Icarus blocks P2P on campus network

— 1:11 PM on October 3, 2003

Wired us running an interesting story on a new network monitoring program developed at the University of Florida that has all but eliminated the use of peer-to-peer applications on campus networks. P2P traffic was consuming as much as 90% of the campus' available bandwidth, but using the new "Icarus" software has dropped bandwidth utilization by 85%.

When students first register on the network, they are required to read about peer-to-peer networks and certify that they will not share copyright files. Icarus then scans their computer, detects any worms, viruses or programs that act as a server, such as Kazaa. Students are then given instructions on how to disable offending programs.

If a student is on the network and tries to share files, Icarus automatically sends an e-mail and an immediate pop-up warning and disconnects the student from the network. The first violation disables network access for 30 minutes; the second cuts off access for five days. Third-time offenders are subject to the school's judicial process, and their network access is cut off indefinitely.

Privacy advocates will no doubt be up in arms over having their computers scanned for Trojans, but desperate times can call for desperate measures. Icarus' reach isn't limited to detecting P2P activity, either. The software is also capable of detecting and cutting off any computer set up to run as a server, putting a damper on even inter-dorm multiplayer gaming.

Technically, the University of Florida is free to set and enforce network usage rules as they please, but students understandably aren't happy with Icarus. Back in my first and second year at University, we didn't have access to dorm bandwidth, so we ran coaxial cable through windows, down hallways, and along ceilings to set up our own network for file sharing and gaming. If programs like the University of Florida's Icarus become a popular way to enforce the "academic use only" provision of campus network terms of service agreements, I have to wonder if students will start building their own private networks for non-academic use. At least today, the availability of high-speed wireless gear should enable users to set up private dorm networks with a lot less duct tape.

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