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US comms giant patents technology to block file-sharing software

Pirate disc
Pirates could be stopped from sailing on the Web

A new invention has been added to the AT&T portfolio: technology that can detect, block and ban file-sharers on a network.

Reported by TorrentFreak, the new technology brands a user based on their network activities. A user is assigned a 'risk class' if they visit certain sites. After further monitoring, this allows an ISP to take action and may result in a user having their access to sites like sharing websites blocked.

The patent, which has the rather long name in "Methods, devices and computer program products for regulating network activity using a subscriber scoring system", claims that many Internet users do not have the knowledge or sophistication to avoid risks associated with accessing the internet.

Tenacious and persistent

AT&Ts patent documentation (link opens PDF file) also says that the efforts to date to curtail piracy are insufficient, as "millions of downloads may result from just one file that is posted on a sharing network".

While the system can potentially be used to keep users safe from hacking attempts, online file-sharing is one of the main problems that could be discovered and regulated. Marked as 'high risk activity' by the patent system, it could be stopped through ISP action.

The consequences of engaging in acts such as file sharing or Internet piracy include being "walled off" into a "secure portion" of the network a user is connected to. This would give the subscriber limited access to the whole network, allowing the ISP to accept or deny requests to visit certain sites on the Internet. It is unknown if the U.S. communications giant will implement this technology or leave it to other firms.

According to a NetNames study in January this year, between 2010 and 2012, nearly a quarter of the total bandwidth used by all Internet users was used to acquire intellectual property illegally. Dr. David Price, director of piracy analysis at NetNames and author of the study, called piracy "tenacious and persistent".