This Thursday, in case you didn’t know, Personal Firewall Day. I was pretty excited about the idea too until I realised there were no parades and opportunities to dress up. Still, it’s a great way of trying to persuade people that having a firewall in place on your computer is no longer a luxury, or something that nerdy types do. Everyone needs a firewall. ZoneLabs, who make probably the best (and free) firewall on the market, point out that
— Vast numbers of home and business computers are unprotected while on the Internet. In fact, many consumers upgraded to new computers over the holidays–they need to be quickly protected with the latest patches and security updates, or they’ll be vulnerable right out of the box.
— The FTC reports 9.9 million cases of identity theft in the U.S. last year, making it the fastest growing crime in America, affecting an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people per year.
The bottom line is that it’s very easy to get infected — within seconds, literally, of connecting to the Internet — and it’s very hard to get uninfected. Future versions of WIndows — including the next XP ‘service pack’, which ships this year — will have a firewall activated by default, so this problem may not be around that long, but it pays to be safe.
CNN reports that more than a million households deleted all the digital music files they had saved on their PCs in August, a sign that the record industry’s anti-piracy tactics are hitting home. It quoted research company NPD Group as crediting the ongoing anti-piracy campaign by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and said publicity about the move led more consumers to delete musical files. In August, 1.4 million households deleted all music files, whereas prior to August, deletions were at much lower levels, according to Port Washington.
The RIAA PR dept may not like this, but then again, they must have been pretty busy the past coupla months: The New York Post reports that The Recording Industry Association of America is suing a 12-year-old New York City girl.
Brianna LaHara was among 261 people sued for copying thousands of songs via popular Internet file-sharing software ? and thousands more suits could be on the way. They could face penalties of up to $150,000 per song, but the RIAA has already settled some cases for as little as $3,000. The Post quoted RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss as saying, when asked if the association knew Brianna was 12 when it decided to sue her: “We don’t have any personal information on any of the individuals.”
Associated Press reports that the Recording Industry Association of America, which has promised to file hundreds of infringement lawsuits across the U.S. as early as this week, may announce an amnesty program for people who admit they illegally share music files across the Internet, promising not to sue them in exchange for their admission and pledge to delete the songs off their computers.
But the amnesty offer could serve to soften the RIAA’s brass-knuckle image once the earliest lawsuits are filed, giving nervous college students and others an opportunity to avoid similar legal problems if they confess to online copyright infringement.
The RIAA are not dumb. That’s for sure. AP reports that court papers filed against a Brooklyn woman fighting efforts to identify her for allegedly sharing nearly 1,000 songs over the Internet, show that “using a surprisingly astute technical procedure, the Recording Industry Association of America examined song files on the woman’s computer and traced their digital fingerprints back to the former Napster file-sharing service, which shut down in 2001 after a court ruled it violated copyright laws”.
The RIAA’s latest court papers describe in unprecedented detail some sophisticated forensic techniques used by its investigators. For example, the industry disclosed its use of a library of digital fingerprints, called “hashes,” that it said can uniquely identify MP3 music files that had been traded on the Napster service as far back as May 2000. By comparing the fingerprints of music files on a person’s computer against its library, the RIAA believes it can determine in some cases whether someone recorded a song from a legally purchased CD or downloaded it from someone else over the Internet. A sobering thought.
Just as I thought, ordinary folk have been scared away from MP3 filesharing after the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started to get heavy a few months back. With record companies filing lawsuits against users of online file swapping services — essentially folk swapping bootleg music via the Internet — traffic at such sites seems to have dropped off by about a quarter.
The Register quotes market watcher NPD as calculating that 14.5 million US households downloaded music files in April. In May the figure fell to 12.7 million, and dropped to 10.4 million in June, the month the RIAA started getting heavy. On closer inspection, The Register says, the figures suggest that while hard-core downloaders are grabbing ever more tracks for themselves, more casual punters are holding fire.
This could all change. The RIAA last week pledged not to pursue small-scale downloaders, so could they all come swimming back? My tuppennies’ worth: Let the small fry do it. It’s a great way to check out new music. Most of them will then buy legit copies, if the price is right. For the big fish, they’re easy to spot, and easy to prosecute.