that those same industries are now taking our jobs and pay for legit copies (sometimes). Now companies like Microsoft are eager to expand the market over there because it's grown so much, as a result of a period of intense piracy.

Maybe that wasn't a good example, since it breeds ire amongst those who hate outsourcing, but it is a relevant example, since it's making Microsoft an asshole of money, and Microsoft is still America-based... I guess all things reciprocate in a way.

Also, the reason Microsoft has high prices is due to piracy... but these high prices create an balance letting you maximize the amount you charge for it against the number of people who would buy it (versus those who wouldn't pay no matter what you do). The article also suggests that there is an equilibrium that shouldn't be fought regarding piracy. Not only could fighting it reduce money by direct conflict, it could reduce consumer interest and make the produce unappealing.

This is all mostly good application of common sense, which is why I think you should give it a read if you get a moment.

Shit... stuck in Georgia again. Time to get my camel back on the interstate...

One of the most idiotic movements in "conservation" I have seen has begun to creep up... this movement would like to see elephants, lions, cheetahs, and camels returned to the American wilderness! Yes, the repopulation of Pleistocene era big game is what some people are suggesting.

Ecosystems are not static. We cannot promote diversity by keeping ecosystems in a perceived ancient state. That isn't how evolution or natural selection works. Nature is supposed to embrace models that best fit the current environments. Biodiversity is a good thing in that it provides life many options. However biodiversity has never been static for any long period of time. Preservationists feel the best method to preserve biodiversity is to keep things the way they were before man, in the Pleistocene era for instance. This of course is ignoring the fundamental truth to the altered ecosystem that our existence and time itself have contributed. Lions and elephants in Georgia? This shift to mega-fauna could drastically change the ecosystem in a negative way - mankind trying to redesign an older environment is more dangerous than mankind making a new environment and letting nature adapt to it. This is because the old environment may interfere with the development of the new environment to the current situations that animals face in the American wilderness. Mega-fauna probably could not survive, let alone the number of diseases that could proliferate, the entire food chain could be altered irreparably.

Biodiversity is not something that can be preserved in it's static state. Biodiversity does not occur in an environment where species to not shift and alter and even go extinct. An animal going extinct creates a new niche for new animals to fill. Unless we have a legitimate reason to think our entire ecosystem will not exist, there is no reason to think the result is "bad". That the animals are squirrels and deer instead of lions and elephants is probably a GOOD thing not only for nature but for us too. We can't define these things by our self-imposed visions of how things "should" be, or "would" be naturally.

Yes, much of our mega-fauna is in Africa. That doesn't mean reintegration of these species into our ecosystem is a smart idea. Typically I've always viewed biodiversity as a process of natural selection. While mankind can unduly affect that by changing the nature of the environment, mankind meddles further to attempt to go to great lengths to "correct" these changes by efforts to keep nature static (repopulating extinct species) or, as this article suggests, reintroducing new wildlife. We do not know fully how these animals will adapt to the new food chain and environment, not only in it's impact in human life (imagine the problem lions and elephants could cause major cities) but in it's impact on the ecosystem in general. Biodiversity is not a cause in and of itself, it is a byproduct of an ever-changing environment. Biodiversity specialists are not thinking of new ways to keep our environment progressing to that happy equilibrium, it is full of dreamy-eyed scientists with their pristine visions of the past and the "way things should be" if we, the devils we are, hadn't been around doing pesky things like building roads and cities.

That so many idealists can go wrong with ideas like this proves that idealism is a dead art.

- Good ol' PA