by Timothy Lee
Fri, Nov 9th 2007 6:20pm
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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