BitTorrent Encryption Confuses the BPI, ISPs and Journalists Who Don’t Research

A recently published article by The Register claims that an increase in encrypted BitTorrent traffic is due to the fact that people want to hide or scramble the files they are sharing. Apparently some tech journalists, and in particular the anti-piracy organizations, have no clue what BitTorrent encryption actually does.

Encrypted BitTorrent traffic now accounts for 40% of all BitTorrent traffic in the UK according to the article. The Register claims that filesharers use encryption to scramble their data so they can protect themselves from being caught, and the comments from a music industry representative make it seem like people can indeed hide what they are sharing. Unfortunately, none of it is true

This is what Matt Phillips, of the record industry trade association the British Phonographic Institute told the Register: “Our internet investigations team, internet service providers and the police are well aware of encryption technology: it’s been around for a long time and is commonplace in other areas of internet crime. It should come as no surprise that if people think they can hide illegal activity they will attempt to.”

So if it’s not hiding anything, why do people use BitTorrent encryption then?

I’ll try to explain it once more to the BPI, IFPI and RIAA and some tech journalists, just so they don’t embarrass themselves again in the future. BitTorrent encryption has nothing to do with hiding the data you’re sharing, it only hides the fact that you’re using BitTorrent to do so.

Encryption was designed to prevent ISPs from throttling BitTorrent traffic, which they started doing approximately 2 years ago. ISPs use so called traffic shaping devices to identify and slow down BitTorrent traffic because it takes up a lot of bandwidth (read: costs a lot of money). BitTorrent encryption, which is now supported by all the popular BitTorrent clients, hides the protocol header. As a result, these devices can’t detect that someone is using BitTorrent and you can download at full speed.

So, encryption does not hide the actual data people are sharing, everyone can still connect to a BitTorrent swarm, record your IP-address, and send you an infringement notice.

Now back to the claim that 40% of the BitTorrent traffic is encrypted in the UK. My first question would be, how do they know that it’s BitTorrent traffic if it’s encrypted? Apart from that I think 40% is a little too high, unless the ISP that reported the data is throttling BitTorrent traffic of course. We’ve been tracking the number of people who actually use encryption and it is currently slightly below 10%. It could be of course that these people are responsible for 40% of the traffic, but I seriously doubt that.

Bottom line is, anti-piracy organizations should take some time to read up on what filesharing actually is before they are going to accuse people of something, but I guess that’s wishful thinking.

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