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Tests reveal Comcast meddles with P2P network connections

Independent testing performed by the AP has revealed that Comcast actively interferes with peer-to-peer traffic going to and from its high-speed internet subscribers, by impersonating users’ machines and sending fake disconnect signals.
 
While traffic shaping – the act of throttling a given piece of Internet traffic based on its type, like BitTorrent or VOIP – is becoming increasingly common amongst ISPs interested in preserving quality of service, it seems that Comcast is one of the first companies that actively impersonate individual connections. Most providers will simply slow down some traffic in favor of others, or block a protocol’s port number to prevent it from functioning.
 
According to the report, Comcast’s technology affects users across many different networks, including e-Donkey, Gnutella, and BitTorrent. Robb Topolski, a former software quality engineer at Intel and Comcast subscriber, began to notice unexplainable performance problems with his P2P software. Posting to the popular forum DSLreports.com, he collected similar reports from other Comcast users around the country.
 
In the case of BitTorrent, Comcast’s technology only kicks in when a user’s client has a complete copy of the file and is uploading it to other users, and not while downloading.
 
Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas would not comment directly on the matter, instead only saying, “Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent.”
 
There are currently very few regulations regarding traffic shaping, and none that specifically cover Comcast’s particular use. The FCC says that while consumers are entitled to run the applications and services of their choice, they are subject to measures of “reasonable network management” by their ISPs. The closest directive governing Comcast’s behavior – which still doesn’t directly apply – would be found in AT&T’s conditions for acquiring BellSouth, where it had to agree not to manipulate traffic in any way based on its origin – not service type.
 
Comcast’s “traffic discrimination” has important ramifications for the growing number of services that are leveraging P2P as a means to distribute large files quickly and cheaply. A company like Blizzard Entertainment, who relies on BitTorrent for distributing World of Warcraft updates that often measure hundreds of megabytes in size, may have trouble reaching its players if it or they are behind a Comcast internet connection. This problem will only worsen if other ISPs decide on a similar course of action.
 
Ashwin Navin, co-founder and president of BitTorrent Inc. confirmed the AP’s findings, and noted that he has seen similar practices from several Canadian ISPs.
 
“They're using sophisticated technology to degrade service, which probably costs them a lot of money. It would be better to see them use that money to improve service,” said Navin.


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RE: Ive got comcast...
By abhaxus on 10/20/2007 2:25:20 AM , Rating: 2
Transport encryption has nothing to do with what they are doing. At all. The only peers not throttled under this new system are comcast peers and I'm assuming only ones who are connected to the same backbone as you. All others disconnect within 512kb.


RE: Ive got comcast...
By TomCorelis on 10/20/2007 3:39:11 AM , Rating: 2
If you run the service off an alternate port and make sure your traffic is encrypted, how can they tell you're running one of their recognized protocols? I am working off the assumption that their filters actively ID protocols before attempting to mess with it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, I'm still learning the ropes on P2P encryption.


RE: Ive got comcast...
By Christopher1 on 10/20/2007 4:14:41 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, that's true. Some people have said that they have been able to get around these things by requiring mandatory encryption on torrents.... which makes it so that the transfers don't match the protocols in Comcast's system.


RE: Ive got comcast...
By Tedtalker1 on 10/20/2007 4:38:36 PM , Rating: 3
Enable encryption to defeat ISP traffic shaping.
Instructions for multiple clients here.- http://torrentfreak.com/how-to-encrypt-BitTorrent-...


RE: Ive got comcast...
By abhaxus on 10/21/2007 9:38:49 PM , Rating: 4
The comcast system does not work the way "normal" traffic shaping does. It analyzes the traffic for users to look for connection to central servers (trackers for BT) and then analyzes peer connections and sets a RST packet to both ends of the P2P transfer, unless both ends are comcast customers. This article was the first I've read that ed2k was affected as well, I stopped using the donkey several years ago and had no idea.

Since they implemented this system, it has made no difference whether options like lazy bitfield or transport encryption were enabled on my PC. The only thing that has kept my ratio up on my private trackers has been to keep as many open torrents seeding as possible. The more torrents I have seeding (I used to max out at about 7-8 torrents in the old days, preferring to seed fewer torrents at higher speed per torrent), the more likely I am to connect to comcast users and thus keep sending them data at the normal speed. I ended up picking up a new HDD because of this, as I used to stop seeding at a ratio of 1.5-2.5 and burn the files to disc.

Luckily, one of my private trackers gives bonus points for seeding even if you aren't actually uploading, so my main ratio hasn't declined much. But I download less. In the end, I can't complain too much because my use of bittorrent isn't exactly legitimate. However, my use of their $52.95/month 8mb/768 tier is no longer necessary as I can't use my full upload anyway. As said in another post, I made sure to let their people know when I disconnected that upgrade that I was already waiting on a new internet provider. I may be going satellite HDTV as well, even though the quality is lower, simply because this method of shaping is ridiculous to me. I wouldn't mind bandwidth shaping, but stopping all seeding crosses the line to me.


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