Is it safe to watch the news at work?

A readers discovers a worrisome truth about CNN's video plug-in

The inauguration apparently brought with it a host of security worries. Everyone heard about the Secret Service's troubles securing D.C. against the millions who wanted to be there for a moment of history. And the security hang-ups over Obama's BlackBerry have been well-reported. But one of Gripe Line's own experienced a lesser-known security issue with one of the tools used to broadcast that event.

"I am a regular viewer of CCN news video feed," writes David. "I came across a new plug-in being offered through video feeds on their site. The plug-in is the Octoshape Grid Adobe Flash Plug-in. Since this is CNN, I clicked to install it. I also took the time to Google the plug-in to make sure it was legit and proceeded with the install. I also read the licensing agreement before continuing with the install. I am very happy I did read that agreement. It turns out that this piece of software is peer-to-peer. It is dangerous in the extreme for businesses to allow peer-to-peer tools on their systems and I was shocked that an organization like CNN would offer this as a seemingly harmless and innocuous enhancement to their video viewing experience. I've included an excerpt of the license agreement below."

Accordingly, you hereby grant permission for Octoshape and other end users of the Software to utilize and share the processor and bandwidth of your personal computer system for the limited purpose of facilitating the communication between you and other end users of the Software, including Octoshape.

David continues, "I feel that the dangers of this kind of software in a corporate environment are too numerous and well-known for me to list here. I have never been a fan of peer-to-peer software for what I feel are the obvious and inherent security risks. Using Windows is bad enough without installing additional risk vectors."

David concludes that his main gripe is not the fact that this software is peer-to-peer. His gripe is that CNN failed to inform him of this fact. As David points out, "You have to read the license agreement to realize what you are actually installing and -- in reality -- who does that?"

David raises a good point. And I fear it is one that will resurface again and again as media outlets aim to deliver streaming video to huge audiences at political and sports events. Personally, I enjoyed watching the inauguration on CNN Live with all my Facebook friends. I apparently (without reading the EULA) installed this plug-in to do it.

And CNN is hardly the only place you will find the Octoshape tool. According to Octoshape's site, Turner Broadcasting -- a major producer of news and video around the world -- is working with Octoshape on a "variety of projects, including the world wide webcast of live in high quality." Many European broadcasting companies are using the plug-in, and if you have watched a sports event through NBA League Pass, you've encountered it there, too.

But is it a security risk?

I understand that BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer programs have raised security concerns because of the malware you might end up by using them. But those programs require that you download the file before you can use it. Octoshape is not your mother's peer-to-peer software. In fact, it has been heavily vetted by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) -- the largest professional association of national broadcasters in the world. A technical review by same is posted at Octoshape's Web site. It says, "To guarantee security in all senses, Octoshape has taken a number of steps including technologies that are well known from Internet banking: the plug-in runs in a secure 'sandbox' and there are automatic updates, encryption etc. Furthermore, only communication verified by a central server is allowed."

But of course, the security of the tool is not really David's gripe. He wanted to be told clearly that this was a peer-to-peer plug-in. But he had to dig into the EULA for that bit of intelligence. Fair enough.

Still that does beg the question: Are you watching TV broadcasts at work, David?

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