Net neutrality tool could help spot ISP cheaters

LAS VEGAS — Security researcher Dan Kaminsky is jumping into the network neutrality fray by developing a tool to detect when ISPs are interfering with network traffic.

Kaminsky announced at the Black Hat Briefings Aug. 3 that his Neutrality Router — N00ter -- would be available in a matter of weeks. “Sooner, if you ask me to send you the code.”

N00ter is being created to assist in developing policy to define and enforce network neutrality, the idea that Internet carriers should not discriminate on the quality of service based on the type or source of the traffic. “We need to have data if we expect good policy,” Kaminsky said.

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Net neutrality is the official policy of the Federal Communications Commission. But regulators are hampered by an inability to see where networks are discriminating because of the complexity of monitoring the Internet. Although it might be obvious if a website is blocked, most changes in service, such as service provider slowing down content from a competitor, would be harder to detect.

“It's the subtle changes that concern me,” Kaminsky said. “It's Bing being 50 milliseconds slower than Google. I don't think adequate policy can be developed when network bias is deniable.”

He described N00ter as a type of virtual private network in which all traffic to a client is sent over the same route, but the traffic is unencrypted and travel time can be measured. Because the traffic is normalized, any variation in service from different sites over the route are presumed to be the result of ISP bias.

Kaminsky said he is not out to get ISPs, but as an engineer he believes network activity should be transparent.

“ISPs can do what they want,” he said. “But you shouldn't do anything you don't want to see in the newspaper in the morning.”

The FCC has issued a call for tools to help measure and enforce network neutrality, but Kaminsky has developed and is releasing his tool outside of that challenge.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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