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End of the Road for Overpeer
December 10, 2005
Thomas Mennecke
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Overpeer started operations in mid-2002. Contracted by the major recording labels, it was responsible for flooding major P2P networks with corrupt music files. With enough corrupt data injected into the major P2P networks, it was believed users would become discouraged with file-sharing head back to the music stores. It was a viable concept, and now time would tell whether this ideology would prosper.

Overpeer is a subdivision of the larger corporation Loudeye. Loudeye is an outsource firm for 'legitimate' digital content distribution. Those looking to establish a digital music store, promote content, or distribute content could employ Loudeye for these needs. Loudeye also provides market research in digital distribution, and can inform a customer what content is most popular. This latter attribute would blend with Overpeer, to examine which files would be targeted for pollution.

Overpeer is just one office in New York City. In order to make any flooding attempt on a P2P network effective, a virtual "bot net" would create thousands, if not tens of thousands, of imaginary peers. Each one of these peers would share content that was intentionally corrupted in some manner. Some users reported a song would play fine for 30 seconds, but then "loop" during the chorus. Others found mp3 files completely unplayable, as screeching and other intolerable noises would fill their speakers.

The main objective during the earlier days of Overpeer was the FastTrack network. During mid-2002, FastTrack was still rising to prominence and had a favorable reputation. With nearly 4 million users and rising, FastTrack was the perfect target. Surely if the most popular P2P network was brought down, the rest of the file-sharing community would collapse with it. And so the flooding began.

Overpeer and its Media Defender brethren took advantage of a gaping security hole in FastTrack's hashing algorithm. File-sharing networks protect themselves from corruption by "hashing" files. A file's hash code is a unique fingerprint that can positively identify a file. If the file's hash code matches up with a file that has been verified to be authentic, then the chances of corruption are mitigated.

Unfortunately, FastTrack used the weak UU Hash algorithm. To save time, the UU Hash concept only hashes a file at certain and predefined integers. Therefore, when Overpeer creates a corrupt file, they only need keep the predefined integers legitimate, while polluting the rest of the file. Ingenious in its own right, this would provide Overpeer with a stunning success while also setting up for its own demise.

Indeed, within two years FastTrack would become a wasteland of corrupt and false files. Some estimates suggested that 50% of all files were either viruses or polluted in some way. In addition, FastTrack's population had been cut in half.

But Overpeer's success, and circumstantial at that, would be limited to FastTrack. No other P2P network uses UU Hash to protect against this type of corruption. Many others use MD5, Tiger Tree or other proven hashing methods that marginalize Overpeer's attempts. Although UU Hash is quick, today's hashing standards verify the entire file. Finding corrupt files on Ares Galaxy or Gnutella is a relatively rare occurrence. No file-sharing network comes even close to the level of pollution on FastTrack.

Since Overpeer began flooding P2P networks with corrupt files, something remarkable occurred. The number of individuals connected to a file-sharing or P2P network during Overpeer's introduction was less than 3 million. Today's estimates, excluding BitTorrent, place the total population at nearly 10 million. Overpeer succeeded in doing little more than encouraging the evolution of the file-sharing community to more secure and trouble-free methods such as eDonkey2000 and BitTorrent.

With the file-sharing population continuing to rise and polluted files an insignificant nuisance rather than deterrence, Loudeye announced yesterday the discontinuation of Overpeer. With Overpeer gobbling potential profits and yielding no tangible benefits for the music industry, Loudeye stated they are “restructuring” their business and will “focus our business on growth opportunities with digital
distribution.”

In the end, Overpeer's efforts have become little more than an interesting footnote in the history of file-sharing.


This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Technology News :: Organizations/Initiatives
Entertainment Industry :: MPAA
Entertainment Industry :: RIAA

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