The Pirates Can't Be Stopped

This teenager hacked into the outfit charged with protecting companies like Sony, Universal, and Activision from online piracy—the most daring exploit yet in the escalating war between fans and corporate giants. Guess which side is winning.

The first time Ethan broke into MediaDefender, he had no idea what he had found. It was his Christmas break, and the high schooler was hunkered down in the basement office of his family's suburban home. The place was, as usual, a mess. Papers and electrical cords covered the floor and crowded the desk near his father's Macs and his own five-year-old Hewlett-Packard desktop. While his family slept, Ethan would take over the office, and soon enough he'd start taking over the computer networks of companies around the world. Exploiting a weakness in MediaDefender's firewall, he started poking around on the company's servers. He found folder after folder labeled with the names of some of the largest media companies on the planet: News Corp., Time Warner, Universal.

Since 2000, MediaDefender has served as the online guard dog of the entertainment world, protecting it against internet piracy. When Transformers was about to hit theaters in summer 2007, Paramount turned to the company to stop the film's spread online. Island Records counted on MediaDefender to protect Amy Winehouse's Back to Black album, as did NBC with 30 Rock. Activision asked MediaDefender to safeguard games like Guitar Hero; Sony, its music and films; and World Wrestling Entertainment, its pay-per-view steel-cage championships and pudding-wrestling matches.

MediaDefender's main stalking grounds are the destinations that help people find and download movies and music for free. Sites such as the Pirate Bay and networks like Lime Wire rely on peer-to-peer, or P2P, software, which allows users to connect with one another and easily share files. (See what movies, television shows, and music are most downloaded.) MediaDefender monitors this traffic and employs a handful of tricks to sabotage it, including planting booby-trapped versions of songs and films to frustrate downloaders. When the company's tactics work, someone trying to download a pirated copy of Spider-Man 3 might find the process interminable, or someone grabbing Knocked Up might discover it's nothing but static. Other MediaDefender programs interfere with the process pirates use to upload authentic copies. When Ethan hacked into the company, at the end of 2006, MediaDefender was finishing an exceptional year: Its revenue had more than doubled, to $15.8 million, and profit margins were hovering at about 50 percent.

Ethan and I had first started talking over an untraceable prepaid phone that he carried with him. He eventually agrees to speak in person, as long as I protect his identity. (Ethan is a pseudonym.) We meet after school, in a bookstore that he says is near his house. He hands me a flash drive containing documents that I was later able to independently verify as internal, unpublished information belonging to MediaDefender. He also pulls out a well-creased sheet of paper bearing my name, the first five digits of my Social Security number, a few pictures of me, and addresses going back 10 years. "I had to check," he says. Then he asks me about another Roth he has been researching; it turns out to be my brother. "I was just starting to dig in to him," he says. "There's a lot there." Ethan is a handsome kid, with broad shoulders and a preppy style, and is unfailingly polite, cleaning up the table after I buy him a coffee and patiently walking me through the intricate details of Microsoft security procedures.

News source: Portfolio
View: Full Story @ Portfolio

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46 Comments

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Damn good read...and KUDOZ to the "Pseudonym", AKA, Ethan. Why bash the kid, and his kid friends...as before they are only doing what kids do. Why do people see to it that the kids are brought to justice. It's much easier to throw a kid who has no money, still lives at home, can't afford a lawyer...better yet who doesn't profit from this "Dastardly Deed", than it is to fight the "Media Mogul Giants" and MediaDefender. Saaf and Herrera = $42.5 million+700k annually, the kid=$0, let's go after the little guy. It's thinking like this that pushes the ever more popular "Hacker" to new heights in their own acheivments, whether it's right or wrong.

That was a long article but after reading the first lines of it, you just can't stop reading. Great article indeed

Was anyone else reading the list of things Mediadefender supposedly protected thinking "yup, got that...and that......and that...and that..."?

Great read, and very on the ball :)

Hopefully the bull-headed, blinkered views of the RIAA & co. will eventually change, for their good as much as anyone else's. They're just driving themselves into the ground as hard as they can.

From the sound of it I doubt they'll have any trouble doing that. He was doing it from his own parents house, and his school, lmao. I'd say the only reason they haven't busted him yet is they are gathering evidence on him. Unless he pulls some amazing disappearing act I think we'll be reading a followup on him later on. :P

TRC said,
From the sound of it I doubt they'll have any trouble doing that. He was doing it from his own parents house, and his school, lmao. I'd say the only reason they haven't busted him yet is they are gathering evidence on him. Unless he pulls some amazing disappearing act I think we'll be reading a followup on him later on. :P

doesnt matter where he did it from, he could have bounced off a whole bunch of computers and bots.. there are certainly ways of hiding your origins in the world of hacking

Good article.
Raises some interesting points, and I look forward to see how the file-sharing industry develops in the future.
Hopefully music and film labels can find a way to harness the potential in it - possibly through advertising

All these idiots at Media Defenders, and the like, are doing is forcing an evolutionary change in the pirate networks to get better and better..... While they, as the dinosaurs that they are, are left behind.

"Ethan" sounds cool! I wish I had his intelect for computers and hacking. I wondered why he didn't just erase MediaDefender completely from inside its own servers. Send its progress back to zero and all, haha!

markjensen said,
"Ethan" sounds like a vigilante. It is because he is. Mob justice is no justice at all.

Except when it's the only justice you can get.
**** the RIAA. Down with DRM.

Erasing their servers would hardly be stopping them. They surely make backups of their servers, so if he did somehow successfully wipe their servers clean, they simply restore the backups and all they lose is maybe a couple of days.

Xinok said,
Erasing their servers would hardly be stopping them. They surely make backups of their servers, so if he did somehow successfully wipe their servers clean, they simply restore the backups and all they lose is maybe a couple of days.

Backup their primary servers offsite? Impressive!

markjensen said,
"Ethan" sounds like a vigilante. It is because he is. Mob justice is no justice at all.

overall i disagree with you. cause with people like RIAA/MPAA etc you gotta do anything you can to screw them cause they would do the same to you ;)

p.s. nice article by the way as i read the entire thing

ThaCrip said,
overall i disagree with you. cause with people like RIAA/MPAA etc you gotta do anything you can to screw them cause they would do the same to you ;)
Are you sure you read the same article that I did?
But the conversation quickly shifted to other exploits the group wanted to pull off on that cold evening�cell-phone hacks, fake pizza deliveries, denial-of-service attacks
The kid just likes to cause chaos, regardless of ethics. Unless suddenly Pizza Hut is also suing customers?

markjensen said,
"Ethan" sounds like a vigilante. It is because he is. Mob justice is no justice at all.

Greed is not an intrinsic right any more than mob justice and in this world run by the former, the latter is often the only means of defense.

True, the hacker group is comprised of narrowminded children who like to create trouble but children do stupid things.

Just got done reading the full article linked. An excellent find! 5-bar rating to this news item. :)

The linked-to article does contain the "F" word (and "S"), for what it is worth.

markjensen said,
Just got done reading the full article linked. An excellent find! 5-bar rating to this news item. :)

The linked-to article does contain the "F" word (and "S"), for what it is worth.

+1 have to agree brilliant article

markjensen said,
The linked-to article does contain the "F" word (and "S"), for what it is worth.

They're just words that have no meaning unless you give them meaning.

This part only reinforces the stereotype:

It was his Christmas break, and the high schooler was hunkered down in the basement...
Kid. Basement (in in a mess of tangled power cords, to boot). Hacker. Probably uses Linux on top of it all! :P

markjensen said,
This part only reinforces the stereotype:Kid. Basement (in in a mess of tangled power cords, to boot). Hacker. Probably uses Linux on top of it all! :P