Frustrated IRC users point finger at music industry

An unusual suspect has emerged in the crippling of an Internet chat network: the Recording Industry Association of America.

In frustration following sustained waves of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on the DALnet Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network, users have pointed fingers at the RIAA, as perhaps being upset about the pirating of music recordings through peer-to-peer computer networks.

RIAA legally neutralized Napster, the original market leader in the field, but IRC networks are often used for exchange of files among users, many of whom maintain servers to and from which other users can download and upload material.

Illicit copies of software, known to traders as "warez", and extreme pornography are the more usual fare of shady IRC traders, but some mainstream video and music recordings are traded.

RIAA, users suggested, may have decided to mount a DDoS attack on IRC as a last-resort way of stopping online recording piracy and punishing the culprits.

Terence O'Neill-Joyce, head of the equivalent local body, RIANZ, says it would be inappropriate of him to discuss the affairs of RIAA, and that he is not in a position to confirm or deny the allegations.

"What I can say is that the (suggestion) comes as a complete surprise to me."

Other users of the network express doubts, since this would involve the RIAA itself in illegal activity, they say; but that would depend on where the attacks were launched.

In many countries, including this one until the long-delayed Crimes Amendment Bill No 6 is passed, denial of service attacks and other kinds of interference with digital communication are not illegal.

A DoS attack last year on the Internet's root servers was attributed to an individual teenage hacker, and a suspect has now been arrested (see Kiwi at center of net security, and Wired's IRC Attack Linked to DoS Threat).

But the unnamed Washington teenager denies any part in the DALnet attacks, which were continuing last week and raising speculation on whether the nine-year-old network, used by millions, would survive.

Other possible culprits could be a misguided law enforcement agency or someone with a personal anti-porn agenda, such material known to be exchanged.

Asked whether over-zealous law enforcement agencies might be responsible for the DALnet attacks, Steve O'Brien, head of the Internal Affairs department's censorship compliance division, denies having heard anything of that nature through international law enforcement networks.

Currently, the prevailing user view is that individual young hackers, possibly only one, are responsible.

The ultimate preventative, the network users say, is for computer users throughout the world to use good virus and Trojan detection and firewalling, and to apply all patches for systems software vunerabilities, so their machines cannot be used to mount a DDoS attack.