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NYT Discovers Internet's Wild Side: IRC 627

Posted by michael
from the ok-corral dept.
maztec writes "The New York Times (free soul-sucking registration required) published an article today entitled The Internet's Wilder Side. Apparently, according to the article, 'the Internet has come to resemble a pleasant, well-policed suburb , [but] a little-known neighborhood known as Internet Relay Chat remains the Wild West.' In essence the article concerns itself with how IRC is the breeding ground of all the Internet's Evils, from animal pornography and illegal file sharing to virus making and computer cracking, it all starts here. I'd continue pointing out interesting quotes, but that'd be a waste. Go read it yourself. And if you're on IRC, remember, you're evil. Even if you're one of those do-gooders who uses Mozilla, LFS, or FreeNode servers for software development."
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NYT Discovers Internet's Wild Side: IRC

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:28AM (#9073800)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:30AM (#9073838)
    It was just another Wednesday on the sprawling Internet chat-room network known as I.R.C. In a room called Prime-Tyme-Movies, users offered free pirated downloads of "The Passion of the Christ'' and "Kill Bill Vol. 2.'' In the DDO-Matrix channel, illegal copies of Microsoft's Windows software and "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,'' an Xbox game, were ripe for downloading. In other chat rooms yesterday, whole albums of free MP3's were hawked with blaring capital letters. And in a far less obtrusive channel, a hacker may well have been checking his progress of hacking into the computers of unsuspecting Internet users.

    Even as much of the Internet has come to resemble a pleasant, well-policed suburb, a little-known neighborhood known as Internet Relay Chat remains the Wild West. While copyright holders and law enforcement agencies take aim at their adversaries on Web sites and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like Napster, I.R.C. remains the place where people with something to hide go to do business.

    Probably no more than 500,000 people are using I.R.C. worldwide at any time, and many of them are engaged in legitimate activities, network administrators say. Yet that pirated copy of Microsoft Office or Norton Utilities that turns up on a home-burned CD-ROM may well have originated on I.R.C. And the Internet viruses and "denial of service'' attacks that periodically make news generally get their start there, too. This week, the network's chat rooms were abuzz with what seemed like informed chatter about the Sasser worm, which infected hundreds of thousands of computers over the weekend.

    "I.R.C. is where you are going to find your 'elite' level pirates,'' said John R. Wolfe, director for enforcement at the Business Software Alliance, a trade group that fights software piracy. "If they were only associating with each other and inbreeding, maybe we could coexist alongside them. But it doesn't work that way. What they're doing on I.R.C. has a way of permeating into mainstream piracy.''

    Two weeks ago, the F.B.I., in conjunction with law enforcement agencies in 10 foreign countries, announced an operation called Fastlink, aimed at shutting down the activities of almost 100 people suspected of helping operate illegal software vaults on the Internet. The pirated copies of music, films, games and other software were generally distributed using a separate Internet file-transfer system, said a Justice Department spokesman, but the actual pirates generally used I.R.C. to communicate and coordinate with one another.

    "The groups targeted as part of Fastlink are alleged to have used I.R.C. to have committed their crimes, like almost all other warez groups,'' the spokesman, Michael Kulstad, said in a telephone interview. Warez, pronounced like wares, is techie slang for illegally copied software.

    When I.R.C. started in the 1980's, it was best known as a way for serious computer professionals worldwide to communicate in real time. It is still possible - though sometimes a bit difficult - to find mature technical discussions among the tens of thousands of I.R.C. chat rooms, known as channels, operating at any one time. There are also respectable I.R.C. systems and channels - some operated by universities or Internet service providers - for gamers seeking opponents or those who want to talk about sports or hobbies.

    Still, I.R.C. perhaps most closely resembles the cantina scene in "Star Wars'': a louche hangout of digital smugglers, pirates, curiosity seekers and the people who love them (or hunt them). There seem to be I.R.C. channels dedicated to every sexual fetish, and I.R.C. users speculate that terrorists also use the networks to communicate in relative obscurity. Yet I.R.C. has its advocates, who point to its legitimate uses.

    "I.R.C. is where all of the kids come on and go nuts,'' William A. Bierman, a college student in Hawaii who helps develop I.R.C. server software and who is known online as billy-jon, said in a telephone interview. "All of the attention I.R.C. has
  • Re:I.R.C.? (Score:1, Informative)

    by dleifelohcs (777508) * <jscholefield AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:31AM (#9073844) Homepage
    A B C D E F G H I J... Newspapers list everything alphabetically where applicable.
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:2, Informative)

    by robnauta (716284) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:32AM (#9073870)
    They are probably surprised that people still use it, despite its lackluster color support hacks (mirc-specific), old protocols that refuses to change (allowing wonderful things to enhance your chat experience like floods, nickfloods, people intentionally splitting the network to gain 'ops', an unusable channel list, and a screen full of mode changes), and slow nat-unfriendly filetransfers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:34AM (#9073896)
    How about posting the link advert free [nytimes.com] next time then, heheheh
  • by jejones (115979) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:37AM (#9073942) Journal
    "Quite often, once they get their hands on a prerelease, they will use I.R.C. as the first distribution before it goes out into the wider Internet," Brad A. Buckles, the [RIAA]'s executive vice president for antipiracy efforts, said in a telephone interview.

    One has to give the author credit for getting one thing right, though:

    In some ways, the biggest problem is Microsoft Windows itself. Windows has holes that can allow a hacker to install almost anything on a computer that lacks a protective program or device called a firewall. Users' vulnerability can be compounded if they have not installed the latest patches from Microsoft.
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:3, Informative)

    by madprof (4723) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:38AM (#9073959)
    Well the article says it began in the late 80s so maybe someone told them....?
  • google link (Score:1, Informative)

    by xiopher (699208) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:40AM (#9073996) Journal
    google link here [nytimes.com]
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:3, Informative)

    by amembleton (411990) <.moc.toofgib. .ta. .notelbmea.> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:45AM (#9074049) Homepage
    despite its lackluster color support hacks (mirc-specific)

    Those colour support hacks also work in Chatzilla, part of Mozilla.

  • by kc0dby (522118) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:46AM (#9074076) Homepage
    In some ways, the biggest problem is Microsoft Windows itself. Windows has holes that can allow a hacker to install almost anything on a computer that lacks a protective program or device called a firewall. Users' vulnerability can be compounded if they have not installed the latest patches from Microsoft.

    Finally, its good to see it in the NYT. It was starting to get old seeing it on /. every day without anybody else picking it up....
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:5, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:48AM (#9074093) Homepage Journal
    Of course, that document started saying something like "go to your local grocery store and buy 3 kg of U-235" :)

    Then use an old buick as a shell. Carefully pack the entire contraption in a few tons of traditional explosives like plastique or nitroglycerin....

    The really amusing part is that it isn't all that hard to build an atomic bomb. Only two ingredients are difficult to come by:

    1. Enriched U-235 or Pu-239. The enrichment process requires a massive chemicals and refining infrastructure. Pu-239 is produced inside worked reactors and is carefully accounted for by UN watchdogs. Plus the Pu-239 has to be very pure. If it contains a large amount of Pu-238, it will be useless.

    2. The initial charge has to be carefully shaped or else the bomb will fizzle. The only known ways to test a design are by actually blowing one up or running computer simulations. The former is rather noticeable, while the later is the reason we put an embargo on computing technology to certain countries.

    If you want to know how to build a hydrogen bomb, go do a search for the Progressive article. Good luck on manufacturing a uranium neutron reflector!
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:5, Informative)

    by zolon (605240) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:52AM (#9074156)
    It is actually older then 12 years. 1989 was when Eris Free Network was started in hopes of getting rid of eris.edu.

    I think I just have proven that I am either old, or a geek. Probably both.

    sin

  • Re:/list (Score:5, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:53AM (#9074171) Homepage Journal
    IRC developed a successive series of safety features to prevent this from happening. First, they designed the network to drop you for flooding when you did a /list *, and later, they just prevented it entirely - at least on efnet. (The one true irc network.)

    I haven't tried doing one on openprojects or anything like that, though.

  • Re:Godwin's Law (Score:4, Informative)

    by Webz (210489) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:57AM (#9074218)
    For those of you who had no idea what Godwin's Law was... Definition [astrian.net], courtesy of The Jargon Dictionary.
  • Re:God forbid (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jack Comics (631233) * <jack_comicsNO@SPAMpostxs.org> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:07PM (#9074341) Homepage
    Just FYI, you can find a transcript of the local news station's (WPVI's), report here [go.com]. WPVI even takes credit for informing the local police. If anything, what WPVI did was abuse of journalism, IMO. They in effect created their own story, and effected the operation of a large ISP as a result.
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:4, Informative)

    by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:11PM (#9074393) Homepage
    It is actually older then 12 years. 1989 was when Eris Free Network was started in hopes of getting rid of eris.edu.
    The first IRC server was created in 1988. The Anet/Eris-Free net split actually happened in 1990. This page [efnet.net] may be useful.
  • by Saint Stephen (19450) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:20PM (#9074505) Homepage Journal
    You forgot WAIS. You know veronica was only a fancy front end for gopher right?

    I do miss gopher though. I was on the internet for about 8 months before the WWW hit. Those were good days.

    Remember nemesis.berkey.edu/~gdead to download all the .au shows? Anyone?
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:4, Informative)

    by sparkie (60749) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:23PM (#9074541) Homepage
    IRC was born during summer 1988 when Jarkko "WiZ" Oikarinen wrote the first IRC client and server at the University of Oulu, Finland (where he was working at the Department of Information Processing Science).

    Making it 16 years old.

    http://daniel.haxx.se/irchistory.html
  • They don't (Score:5, Informative)

    by poptones (653660) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:27PM (#9074596) Journal
    In the US the "complete" newsgroup providers I know of have begun either denying posting access to certain groups, or just filtering out binary content altogether. Easynews especially seems to have been hit hard since that virus made its debut from one of their accounts. Every now and then you see a complaint from someone in the support forum because godzilla deleted binary content - their response is almost always "get over it, things have changed." That old paradigm about carriers of content not being responsible for the actual content seems to have gone out the window - lots of "police," self appointed and otherwise, sending in complaints. Once the complaint is made, the carriers have no choice but to delete it.

    I use easynews and regularly READ (important note there) several of the "shady" groups. There's plenty of music and movies and stuff, but the kiddie fans and site crackers have ALL gone underground. LOTS of groups now flooded with PGP posts and encrypted RARs, locked away from everyone but the cliques that communicate elsewhere and use the groups as massive file stores. All that's left in the clear are stories about arrests and rumors of arrests - those folks are all running scared and getting busted even in places like Finland and Singapore. Even many of the bigger MP3 posters have left the building.

    I do believe usenet is about to "grow up" the way the web did. Except newsgroups are useless to businesses for anything except support forums, so how this is going to affect things in the future remains to be seen.

    Even most of the stuff in the DVD rip groups is intentionally mislabelled and you often hear about folks having their accounts cancelled due to their posts in the music and video groups. The only reason none of this affects me is because I don't post ripped movies or pop music (or illegal shit) - all my trading is done in the "international" and techno music groups where artists are more independant and copyright coverage a bit murkier.

    That said, I think these folks must be late to the party. I'm sure there are plenty of newbs on IRC doing illegal shit, but nobody with more than half a brain would be doing it in the open on IRC where your IP can be grabbed in realtime. I'd say the NYT is, as usual, arriving VERY late to this party.
  • Re:sensationalist ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Vann_v2 (213760) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:59PM (#9074980) Homepage
    If your machine is unpatched, it's likely that you'll get infected with Sasser within ten minutes of connecting to the internet. On more permissive networks, like a university's, I've heard that (and seen) this happen in less than a minute.

    There's some truth to that sentiment.
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Turmio (29215) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:13PM (#9075094) Homepage
    IRC is actually even older than that and it was invented by a fellow called Jarkko Oikarinen in University of Oulu in Finland in August 1988. Read about it here [irc.org]. First servers that formed the the original IRC network are still online participating the IRCnet [ircnet.org] network.
  • by darketernal (196596) <joshk@tr i p l e h e l ix.org> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:42PM (#9075391) Homepage
    I suggest irssi. Since you use Debian, apt-get install irssi-text. It's awesome.

    And don't try EFnet, or DALnet, try Freenode and OFTC (irc.freenode.net, irc.oftc.net.) Good stuff.
  • by grautgrams (739832) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:46PM (#9075428)
    XChat is quite okay. As long as you don't irc as root you should not have any security problems (if you take other normal security precautions)
  • Re:God forbid (Score:5, Informative)

    by Skjellifetti (561341) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:54PM (#9075506) Journal
    Did you read the same article I did?

    First off, since when is the www a "well policed little suburb?"

    Actual quote from NYT:

    Even as much of the Internet has come to resemble a pleasant, well-policed suburb, a little-known neighborhood known as Internet Relay Chat remains the Wild West. While copyright holders and law enforcement agencies take aim at their adversaries on Web sites and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like Napster, I.R.C. remains the place where people with something to hide go to do business.

    Sounds like a reasonable statement to me. The cops ARE going after child porn web sites and p2p networks.

    The author also made some funny contradictions. Like the part where he says there are only 50,000 people on all of IRC on at any given time. And then in the next paragraph and the rest of the article he goes on to say how there's no way to know how many people are online. Funny, but a NYT editor should have caught that.

    Actual NYT quote:

    Probably no more than 500,000 people are using I.R.C. worldwide at any time, and many of them are engaged in legitimate activities, network administrators say. [SNIP] It is almost impossible to determine exactly how many people use I.R.C.

    Note the careful use of qualifiers probably vs. exactly.

    The article was big on assumptions, and short on fact.

    Actual NYT quote:

    "I.R.C. is where all of the kids come on and go nuts,'' William A. Bierman, a college student in Hawaii who helps develop I.R.C. server software and who is known online as billy-jon, said in a telephone interview. "All of the attention I.R.C. has gotten over the years has been because it's a haven for criminals, which is a very one-sided view.
    "The whole idea behind I.R.C. is freedom of speech. There is really no structure on the Internet for policing I.R.C., and there are intentionally no rules. Obviously you're not allowed to hack the Pentagon, but there are no rules like 'You can't say this' or 'You can't do that.'"


    The article was full of well researched facts including interviews with the authors of the most popular IRC software.

    I guess if the point of the article was fear mongering of the technically challenged, it got it's point across. But it seemed kind of yellow to me.

    The article wasn't aimed at you. It was aimed at the general public. It was fairly balanced and described the good, the bad, and the ugly of IRC. You've just got your panties in a twist because you think you're an l337 d00d.
  • by nolife (233813) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @01:59PM (#9075544) Homepage Journal
    If you plug a Windows box directly into a high-speed Internet connection without updating everything first, the probability that you will be ownz0r3d rapidly approaches 1.

    From the SANS [sans.org] Infosec reading room, Windows XP: Surviving the first day (PDF) [sans.org]. A little dated but good information for the not in the loop crowd.
  • Re:God forbid (Score:3, Informative)

    by atomic-penguin (100835) <wolfe21 AT marshall DOT edu> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @02:01PM (#9075556) Homepage Journal
    Reporting factual inaccuracies against a group or a person, is not "Freedom of the Press". It is "Abuse of Journalism. Haven't you ever heard of something called "libel" or "slander"?
  • Re:Such a discovery! (Score:3, Informative)

    by windows (452268) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @02:29PM (#9075841)
    Okay, troll, I'll bite.

    There are two types of text formatting that are used on IRC. One uses ANSI escapes (nowadays these are rarely seen) and the other uses the mIRC style of color. Nearly every IRC client I've seen supports mIRC color codes, including BitchX, irssi, xircon, epic, ircii, and just about any other client made in the last 5 years or so.

    The protocols have changed over time, and as such, several RFCs have been released as updates to the original RFC1459. In addition, many networks add their own nonstandard features and hacks to further improve their users experience. These new RFCs were released in 2000, IIRC.

    Floods are rare and are rather difficult to do well nowadays. Most channels are protected with bots of some sort and most of these bots automatically prevent floods and nickfloods. In addition, these bots enforce bans, automatically kicking a banned user from the channel. While it's not directly part of the IRC protocol, bots and enhancements in client software have eliminated most of these problems. The same goes for a screen full of mode changes. I use irssi, which will condense mode changes into less lines so your screen isn't full of flooding.

    Splitting any major network to get ops in a channel is virtually impossible now. For the most part, that issue was solved in 1996 when TS (on EFnet) and delay (on IRCNet) were implemented. At least on the EFnet side of things, this has been enhanced to TS3, TS5, and then a CHANFIX bot was added. Now on EFnet, even a channel which has been taken over can be fixed. Packeting servers to gain ops is useless and just doesn't happen anymore. So, unless you've been away from IRC for about the past eight years, you would know this isn't a problem.

    As for the nat-unfriendly transfers, that's another myth. In mIRC, there's an option of how to obtain your IP. One method is "normal" and the other is "server." If you're behind a NAT, just select server. Instead of looking up your IP the normal way, it gets your IP from the server and as a result will get the IP of your gateway, thus allowing DCC to work correctly. You might have to forward a few ports if you want to DCC send, but that shouldn't be a huge issue. Nearly every other IRC client has a similar feature to get your IP from the server. I'm behind a NAT and have no trouble with DCC.

    While all of your complaints were true at one time in the past, IRC has improved greatly in recent years. Just about every issue you mention has been addressed.
  • by abb3w (696381) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @04:03PM (#9076851) Journal
    The most dangerous materials are the extremely "hot" ones that are fresh out of a reactor. In order to be that hot, they have a half-life of seconds to barely a few years.

    Cesium-137 has a half life about 30 years; long enough to last, short enought for relatively small volumes to be quite hellishly radioactive-- about 80 curies per gram, if I recall.

    In the end, you'll pretty much do nothing more than increase everyone's chance of getting cancer.
    <sarcasm>What an effective terrorist weapon</sarcasm>


    You've obviously never been personally involved in political debates on locating nuclear facilities; a large fraction of the population has hysterical phobias about radioactivity, even when there is no real danger. (I've seen a ditz go into hysterics on learning her skeleton was mildly radioactive from the natural potassium.)

    Furthermore, while there will be few, if any, people getting an LD50/60 dose from a radiation dust bomb, cleaning up such an irradiated area could be prohibitively expensive. Failure to clean it up would result in an highly non-trivial increase in cancer rates in the area-- enough to make five-pack-a-day smoking look perfectly safe.

    There's also the question as to whether or not Bin Laden would have competent enough people to know what they're stealing. For example, spreading a bunch of plutonium (Alpha Emitter) would be laughable.

    Have you even taken a radiation health physics class? Alpha emitters are quite dangerous under the right conditions-- as you yourself noted, the real danger is in inhaling or ingesting radioisotopes. Furthermore, when you deal with a radiation source that's internal, alphas are about the worst of the lot, due to the high absorbtion of the radiation over short distnaces. As I noted, this is why you powderize the radioisope beforehand for this sort of weapon: to increase the chance of dust particles being inhaled.

    The threat from a radiologic dust bomb isn't the initial short term exposure; it's the long term threat.
  • Re:God forbid (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @04:03PM (#9076855)
    Search 'billy-jon irc' and you'll get results.

    Thank you for playing.
  • Re:Lol (Score:3, Informative)

    by cbreaker (561297) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @05:48PM (#9077963) Journal
    And kick or ban, not boot..

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