New Research Sets The Stage For Next Round Of Cat-And-Mouse Between BitTorrent Users & Snoopers

from the don't-look-now,-you're-being-watched dept

The BitTorrent protocol is an extremely efficient way of moving files around the Internet, especially big ones. That makes it highly popular with those seeking to download unauthorized copies of music and films, for example. But the clever approach that enables BitTorrent to do that, which involves downloading fragments of a file from a shifting swarm of fellow peers holding some or all of it, is also a weakness from these users’ point of view: it means that downloads take place in public, rather than as a private transaction from a client to a server (as with cyber lockers.)

Fascinating new research entitled “The Unbearable Lightness of Monitoring: Direct Monitoring in BitTorrent” (pdf), from researchers at the University of Birmingham, explores just how public. It seeks to quantify how many peers in a swarm are actually being run by companies monitoring unauthorized downloads, and how long it takes for them to detect such activity:

From our experiments, we derived a number of interesting properties of monitoring, as it is currently performed: e.g., that monitoring is prevalent for popular content (i.e., the most popular torrents on The Pirate Bay) but absent for less popular content, and that peers sharing popular content are likely to be monitored within three hours of joining a swarm.

Many BitTorrent users are aware that such monitoring is going on, and try to avoid detection by using some kind of blocklist designed to catch peers being run by companies offering digital forensics. But if the current research is accurate, those lists have big gaps: of the peers the researchers identified as likely to be run by monitoring companies, only 69% were found on the blocklists they checked. In other words, there was nearly a one in three chance that they would not be blocked, and would therefore be able to monitor unauthorized downloads.

Despite this, one of the study’s authors, Tom Chothia, told New Scientist that file sharers needn’t be worried too much by the revelation they are being monitored — at least, not yet:

“All the monitors connected to file sharers believed to be sharing illegal content. However, they did not actually collect any of the files being shared. So it is questionable whether the observed evidence of file-sharing would stand up in court.”

More cautious users of BitTorrent may find other ways to avoid detection, using VPNs or proxies. But as Tim Lee points out, the main effect of this new analysis will probably just be an escalation of the long-standing arms race between file-sharers and copyright enforcers:

Users will presumably take advantage of the new monitor-detection techniques identified by Chothia et al to produce more accurate blocklists. Monitoring firms may respond by tweaking their monitoring clients to behave more like real clients, and by more frequently changing the subnets they use for monitoring.

And so the game of cat-and-mouse will continue.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Filed Under: ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “New Research Sets The Stage For Next Round Of Cat-And-Mouse Between BitTorrent Users & Snoopers”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
26 Comments
Rikuo (profile) says:

“Monitoring firms may respond by tweaking their monitoring clients to behave more like real clients, “

To behave more like real clients would presumably mean that they contribute to the upload/download process. Once that happens, the torrent should be considered authorized. After all, if they’re actively engaged in the sharing of the file, no court in the world should say that other people then downloading the file should then be prosecuted.

Anonymous Coward says:

“To behave more like real clients would presumably mean that they contribute to the upload/download process. Once that happens, the torrent should be considered authorized. After all, if they’re actively engaged in the sharing of the file, no court in the world should say that other people then downloading the file should then be prosecuted.”

It’s not pirating when we do it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Collateral damage is not acceptable.

The problem is that for collateral damage to actually matter they must be held accountable to at least some effective degree for that damage. The courts and law enforcement haven’t held them accountable at all. Nor have consumers to a degree sufficient enough to be considered a detriment.

Anonymous Coward says:

This quote is interesting:

“All the monitors connected to file sharers believed to be sharing illegal content. However, they did not actually collect any of the files being shared. So it is questionable whether the observed evidence of file-sharing would stand up in court.”

Mostly because they don’t know – or perhaps because this hasn’t been turned on yet. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them come to target one more compliant ISP and start running the table on file sharing.

It supports my theory: even if you go totally darknet, someone will let the cat out of the bag, a link will get out, your method will be exposed… and you can be tracked.

Anonymous Coward says:

If people insist on the use of file sharing software on the net. The news is that those groups will be monitored. News that super and giga escalations in the copyright infringing distribution of files between agents of the matrix and pirates leave the future use of the net looking less sunny.
Donkeys and mules falling into the traps of trolls similar to acs:law and righthaven, will presumably end with the same results.

NoahVail (profile) says:

The Study Authors gave some helpful info

In the study, the authors pointed out that the monitors they were tracking all resided within six AS#’d subnets.
AS23504 AS174 AS209 AS558 AS27699 AS1213

If someone compiled all the IPs in those subnets into a single block list it would contain 3128 CIDRs.
One could just block torrent traffic to those addresses until a more precise option was developed.

I’m just sayin.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...