P2P Bandwidth Throttling in Israel, Legal and Technological Aspects.

Written By: Jonathan under Categories: File Sharing and Tags: Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   , It has 47 Comments and It was posted on Dec 13, 2009

0. Abstract
Do Israeli Internet Service Providers throttle, delay or block peer-to-peer traffic? This question has been spreading in Israeli forums and file-sharing networks, and has introduced theories from attempts to sell enhanced Internet packages to copyright infringement monitoring. This research, which was conducted between April and September 2009, was meant to check whether the claim was true. Using simple free tools we decided to inspect the legality of DPI and traffic shaping in Israel and whether it exists.

Our findings were that there is direct and deliberate interference in P2P traffic by at least 2 out of the 3 major ISPs and that this interference exists by both P2P caching and P2P blocking. The tests, conducted by independent volunteers, were directed by myself and with the assistance of Ynet’s staff, who published a Hebrew summary.
1. Background:
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file transfer protocols have been in common use since the advent of networked computing, but their rising profile (as well as the controversy surrounding them) began with the introduction of P2P sharing of copyrighted materials. Initially used for sharing small music files and applications, P2P today is a legitimate and widely used system for the distribution of any electronic media, and multiple gigabyte files are commonly shared amongst users from around the world. Whilst some researches imply that there is a slight decrease in the growth of P2P (Allot, 2009), P2P is still the Killer Internet Application, responsible for 21% of the Average Mobile Traffic Cell and in charge of an estimate of 70% (ReadWriteWeb, 2006.12.06) of the global Internet traffic during 2006, accounting for around 25% on some networks (PlusNet, 2008.07.17), but according to more detailed reports, accounting for more than 50% of the network’s traffic (ipoQue, 2009, TorrentFreak 2009.02.18).

Peer to Peer traffic consists of illegal downloads of files, voice over IP calls, instant messaging and other decentralized communication. The element common to all P2P services is the lack of economical benefit to the ISP from the client’s use of P2P. According to recent studies, P2P users consume more traffic (Arstechnica, 2008.07.04), and when traffic caps are used Internet Service Providers (ISPs) benefit and earn more from P2P use (Arstechnica, 2008.05.07).
Since 2007, claims that Israeli ISPs are blocking P2P traffic have been spread all over the Israeli Web. More recently, a report by Vuze Inc, a popular service utilizing P2P in order to provide its users with high definition video content over the BitTorrent protocol found that all three major Israeli ISPs block P2P traffic to some degree . (8.13% for Smile012, 18.51%  for Bezeqint and 14.06% for Netvision). During 2009, complaints against the three major Israeli ISPs (inspected in our research) were brought to the media and were dismissed by the ISPs. Bezeq International claimed that it does not interfere with  P2P traffic and called the claims ‘baseless’ (Ynet, 2009.03.29), whereas a year earlier it claimed that it is the only company that does not block P2P (Ynet, 2007.12.05 ). Smile012 dismissed Torrentleech’s claims that it blocks P2P traffic (Ynet, 2008.01.24, Torrentleech FAQ) and Netvision-Barak dismissed the claim that it de-prioritizes P2P traffic, claiming that such activity was impossible, and were it possible, it would block all child-pornography and offensive content (Ynet, 2007.05.27). However, and even though such formal announcements were made, many reports on informal conversations with customer support representatives who have acknowledged the problem. Another recent report was that Bezeq International was actually amending .torrent files in order to add the Bezeq International Tracker and save on outbound bandwidth (Torrentfreak, 2009.04.19 ); However, Bezeq International’s CEO rejected the claim and stated to Amitai Ziv, from TheMarker that “I will not operate an illegal video library on my servers, even if my competitors do that” (TheMarker, 2009.08.05).
For example, a person claiming to be an ex-Netvision customer support representative claims that they block P2P traffic originating outside of Israel (BGU Forum, 2009.03.26 ), an informal and anonymous executive in one of Israel’s ISPs stated that due to excessive outbound traffic costs, ISPs block P2P traffic (Haaretz, 2008.05.06 ); however, until now there was no extensive research to inspect any of these claims.

1.1 Legal framework
Israeli ISPs operate under a specific license which requires them (Israel has 39 licensees, 2009 numbers, general license example) Clause 5.4.1 to the general license states that the License Holder’s activity shall not interfere with the free competition in the telecom market or harm the public interest. Moreover, clause 29 to the Israeli Telecommunication Act (1982) specifies that interfering or blocking of electronic communication over a public network is a criminal ofence. Therefore, even without any net-neutrality regulation (see, for example, Tal Zarsky’s 2009 lecture during the ISOC conference ), Israel has the appropriate regulation to interfere with attempts to prioritize network packets and to withhold other packets.

Recent letters from the Telecommunication Ministry’s CEO (CEO Letter, 2009.07.15) explicitly stated to all telecom providers to avoid interfering with all traffic and especially Skype (TheMarker 2009.07.15); whilst some ISPs claim otherwise and state that there is no legal obligation for network neutrality (Themarker 2009.07.27), Our belief is that under the current legal status, without prior explicit consent by the End-User, network neutrality must be imposed at the strictest form in order to ensure impunity from liability for End-Users’ file sharing (MGM v. Grokster). The Israeli draft for the Electronic Commerce Act (Government Bills, 2008.01.14) exempts ISPs from Caching if they had not modified the packets (Clause 9). Moreover, Clauses 7-10 exempt liability if, and only if, the ISP had not manipulated any packet.

Moreover, Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) as executed by several of the Israeli ISPs, may be considered illegal wiretapping, as it is defined in the Israeli Wiretapping Act, as “Listening to another person’s conversation, interception or copying of another person’s conversation, and all with an apparatus”; DPI may also be considered Interfering with Computer Data under the Computer Act or illegal entry to computer information. DPI occurs when an apparatus listens to the End-Users’ packets, inspects their content and according to their content manipulates them or passes them to their destination. Unlike regular routing, that only “reads” the target address and sends the packet to its destination, DPI manipulates the packet, without the End-Users’ explicit consent and may be considered illegal. The Israeli Courts continuously ruled that inspecting one’s traffic and personal files consists as a crime under the Computer Act (CA 1126/06 Lerman v. State, where Lerman installed a Trojan horse; C 40206/06 State v. Pilosof). In Pilosof, the District Court of Tel-Aviv ruled that “Inspecting the Email message in the electronic range should be made with a broad perspective on the email’s traffic from its dispatch until its arrival to its destination, therefore, intercepting a message on the ISP’s computer is “real time” interception whilst the data is transferred and prior to the termination of computer communication (…) Accepting the state’s view might lead to an unwanted result where the ISP may not be prohibited from copying and reading the messages intended for his clients, as the intrusion occurs on his computers”.

Therefore, while traffic manipulation may inflict liability on ISPs when they manipulate traffic knowingly that such traffic is copyright infringing (even if manipulation means slowing down), we believe that it is illegal for Israeli ISPs to manipulate traffic.

1.2 Comcast’s FCC ruling.
Unlike Israel, the US struggle for network neutrality and against file sharing throttling began in the early 2000s (Tim Wu: Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination ) and has been brought to the attention of the FCC, which ruled that its role is to preserve the open nature of the Internet (FCC 2005 ). However, only in 2008, after Comcast, the 2nd largest ISP in the US was caught throttling P2P traffic (Gigaom 2008.07.11 ), the FCC had to examine whether blocking (or delaying) P2P traffic was in accordance with US regulation.

The FCC’s ruling (FCC, 2008 ) stated that Comcast may not limit or delay any peer to peer traffic, claiming that it was unlawful intervention in competition and against the public interest: “This practice is not “minimally intrusive” but invasive and outright discriminatory. Comcast admits that it interferes with about ten percent of uploading peer-to-peer TCP connections, and independent evidence shows that Comcast’s interference may be even more prevalent. In a test of over a thousand networks over the course of more than a million machine-hours, Vuze found that the peer-to-peer TCP connections of Comcast customers were interrupted more consistently and more persistently than those of any other provider’s customers. Similarly, independent evidence suggests that Comcast may have interfered with forty if not seventy-five percent of all such connections in certain communities” (…) “On its face, Comcast’s interference with peer-to-peer protocols appears to contravene the federal policy of “[promoting] the continued development of the Internet” because that interference impedes consumers from “[running] applications . . . of their choice,” rather than those favored by Comcast, and that interference limits consumers’ ability “to access the lawful Internet content of their choice,” including the video programming made available by vendors like Vuze. Comcast’s selective interference also appears to discourage the “development of technologies” — such as peer-to-peer technologies — that “maximize user control over what information is received by individuals . .. who use the Internet” because that interference (again) impedes consumers from “run[ning] applications . . . of their choice,” rather than those favoured by Comcast”.

The question now is whether Israeli ISPs do limit or even block traffic (where the delaying of packets equals blocking, see Comcast Ruling, pp. 26-27) and whether the Israeli regulator interferes with such activity. Moreover, as Israel has an oligopoly of three ISPs with no actual competition (further aggravated by a duopoly of Network Service Providers in Bezeq and Hot), there may be a case for antitrust inquries and not only inquries by the Telecommunication ministry.

2. The Test

In order to examine whether P2P traffic was blocked, we began the experiment with two tools developed by other parties. The first is the open-source Switzerland tool, developed by the EFF. “Switzerland is an open source, command-line software tool designed to detect the modification or injection of packets of data by ISPs. Switzerland detects changes made by software tools believed to be in use by ISPs such as Sandvine and AudibleMagic, advertising systems like FairEagle, and various censorship systems. Although currently intended for use by technically sophisticated Internet users, development plans aim to make the tool increasingly easy to use” (EFF, 2008). Switzerland was released following the FCC ruling and was the tool that the EFF used in order to prove the claim that Comcast was indeed throttling P2P traffic (TorrentFreak, 2008 ).

We also used Glasnost, which is partially supported by Google and the Max Planck Institute. Glastnost is a part of Measurement Labs and  is an independent java client, running within a browser. Prior to our inspection, Glasnost found that Israeli ISPs are not throttling traffic. In its report, only 3 out of 971 tests were blocked, and out of 17 different ISPs measured in Israel, only 3 blocked P2P. However, these results do not include throttling or shaping. Therefore, we began our experiment without any additional Information.
2.1 EFF’s Switzerland
While we were unable to review the Switzerland logs, mostly due to our failure to coordinate between volunteers’ time to run the scripts, Switzerland assisted us in finding some interesting conclusions. We left a server to seed a .torrent file of a public domain video; our volunteers downloaded and uploaded the file again and again, looking for potential interference by the ISP or RST packets. We were unable to produce any substantial results or conclusions regarding traffic, mostly due to Switzerland’s interface.

However, after a massive number of attempts, we found out that another user is seeding our torrent, from the IP address and not from the libTorrent Client we used (screenshot, screenshot ). We found a mention of such IP address in an Israeli Hardware forum describing it as one of Netvision’s caching servers  (HWZone, 2009). While the IP address is associated with Netvision, we were able to authenticate that a similar IP address is being used in eMule caching (img src) and that 212.235.x.x, which was used in other conversations, are owned by Netvision (whois data). While this is not throttling with user packets, it is considered a severe interference with communication privacy and may be considered intercepting private conversations.

We believe that additional research is required to authenticate whether such activity is taking place in additional ISPs and whether this ISP is caching additional files. Moreover, such caching has severely tampered with our ability to inspect bandwidth throttling, as our inspection of speed was irrelevant once the .torrent and the file were cached on the ISP level.

We also encountered a strange download from a cTorrent download from (screenshot), where we could find slight affiliation with IP addresses that are affiliated with CheckTOR, a company that’s meant to assist copyright holders (Checktor).

2.2 Glasnost Results
We ran Glasnost from different computers and different ISPs, on different occasions and even through random WiFi hotspots, in order to inspect interference with BitTorrent traffic. Glasnost operates in the following manner: it inspects the connection in four different transfers: BitTorrent upload and download over a standard BitTorrent port and over a non-standard port, and TCP upload and download over a standard BitTorrent port and non-standard port. By comparing the TCP and BitTorrent results, information as to whether deep packet inspection occurs, as it prioritizes traffic according to protocol, and by comparing standard to non-standard port information whether port preference occurs.

We conducted at least 8 inspections per ISP and logged them. We compared the results and analyzed them, and our findings were as follows:

2.2.1 Netvision:
Netvision probably operates both deep packet inspection, which we already mentioned when we found that it may cache popular torrents. Our findings where that in standard port uploads, the average ratio of BitTorrent to TCP was 70%, and on non-standard ports it was 81%; however, aggregated ratios (the aggregate of all the upload speeds and download speeds) were 52% on standard ports and 59% on non-standard ports.  In downloads, we encountered similar results, providing an average BT/TCP ratio of 58% on standard ports and 50% on non-standard ports and an aggregate value of 50% on standard ports and 27% non-standard ports.

2.2.2 Bezeq International:
Bezeq International’s results were inconclusive, and because of one inspection, where BitTorrent traffic was 12 times faster than TCP on an upload, the results were inexplicable. Therefore, we omitted this inspection as it was off the standard deviation. Moreover, Bezeqint’s results were inconclusive and could be due to standard deviation in the statistical margin of error, in general, Bezeqint’s BitTorrent traffic was faster than TCP traffic. Our findings where that in standard port uploads, the average ratio of BitTorrent to TCP was 105%, and on non-standard ports it was 69%; aggregated ratios were 104% on standard ports and 52% on non-standard ports.  In downloads, however, the average BT/TCP ratio was 147% on standard ports and 130% on non-standard ports. However, the aggregate download ratio had a value of 137% on standard ports and 36% on non-standard ports. This was caused due to several tests where the ratio on non-standard download ports was below 10%. In these cases, we believe that it may be due to momentary errors and not due to intentional interference.

We can only conclude that uploads on non-standard ports had any discrepancies, and therefore believe that no actual throttling was made.

2.2.3 Internet Zahav / Smile012
Internet Zahav’s results were the hardest to obtain. Nevertheless, we found strong indication of traffic shaping. The amount of results omitted due to blocking of BitTorrent ports was material, and was sufficient to show that some P2P traffic throttling occurs. Moreover, the number of results show zero kilobytes as download speed indicate that some shaping or throttling may be practised during certain hours.

Our findings were that in standard port uploads, the average ratio of BitTorrent to TCP was 81%, and on non-standard ports it was 107%; aggregated ratios were 77% on standard ports and 103% on non-standard ports.  In downloads, we encountered similar results, providing an average BT/TCP ratio of 74% on standard ports and 118% on non-standard ports and an aggregate value of 90% on standard ports and 80% on non-standard ports.

These results indicate that throttling occurs only on standard ports, and on non-standard ports no throttling is inflicted on traffic. This may be due to either DPI or non-DPI interference.

2.2.4 Table:

ISP BT/TCP upload, Standard BT/TCP upload, non-standard BT/TCP download, standard BT/TCP download, non-standard
Netvision 69.99% (52%) 81.95% (60%) 58.61% (50%) 50% (27%)
Bezeqint 105% (104%) 69.17% (52%) 147% (137%) 130% (36%)
Zahav 81% (77%) 107% (103%) 74% (90%) 118% (80%)

Indication of low BT/TCP ratio shows DPI or throttling of TCP, differences between standard and non-standard ports show potential throttling based on ports.

3. Conclusions
Our findings are that at least 2 of the 3 major ISPs perform manipulation on traffic, and especially peer-to-peer traffic. We were able to show that deep packet inspection and P2P-caching is performed by at least one ISP and that another one probably operates some kind of preference on specific ports.

We believe that P2P-caching is the most troublesome of all activities and that it should be inspected by the regulatory authorities. Moreover, we believe that further research is required to show actual use of restricting technologies and the use of RST packets or other mechanisms. While we could not determine which technologies are being used, we believe that the use of such technologies could be used to block competition, free-speech and allow wiretapping of voice over ip conversations. The use of preferring technologies should be regarded as restriction of access and be stopped.