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Researcher Proposes A Way To Block Torrent Spies

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

It is a common knowledge that copyright owners as well as industry representing organizations such as MPAA and RIAA keep an eye on movie, music and game downloads happening via torrents. These entities not only collect a wealth of information, including details like IP addresses of downloaders; they also forward it to ISPs and other agencies for punitive action. But now there might be a way to identify such torrenting spies and even bar them from collecting sensitive information. Researcher Aymeric Vitte has not only proposed a novel method of identifying torrent spies, he has also released an open source bittorrenting client (torrent-live.org) to keep torrent downloaders safe.

Unlike previous studies which relied on discovering torrent spies via bittorrenting trackers, the method proposed by Vitte uses the DHT (Distributed Hash Table) protocol along with the list of bittorrenting peers. In his research work published on GitHub, he also says that torrenting spies are highly organized and are spread across multiple levels on torrenting networks. The first few levels contain site wide torrenting spies which collect a large amount of information related to peer activity and connections. However, the most dangerous spies are often found on the next levels and even though they are far fewer in number, they are the ones designed to lure and trap torrenting users.

Vitte also mentions in his research that it is relatively easy to find torrenting spies by analyzing the torrent hash information. However, he also admits that blocking them is far more difficult since they constantly change their IP addresses. Since static blocklists are not enough to keep such spies at bay, Vitte proposes some changes to the DHT protocol which can help in safeguarding user privacy. If the changes proposed by him are implemented, automated bots won’t be able to monitor user activities on a peer-to-peer network.

In his research, Vitte also questions the legality of actions initiated against torrenting downloaders by the authorities. His research demonstrates that actions carried out by the spies themselves is highly questionable which means take down notices based on them may not be valid. He even asserts that since there is no real difference between users downloading a torrent file just to check its content and the ones who actively peer torrents, users downloading files planted by the torrenting spies should be able to defend their actions.

Till the time changes proposed by Vitte are accepted and implemented in the DHT protocol, users can rely on VPNs in order to protect their real IP addresses. If you are a prolific torrent downloader then you can even use the bittorrenting client released by Vitte. The Torrent-Live team maintains an active and dynamic blocking list which identifies and blocks IP addresses of torrent spies on a real-time basis. While the client is free, access to the blocking list is offered on a subscription basis (it costs 10 Euros per year). With Vitte’s research, it may finally be possible to download torrents without worrying about getting legal notices from copyright owners or ISPs.

August 14, 2016

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