Hackers who intercepted e-mail from MediaDefender Inc., a firm that tries to stymie unauthorized downloading of songs and movies on behalf of record companies and Hollywood film studios, have released hundreds of megabytes of data on the Internet.
The hackers, who identified themselves as "MediaDefender-Defenders," over the weekend posted a 700-plus-megabyte file of e-mails and an audio recording of what appears to be a 25-minute conference call between MediaDefender executives and law enforcement officials.
Some of the leaked e-mails appeared to bolster the idea that MediaDefender was secretly operating a Web site where computer users could upload videos and using it to track users who shared copyrighted files without permission, allegations that surfaced in recent months among technology bloggers and the online file-sharing community.
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The company has denied running such a site. But at least one of the leaked e-mails appears to be a discussion about using the Web site, Miivi.com, to load software onto users' computers that would relay bogus files and clutter file-sharing networks, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Some of the e-mails reviewed by the Associated Press that were said to have been intercepted from MediaDefender featured communications between the company and record labels such as EMI Music and Universal Music Group. Some of the missives also included confidential information.
By releasing the e-mails, the hackers intended to "secure the privacy and personal integrity" of the millions of computer users who tap online file-sharing networks, and "create a viable defense to the tactics used by these companies," according to a document included with the e-mail file.
Gary Maier, a spokesman for Santa Monica-based MediaDefender's parent company, ArtistDirect Inc., said the company was investigating the incident. He declined to provide additional details, referring further questions to executives at MediaDefender, who were not immediately available.
The entertainment industry has been struggling to combat online piracy as the growth of computer bandwidth has enabled people to transfer huge amounts of data faster and faster.
The group claimed to have gained access to e-mails over a nine-month period after hacking into a Gmail account where one of MediaDefender's employees had forwarded his work messages. The e-mails often included several recipients, among them a Jay Mairs.
Some included mundane exchanges, such as one employee's plea for a leave of absence to go to India, and some contained sensitive company information such as details of MediaDefender's dealings with clients and passwords to access private Web sites.
One e-mail sent to Mairs and other employees described to colleagues how to log onto a company database, noting the password is: "tac0b3LL."
The leak sent the tech blogosphere into overdrive. By Monday afternoon, excerpts were posted on Web sites such as Torrentfreak.com and Digg.com.
Computer users on file-sharing networks have offered for free entire music albums ripped from new CDs and movies ripped off DVDs or digitized after they've been surreptitiously recorded in theaters.
Many independent artists post their own music on such networks. But the major record labels have sued thousands of computer users in recent years to deter the unauthorized sharing of their content.
Nearly 10 million computers users are logged on to file-sharing networks at any given time, with more than 1 billion audio tracks swapped every month, according to BigChampagne Online Media Measurement, which tracks online entertainment and file-sharing activity.
MediaDefender stepped into the fray seven years ago, using a bevy of tactics to disrupt the illegal use of online file-sharing networks.
The company has used several techniques, including flooding networks with bogus versions of content, which can make it tougher for computer users to find the file they're looking for.
The private information in the e-mails included an exchange that appears to involve a Universal Music executive, in which the executive's name and passwords into a file transfer site were included.
In the e-mail, Christopher J. Bell, of Universal Music's eLabs unit, points Mairs and another MediaDefender employee to a Universal Music Web site, including the user name, "elabs02," and the password: "GuE55!"
Universal declined to comment.
A call to EMI was not immediately returned.
MediaDefender appears to have also been helping law enforcement find computer users sharing child pornography online.
In the audio file purported to be a phone call involving MediaDefender employees, one speaker expresses concern over the security of the company's e-mail system and the company's work aiding "the State of New York and the Attorney General's office in a child porn investigation of global scale."