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Tapping Hackers' 'Phones'

By indexing IRC traffic, startup threatens privacy on hackers' favorite communications network

Businesses have email, teenagers have MySpace, video lovers have YouTube. If you're a hacker, though, your "net" is Internet Relay Chat -- sort of a techie version of IM that allows many anonymous users to talk to each other simultaneously.

Hackers favor IRC because it allows them to protect their identities and cover their tracks. But a new search engine startup called IRSeek is now calling those features into question.

According to a report, IRSeek is attempting to build an IRC search engine, which would enable users to find topics of interest or do a recursive search through old chats.

In order to build the search engine, though, IRSeek is indexing more than 6 million IRC conversations a day, effectively "listening" to more than 2,000 channels across 10 networks, the report says. IRSeek's Website doesn't confirm these numbers, but it does show what the organization is doing with IRC search.

This could all be bad news for hackers, who don't want their conversations indexed or searchable by nickname. While they could partially beat the system by simply changing their nicknames frequently, hackers may eventually feel that IRSeek threatens their anonymity, and ultimately, their privacy.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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