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Pam Reinig, engineering communications, (515) 294-0261
Annette Hacker, News Service, (515) 294-3720


AMES, Iowa-- An Iowa State University engineering professor will testify Tuesday (September 9) before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on peer-to-peer networks and how they are used to distribute illegal materials across the Internet.

Doug Jacobson will discuss the evolution of peer-to-peer file sharing programs, which have been commonly used to illegally trade copyrighted materials and to access pornography. Jacobson is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, director of Iowa State's Information Assurance Center, and president of an Ames-based security and Internet filtering company. He also serves as a computer forensics analyst with the Iowa State Department of Public Safety. For the past seven years, he has assisted local law enforcement agencies in numerous computer crimes including software theft, harassment, and child pornography. He started Palisade Systems in 1996 in part to address the issue of pornography on school computer networks. Jacobson has twice received a prestigious R&D 100 award, given annually for the nation's top technology innovations.

Although many people associate file sharing with the trading of songs and movies, access to pornography is the primary reason people use the programs. Studies by Palisade Systems found that 42% of all search requests on Gnutella peer-to-peer networks were for files containing pornographic materials; 6% of the search requests were for child pornography. The study analyzed more than 22 million search requests made during a three-week period last February. Studies published by other organizations have come to similar conclusions, indicating that peer-to-peer activity has become a widely accepted vehicle for the distribution of pornography.

"With no signs of the evolutionary path of peer-to-peer applications slowing down, we will be faced with increasing challenges ahead," said Jacobson. "Because of their decentralized nature and the difficulty in identifying these networks, I predict peer-to-peer networks will become the method of choice to distribute illegal materials across the Internet. "

There is technology to monitor, control, and block peer-to-peer networks, Jacobson said. Unfortunately, these are cost prohibitive for small organizations like schools and home use.

"This leaves a home user with no choice but to allow peer-to-peer and all of the risks associated (with it) or not allow any peer-to-peer applications on their machines," Jacobson said. "The bottom line is that the home user needs to be educated about the potential dangers of peer-to-peer networking."

The hearing is the second on peer-to-peer networks. The first was held in mid-June and dealt with personal and national security risks that the networks pose. Jacobson will be making his first appearance before a senate committee. He was asked to testify because of his company's research and because, as a professor, researcher, and entrepreneur, his background is more balanced than others working in this field.

"The chance to help the Senate understand this issue is very exciting," he said. "It's also a great opportunity to show some of the research strength of Iowa State's engineering college."

Note: A transcription of Jacobson's testimony will be available online at Tuesday at 2 pm (CDT).


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