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Black Hat: Researcher creates Net neutrality test

The technique will eventually be offered as a free software tool

By Robert McMillan
August 2, 2006 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - A Seattle-based security researcher has devised a way to test for Net neutrality.

Dan Kaminsky will share details of this technique, which will eventually be rolled into a free software tool, today at the Black Hat USA security conference in Las Vegas. The software can tell whether computers are treating some types of TCP/IP traffic better than others -- dropping data that is being used in voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls or treating encrypted data as second-class, for example.

The U.S. Congress is presently debating whether to enact Net neutrality laws that would prevent this from happening. Net neutrality would force Internet service providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. to give all Internet traffic the same quality of service. Advocates of these laws say they are essential to preserving the openness that has made the Internet a success. Broadband providers say that such laws could prevent them from developing a new generation of services.

Kaminsky calls his technique "TCP-based active probing for faults." He says that the software he's developing will be similar to the Traceroute Internet utility that is used to track what path Internet traffic takes as it hops between two machines on different ends of the network.

But unlike Traceroute, Kaminsky's software will be able to make traffic appear as if it is coming from a particular carrier or is being used for a certain type of application, like VoIP. It will also be able to identify where the traffic is being dropped and could ultimately be used to finger service providers that are treating some network traffic as second-class.

At this week's Black Hat conference, Kaminsky will show how to perform a basic version of TCP-based Active Probing using currently available tools. He said in an interview yesterday that he will release his own, more sophisticated software sometime within the next six months as part of a free suite of tools called Paketto Keiretsu Version 3.

The security researcher said he is curious to see what people do with his software. "People are going to start looking [at networks] and who knows what they are going to find," he said.

Already, a handful of carriers have tried blocking certain types of Internet services. In March 2005, the Federal Communications Commission fined Madison River Communications Corp. $15,000 for blocking Vonage Holdings Corp.'s VoIP service. Since then, the FCC has changed its broadband carrier requirements, and it's unclear whether it would again issue a similar fine.

Kaminsky said he believes that Net neutrality will eventually become law and that the type of software he is developing will help keep the carriers honest. "If you're going to enforce by law that networks be neutral, the question becomes, 'How do you test for this?'" he said. "I'm going to make sure that the tools are going to be in place."

Kaminsky plans to post information on TCP-based active probing for faults at

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Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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