The Register Misunderstands BitTorrent Encryption

from the it's-about-throttling dept

The Register recently had a story about an explosion of encrypted BitTorrent traffic. They speculate that this is an attempt to evade the recording industry and law enforcement officials who are cracking down on illegal file sharing. But as TorrentFreak explains, El Reg is fundamentally misunderstanding the rationale for BitTorrent encryption. The whole point of BitTorrent is its ability to share files with complete strangers. Copyright holders can connect to BitTorrent swarms as easily as anyone else can, and encryption won't stop them from determining the IP addresses of the other swarm participants. Rather, the goal of BitTorrent encryption is to obfuscate BitTorrent traffic and thereby make it harder for ISPs to detect. This feature was added to a number BitTorrent clients after some ISPs started throttling BitTorrent connections to save bandwidth. The encrypted network connections are harder to identify as BitTorrent streams, and therefore are harder to block. But that brings up another puzzling thing about the Register story that TorrentFreak points out: since the whole point of BitTorrent encryption is to avoid identification as BitTorrent traffic, how does the Register know the traffic it's seeing is BitTorrent traffic and not something else? Of course, it's quite possible that a lot of BitTorrent users are making the mistake the Register did, wrongly assuming that using encryption will keep them safe from the prying eyes of the recording industry. It won't, but there might be users who use the encryption features hoping that it will.

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Comments on “The Register Misunderstands BitTorrent Encryption”

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Joseph J. Frazier says:

Anonymous Sources

since the whole point of BitTorrent encryption is to avoid identification as BitTorrent traffic, how does the Register know the traffic it’s seeing is BitTorrent traffic and not something else?

The article claims that they got their information from some large unnamed ISP (that apparently supposedly has the ability to crack encrypted traffic at will). I have my doubts about uncorroborated news stories based on anonymous sources.

Anonymous Coward says:

Note the story starts with info from ISPs regarding Bit Torrent usage so it’s clear that the point is stoppng Bit Torrent which tey so-far can’t do if it is masked “The number of file-sharers disguising their BitTorrent activity with encryption is skyrocketing.”

Then just over halfway down the first page we get the RiAA connection and obviously they want to identify BitTorrent and throttle it “..Many ISPs, including BT here and Comcast in the US, have now deployed the kit to help throttle the amount of bandwidth consumed by P2P…”

If you’d read the story properly you wouldn’t be so confused/outraged. There’s only a couple of comments in the whole article about DPI and inability to look inside encrypted packets which are confusing but that’s probably just a bad edit rather than a “fundamental missunderstanding”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If you’d read the story properly you wouldn’t be so confused/outraged.

If the author didn’t write what they meant to then the fault lies with the author, not the reader. Which raises another question: How do you know the author didn’t mean what they wrote? Are you the author in question?

Max Powers at (user link) says:

I still say trust no one

I don’t believe anything is safe from “prying eyes” whether using encryption with BitTorrent or anything else. Does BitTorrent encryption really make it that much harder for ISP’s to identify? Maybe, I really don’t know for a fact but how can you possibly think that no one could be watching?

I too view reporting from anonymous sources and nothing else a bit suspect.

ScytheNoire (user link) says:

Learn to use technology

Lee is correct that encryption is to avoid traffic being blocked or throttled down, although some ISP’s are using overly agressive tactics that mess with traffic other than P2P programs. Not only that, but I know of companies that use P2P types of traffic to distribute their product. Many do so, legally, yet these draconian ISP’s don’t understand the value of P2P technology and it’s legal uses.

If someone wanted to block traffic from the MAFIAA (RIAA, MPAA and such organization), they would be using an IP Filter List (Google Bluetack).

Hughe Fann says:

Too bad...

Its too bad that the RIAA, etc are driving out Bit Torrent, et al. it just gives foreign companies a chance to startup sites like this and take it away from US control. In the end its only RIAA, et al are the losers.

With more and more servers being overseas, the US have given up control over all these sites to other people thereby having no more control.

Great job in shooting yourself in your own foot!

Anonymous Coward says:

Torrent Encryption

Protocol Encryption is meant to hide P2P traffic ( not just BitTorrent) from ISPs that prefer to throttle traffic than increase their capacity. It has absolutely no impact on (in-)security, since all related packet data is left untouched.

More on protocol encryption for BitTorrent can be found on

Jack Sparrow says:


HI mates!!!
Amazing how some ones have the capacity of doing wrong statements. Hehehehehehe!

All right, all right, they measure bittorrent traffic, where they cannot see anything else of a set of “scramble-out-of-sense-data” gi’me a breack!

Well, I’m going now cos I must to send my letter to Santa and put my socks on the fireplace 🙂


Negative (user link) says:


PeerGuardian, although it is a useful tool, does about as much good as encryption . Yes, it blocks connection attempts from “bad” IPs, but when a company is based on anti-p2p, you can bet that they get all new IP addresses EVERYDAY to facilitate their evil practices. I see PG2 as an information tool rather than some kind of protection.
And I use encryption not because I think Im pulling the wool over my ISPs eyes, but because I get better speeds because they throttle bittorent and it would be the day hell froze over that they could get away with blocking all encrypted traffic. Although, they would love it if that was the case.

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