Anti-Piracy Coalition Reveals ‘Offshore Hosting’ Challenges * TorrentFreak

Anti-Piracy Coalition Reveals ‘Offshore Hosting’ Challenges * TorrentFreak

An awful lot has changed in the online piracy world over the past decade, but key principles still underpin the entire ecosystem.

Many platforms depend on IP addresses, domain names and a functioning DNS, but none can exist without some kind of hosting facility.

Numerous options are available, but service operators who value consistent uptime and a reduced chance of being connected to a piracy-facilitating server tend to make their choices more carefully than others.

Foreign host

One option is so-called ‘offshore hosting’, but what that actually means is open to interpretation. At a basic level, this may mean that a server is based in a country different from that of the operator, but this in itself is nothing unusual.

When that second country has a lax attitude towards infringement and when third, fourth or fifth countries enter the mix in various ways, ‘offshore hosting’ takes on a whole new character, one of particular importance to pirates hoping to both online and unidentified to stay

Of course, anything that helps pirates necessarily annoys those trying to stop them.

Internet Governance Forum – IGF 2022

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held this year’s meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Under the overarching theme ‘Resilient internet for a shared sustainable and common future‘ the event spanned five days from 28 November 2022 and reportedly attracted over one thousand speakers and visitors from 160+ countries.

The Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA) and beIN Sports, which together have a key interest in tackling pirate IPTV providers, presented at IGAF 2022. AAPA has described itself as a group that “lobbies for better antipiracy legislation and enforcement” while “building private” and public partnerships to achieve more efficient and effective enforcement.”

aapa members 2022

The AAPA/beIN presentation centered on the challenges of offshore hosting, and as the above image shows, several billion-dollar companies are looking for solutions.

Legal Use of an ASN or a Subterfuge?

“The hosting provider landscape continues to evolve and has expanded with companies using the term ‘offshore’ hosting,” reads the presentation’s introduction.

“AAPA seeks to highlight that many of these companies have become synonymous with cybercrime activities. Promoting safety for illegal activities in the knowledge that they do not have to comply with national or international laws.”

According to AAPA and member beIN, a foreign host is an entity that is unlikely to own any physical hardware itself while operating from “fake or dubious” headquarters in countries with weak intellectual property laws.

AAPA further notes that foreign hosts rent IP addresses from outside ASN registered territory, while operating servers in the UK, EU and US. This topic warrants an article on its own, but AAPA’s example—an operation with a RYP ASN, headquarters in Hong Kong, Seychelles IP addresses, and leased servers in the Netherlands—suggests significant challenges.

DMCA notices are ignored

Another alleged characteristic of foreign hosts is their tendency to absorb DMCA notices rather than do much about them. An AAPA slide provides an example of how this feature is marketed to potential customers, and while they don’t mention the service by name, it wasn’t hard to find.

An operation known as Koddos appears on the recent counterfeiting and piracy watchlist published by the European Commission. According to the report, it has “office locations in Hong Kong (China) and Seychelles. It is reported by rights holders to consistently ignore their takedown notices.”

dmca messages forwarded

So how do foreign hosting providers manage to fend off DMCA notices when other platforms are expected to respond quickly, or else? The answer to that is relatively simple once a few terms are understood.

DMCA > RIR > LIR > ASN > AS > Hosts

The Internet is not just a network, it is a network of networks. Some very large Internet networks (or groups of networks) are labeled Autonomous System (AS) because they serve the same assigned IP addresses and share a common list of other autonomous systems to which they connect.

IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, assigns an ASN (Autonomous System Number) to an AS so that it can be identified online. Cloudflare’s ‘post office’ analogy explains the system perfectly.

“Imagine that an AS is like a town’s post office. Mail goes from post office to post office until it reaches the correct town, and that town’s post office will then deliver the mail within that town. Similarly, data packets traverse the Internet by hopping from AS to AS until they reach the AS containing their destination Internet Protocol (IP) address. Routers within that AS forward the packet to the IP address,” the company explains.

cloud flame asn

With respect to foreign hosts, AAPA’s example sees ‘host company 1’ apply for an ASN number via a Local Internet Registry (LIR), which in turn is a member of a Regional Internet Registry (RIR).

Once the ASN is assigned to Host Company 1, it shares the same ASN with Host Company 2, and Host Company 3….and Host Company 4. From there, they work as a team, behind a single ASN, as AAPA’s presentation shows.

aapa-asn peer

The real sting here is that any DMCA notices must be sent to the email addresses registered with the RIR and they have a tendency to go unanswered. Physical addresses registered with the companies are “fakes or PO boxes,” AAPA says, meaning it can be difficult or even impossible to identify who owns them.

From an enforcement perspective, this is less than ideal. AAPA reports that during the first six months of the football season, only 10% of DMCA notices sent to one foreign hosting company were acted upon.

“There is no policy on repeat offences. Outreach is ignored and legal action cannot be taken because no one knows where this company is or who the owners are. One company hosts nearly 50% of a broadcaster’s infringing streams,” AAPA’s presentation reads.

Whether anything can be achieved in the short term is unknown, but by making the presentation and “call to action” at the Internet Governance Forum, which operates under a United Nations mandate (pdf)the chances of connecting with powerful ears seem relatively high.

If nothing else, an anti-piracy group making it so far into “enemy” territory, trying to disrupt ASNs rather than simple IP addresses, adds a new dimension to this evolving battle.

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