As ants marched with impunity through the Santa Cruz, Calif., home of the programmer, frustration turned to inspiration and Mute was born. The program, which seeks to hide the source of downloads by passing files between computers along twisting pathways, is gaining attention as an interesting solution to file swapping’s hottest problem: privacy.
“If you’re going to be anonymous, you can not use direct connections,” Rohrer said.
Rohrer isn’t alone in developing peer-to-peer privacy tools. In the past six months, the quest for anonymity on file-swapping networks has become the equivalent of a technological holy grail, thanks to a wave of lawsuits filed against individual file swappers by the Recording Industry Association of America.
[...] Peer-to-peer network developers have been working on improving privacy ever since Napster was first targeted by a skittish record industry, but the results have been decidedly imperfect.
That’s because most peer-to-peer systems require some degree of openness to work at all. In order to download a song from another computer online, a file swapper’s computer must make some kind of connection to it. That leaves a digital record that can be traced back to a person’s Internet service provider, and from there to the account holder.
Would you take the RIAA’s bet that this problem is insoluble? I’m not sure that I would. The article makes it look like this is a structural requirement of the network that you cannot program around but, like so many other tricks, there is no reason to assume that programming is the only instrument at the disposal of innovators in this area. After all, security cracks are hard to program, but easy once you take another tack, like social engineering.
Update (Feb 26): Ed Felten’s take — Shielding P2P Users’ Identities