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UPD4 EZTV Cause Website Blocking Fail for UK Sky Broadband ISP Users

Posted Saturday, August 10th, 2013 (8:33 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 3,655)
internet websites

Some Sky Broadband users were this week left frustrated after the ISP began sporadically blocking TorrentFreak, a well-recognised news source for the BitTorrent and P2P community. But the cause appears to have been a deliberate manipulation by one of the websites that Sky is required to block, which has highlighted the danger of overblocking.

Last month The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) and Motion Picture Association (MPA) won a vital court case (here) that meant they could force all of the United Kingdom’s largest broadband ISPs to block (censorship) the EZTV website for helping to facilitate copyright infringement (internet piracy).

Lately court ordered website blocking has become increasingly common, although those who go actively seeking such content usually have no trouble circumventing the skin deep measures. But, as the endless game of whack-a-mole continues, pirates are now rediscovering old ways of hassling internet filtering systems, such as by poisoning their own DNS records with IP addresses that actually link to legitimate websites.

The Domain Name Servers (DNS) exist to translate Internet Protocol (IP) addresses into human readable form. For example, a DNS server can convert an IP number (“185.56.23.89“) into a domain name like “Meowmix.com“ and vice versa. But apparently all the owner of EZTV had to do to get a legitimate website blocked was to use Geo DNS to point its UK visitors to TorrentFreak’s IP address.

The result was that many, but not all, of Sky Broadband’s customers have this week experienced a sporadic inability to access TorrentFreak. Naturally EZTV might not win many friends for causing such problems but it does highlight just one of many problems with trying to restrict access in the online world, which the internet was originally designed to regard as an attack.

Ernesto, TorrentFreak Writer, said:

From the above it appears that Sky’s filtering system blocks any and all IP-addresses that EZTV adds to their DNS. This essentially means that EZTV, or any other blocked site, has the power to render entire websites inaccessible to Sky subscribers. Luckily we were the target and not Google. From what we can tell, other UK Internet providers are using different systems as TorrentFreak is still accessible.

Interestingly enough, Virgin users reported an hour long blackout of Facebook yesterday evening. Whether this is related to EZTV’s DNS entries is unknown at the point, but it’s not common for Facebook to go “down” on a single UK provider.

EZTV’s owner tells TorrentFreak that he just wanted to see how the various blocking procedures work at UK ISPs. He never imagined that simply adding a few IP-addresses to EZTV’s DNS zone would take out TorrentFreak. He stresses that there was absolutely no “hacking” involved and alerted us about the plan.

ISPs clearly need to be mindful about not using dumb automation to keep up with changes on piracy sites but, as more sites are blocked and IPs get changed all the time, then it could become an increasingly complex task to separate legitimate sites from those that the courts have ordered to be blocked.

At this point we’re reminded of an Ofcom commissioned CSMG investigation into the impact of IP address sharing upon website blocking measures. It noted how problems can occur due to the fast paced way in which IP’s change ownership or can be used by several websites / servers at once, most of which could be legitimate but it only takes one rotten apple to ruin it for everybody (here).

Sadly it’s the weekend and so getting a reply from Sky Broadband could be difficult but we hope to have their reaction shortly.

UPDATE 2:12pm

Here’s the line from Sky.

A Sky Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

TorrentFreak was inadvertently blocked due to EZTV pointing one of its URLs at the site. We have a process in place which monitors this type of disruptive behaviour, and when we discover it, we will take the necessary steps to remove any unintended blocks. To be clear, Sky only ever blocks sites in line with court orders.”

UPDATE 12th August 2013

As some readers have pointed out, Sky’s statement isn’t entirely correct because they also block child abuse sites through the IWF. Not to mention the “optional” network-level filtering that Sky will shortly begin asking their customers to adopt.

In related news we’re hearing that customers of BE Broadband (now owned by Sky) and some Virgin Media users have found that a sporadic block is SOMETIMES preventing access to 200+ websites including the Radio Times, Taylor Swift’s homepage, Northampton Town Football Club, Glasgow airport park and ride, FireEye security researchers and many more.

The BE Usergroup notes that this appears linked to websites that have currently or previously shared the following IP address: 96.45.82.196. It could just be a routing problem or perhaps a conflict with another court ordered block.

UPDATE 13th August 2013

Virgin Media has informed ISPreview.co.uk, “this is an issue that has been rectified now. Some sites have to stay blocked, but Radio Times isn’t one of them. Apologies“.

UPDATE 15th August 2013

The blocks should now be removed and we’ve written up a detailed explanation of what actually happened (here).

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11 Responses
  1. four

    blocking lol yeah right thats all isp are good for and before long every isp will be losing customers like flies lol they bring it on themselves .Them be the ones whos crying when they have to shut down lmfao

  2. hmm

    once upton there was the internet and people where happy. Then there was blocking telling people what they can access the internet turned into a high speed shopping channel full of BS And everybody wised up and left then there was none THE END

    • hamish

      exactly why should these tell you what you can use the internet for and that because end of the day the customer is paying for it not them so isp want to buckle up and start thinking customers come first not the police/courts or the ass of the government .

  3. cyclope

    BE & O2 customers are being blocked accessing http://radiotimes.com/ Apparently they claim to be acting on a court order , lol what next BT going to block the BBC or SKY sports ? or maybe all the government websites , not that there would be many complaints about them being blocked

  4. cyclope

    Maybe they are just proving a point about the unwanted effects of web blocking, things like this will be all too common if Cameron’s so called “active choice ” ill thought out plan gets implemented, Politicians don’t have any idea of how the internet works,

  5. Flakey

    Someone must have realised they had screwed up with the radio times site as its now working, well is for me and Im on O2 (but not for long) the powers that be want anything that even faintly whiffs of illegality off the net and, like Hmm said, turn it into a shopping, browsing and email sending medium, nothing more. There must be someone out there working on an alternative to the internet, wish they’d hurry up and launch it.

  6. Could the affected websites have a claim for libel as Virgin Media redirects people visiting sites such as http://www.taylorswift.com to http://assets.virginmedia.com/site-blocked.html which states: “Virgin Media has received an order from the Courts requiring us to prevent access to this site in order to help protect against copyright infringement.” If that’s not true….

  7. weeman

    virgin media will be another loser blocking sites also the stupid government want the internet as a shopping and emailing internet why bring all these fibre broadband faster speeds if you only want it for that absolute pathetic and the the users will be dwinderling by the second and the stupid isp will be thing why they leaving blame the ass who,s running the country like all the other feckwits who dont know nothing.

  8. timeless

    found facebook down for a while last night as well. wouldnt surprise me if sites started being clever and just used this method but rolled IPs from a list so it disrupts sites which would prove a point.

  9. cyclope

    The internet belongs to everyone not governments or hollywood or any other media company,Are people just going to roll over and let government take over ?

    • demon

      well the way its going the gawd damn government is having a say with all this internet lark and tbh its got fcuk all to do with them pricks why should they say what we do on here are them paying for the fcuker no so screw yous. scameron and the mickey mouse party . LOL

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