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McAfee patents anti-piracy technology

McAfee patents anti-piracy technology

McAfee's patent covers a system for detecting and blocking a user's attempts to download copyright-infringing material, but could it give pirates an excuse for their actions?

Security specialist McAfee, best known for its range of anti-virus software, is branching out into the anti-piracy game, according to a patent filed by the company back in October last year and published late last week.

Spottedy by file sharing news site TorrentFreak, the patent - WO2013055564A1 - describes a system to 'detect and prevent illegal consumption of content on the internet.' To put it another way: it's a blacklisting system that aims to prevent users from downloading hooky software, music and films from file sharing sites.

The system, McAfee's Davoud Maha explains in the patent, aims at 'preventing (or at least deterring) a user from inadvertently or directly consuming illegal content on the internet.' Acting as an extension of the company's existing SiteAdvisor system, which warns users if they're visiting a site that hosts malicious software or has been reported as a 'phishing' site, the system can take several steps if it detects apparently-unauthorised content: it can simply warn the user; it can block access to the site entirely; or - and it's here that the system's target audience becomes somewhat clearer - it can block the site while redirecting the user to an alternative source, such as a pay-to-download service hosting an authorised copy of the works.

According to McAfee, the system holds benefits to consumers as well as rightsholders - in particular by preventing 'accidental' download of unauthorised content that could result in expensive litigation should the rightsholder decide to pursue the user for infringement. If the system is simply added to McAfee's existing consumer-oriented security software and made optional, that's perhaps good news for the less confident downloader who perhaps may not know that The Pirate Bay isn't exactly a legitimate source of new-release films and music.

The risk McAfee runs, however, is in giving those who know full well that they're downloading unauthorised copies of copyright material a further excuse for their actions: 'McAfee SiteAdvisor didn't tell me it was unauthorised, so I thought it was OK.' While tenuous at best, firms that chase downloaders for payment are typically loath to take them to court over the matter - regardless of their threats to the contrary - in case their 'evidence,' usually limited to a spreadsheet of IP addresses, is found wanting. Offering yet another excuse - alongside 'I run an open Wi-Fi connection, so anyone could have downloaded it' - may mean any such court case struggles even more than would have been the case.

One thing is clear, however: where McAfee leads, others are likely to follow. Expect the security software of tomorrow to come with the same kind of 'protection' against copyright infringement as it offers for malware.

Thus far, McAfee hasn't indicated when - or even if - it plans to add the anti-piracy system to its software packages.

18 Comments

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Fizzban 25th April 2013, 12:03 Quote
I suppose it will be good for parents with young kids that haven't yet worked out how to circumvent the restriction, and for open wifi spots, but I can't see the wider population being interested in it.
Adnoctum 25th April 2013, 12:04 Quote
So is this a McAfee technology, so you would need to install McAfee for this to effect you, or is it an Intel technology, so anyone who installs Intel drivers can look forward to this being bundled in the future?

Because Intel owns McAfee.

It doesn't matter anyway, because Intel couldn't give me enough in kickbacks to induce me to install McAfee on any system I own or control.
Corky42 25th April 2013, 12:22 Quote
So is it a new technology if all there doing is adding web sites to the list used by there SiteAdvisor system ?
Gareth Halfacree 25th April 2013, 12:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Corky42
So is it a new technology if all there doing is adding web sites to the list used by there SiteAdvisor system ?
The 'new technology' is detailed in the linked patent: unlike SiteAdvisor, which just says "dude, that site is totally going to kill your PC, don't click on it," the anti-piracy system can, instead, say "dude, that copy of Predator is totally illegal, why don't you go over here and buy a digital download of it from iTunes instead?"

Is that novel enough to be patented? I guess we won't find out until someone challenges said patent.
DriftCarl 25th April 2013, 14:25 Quote
I think they will find that Apple has already patented that idea in 2018 for their as yet undeveloped iphone 12 and will sue mcafee for patent infringement
jinq-sea 25th April 2013, 14:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Is that novel enough to be patented? I guess we won't find out until someone challenges said patent.

It doesn't just have to be novel, but must also show an 'inventive step', and certainly in the case of Europe, must have a 'technical effect'. If they go ahead in Europe, it'll become apparent fairly quickly (patent prosecution is a matter of public record).

Without reviewing the patent spec in detail, it looks a bit 'thin', but it'll likely fly in the US...
pantalaimon 25th April 2013, 14:55 Quote
Haha.
Corky42 25th April 2013, 15:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Is that novel enough to be patented? I guess we won't find out until someone challenges said patent.

I guess when people say the US patten system is a bit broken they are not kidding
jinq-sea 25th April 2013, 15:08 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Corky42
I guess when people say the US patten system is a bit broken they are not kidding

Well - it's currently an application, so no worries yet...!
loftie 25th April 2013, 15:57 Quote
Wouldn't be surprised if there's an ignore button.
schmidtbag 25th April 2013, 17:18 Quote
I don't see this being particularly successful. There's only 3 methods I can think of that would make this work:
1. When someone submits a serial key, often modern software will use online authentication. If the key is used too many times, McAfee will think it's pirated (but, I don't see why the actual product distributors don't do this...)
2. McAfee could detect someone running a keygen (or a program like Limewire or a torrent downloader)
3. If a drop-in replacement binary is needed to pirate a program, McAfee could check if the creation or modification date varies from the rest of the files.

But none of those solutions are very effective. Antipiracy is something that programs need to take care of individually.

As for who would use this, I suppose businesses would care most. Companies don't want to be held liable for things their employees do.
isaac12345 25th April 2013, 17:28 Quote
Its not the consumers who need protection, its the copyright holders!
schmidtbag 25th April 2013, 17:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by isaac12345
Its not the consumers who need protection, its the copyright holders!

Copyright holders can't tell people to install anti-piracy stuff. With things like movies, music, and text, there isn't really an easy or realistic way to prevent piracy without having everyone buy a new device. As for software though, I firmly believe it is 100% the fault of the developers if something is pirated. There may not be any amount of security that will entirely protect a product from being stolen, but, you can say that about real physical products as well. There are some products out there that are incredibly difficult to pirate, and even if you manage to do it successfully, you'll probably be missing something important such as updates.
digitaldunc 25th April 2013, 19:06 Quote
I advocate the idea of software of this kind in principle, as long as it's optional. I know some of you most likely pooh-pooh it but I wouldn't trust a release group with regards to my machines security.

I doubt an implementation by McAfee will be any good though. I'll admit it's years since I've used one of their products, but McAfee Antivirus was complete garbage the last time I came across it on someones machine.
Fizzban 25th April 2013, 20:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitaldunc
I know some of you most likely pooh-pooh it but I wouldn't trust a release group with regards to my machines security.

I won't go into anything regarding release groups or whatnot. But I have found that, providing you have an average to above average knowledge of the net, getting a virus infection is actually pretty damn hard.

I would have to go out of my way and actively seek out a trojan/virus to get infected.
loftie 25th April 2013, 21:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fizzban
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitaldunc
I know some of you most likely pooh-pooh it but I wouldn't trust a release group with regards to my machines security.

I won't go into anything regarding release groups or whatnot. But I have found that, providing you have an average to above average knowledge of the net, getting a virus infection is actually pretty damn hard.

I would have to go out of my way and actively seek out a trojan/virus to get infected.

Agreed, I think most people have viruses and malware from a billion dodgy toolbars they install, or software that get's bundled with other programs which people forget to untick as an install option.

Anyone want 10,000 free smileys?
Gradius 26th April 2013, 04:07 Quote
In Russia this thing itself is ILLEGAL!
atlas 3rd May 2013, 11:35 Quote
"same kind of 'protection' against copyright infringement as it offers for malware" Biggest chuckle I have it all week. Thanks. Can someone explain to me why any consumer would ever want this? The only advantage they could come up with themselves was that it may protect you from litigation...
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