PeerBlock is a tool which can control who can connect to your computer on the Internet. In addition to hindering monitoring by anti-P2P companies, it’s also capable of blocking malicious software. As the team is currently celebrating more than 100,000 downloads, TorrentFreak caught up with the creators for the lowdown.
Peerblock is a piece of software which lets you control who your computer communicates with on the Internet. By utilizing lists of ‘known bad’ computers, it’s possible for it to block P2P companies from monitoring a user’s file-sharing activities, along with spyware and other malicious software.
Just over a month has passed since the first stable public release of the software and PeerBlock has now managed to clock up more than 100,000 downloads. To mark this milestone, TorrentFreak caught up with Mark from the project for the lowdown.
Mark told us that the creation of PeerBlock was inspired by him upgrading his PC from 32 to 64 bit in order to utilize 6gb of RAM. Everything worked fine – until he tried to get PeerGuardian (another IP blocker) to work.
Having hacked away and jumped through hoops to get around driver-signing it would still only work half the time and often crashed without warning. As a software engineer who has worked in the commercial sector for more than 13 years, Mark – who admits to being “an arrogant bastard who truly believes he can do just about anything better than just about anybody,” decided he could find a solution. It was “put up or shut up time,” he told TorrentFreak.
Noticing that the PeerGuardian code was open-source but hadn’t been touched for a couple of years, Mark contacted another developer who had the same thing in mind, but having heard nothing back, he went at it alone.
“I started setting up a Sourceforge.net project for it so we could get free source-control, but they took too long to set it up for me so I instead created a project over at Google Code where it was ready within minutes,” he told us.
Having heard from a few people who were interested in helping out with the development side – “night_stalker_z” who’d earlier started trying to hack the PG2 code into shape, “DarC” / “DisCoStu” who wanted to help out with fixing up the installer, XhmikosR who rewrote the installer, and some testers, things moved forward.
After facing troubles due to the lack of a “signed driver” for 64-bit versions of Vista (which resulted in Mark having to set up a registered company before they were allowed to buy a $230 code-signing certificate), a couple of blogs wrote articles on PeerBlock which attracted some much-needed publicity to the project. This resulted in 10,000 downloads in just one weekend.
“We’re still getting donations from people and we now have enough to pay for next year’s annual code-signing certificate, and we’re saving up to be able to rent our own VPS with full root access etc, upon which we’ll be able to build a ‘real’ online-update system, a custom web-app to tie our forums/issue-tracker/website all together, and some other neat things,” Mark explains.
The first stable release of PeerBlock came out on September 27th, and as of November 5th had clocked up an impressive 100,000 downloads. The site now receives up to 7,000 visitors each day.
Aside from fixing one or two bugs, the team has lots of new features planned for PeerBlock. Anyone that has tried to surf the web with a blocklist in place will know how painful that can be, so PeerBlock will have some new features which allow the “whitelisting” of certain apps, such as a browser, the creation of a proxy server to let users configure PeerBlock to listen on certain ports, possibly an integral “AdMuncher” style ad-blocking feature on a per URL basis (as opposed to just an IP-address), and an encrypted chat feature.
TorrentFreak asked Mark why users should choose PeerBlock over the competition.
“Well, first off we need to ask ‘Who IS the competition?’ The only ones I’m really aware of are: Protowall by the folks over at Bluetack which is closed-source and I don’t believe was ever updated for Vista, and Outpost Firewall, which is closed-source and basically just a hack add-on to a more professional firewall product,” he responded, while noting that uTorrent’s built-in IP-filtering feature only handles one manually-updated list.
“We protect your entire machine, and give you the option to try out any P2P app you want – this freedom of choice is a very important thing, I think. And since it does everything automatically, including list-updates, it’s one less thing to think about,” he added.
Another important question relates to the blocklists that have to be used in conjunction with PeerBlock in order for it to block anything.
He told TorrentFreak that he’s a big fan of iblocklist, who serve up a staggering 10TB of blocklists every month for free. The site doesn’t create the lists, but does offer those from Bluetack, including the Level1 list (renamed to ‘P2P’ in PG2/PeerBlock, which contains both Gov and Anti-P2P IP-addresses) and others.
Mark admits that even in a best case scenario, the available blocklists aren’t 100% effective. That said, there have been studies which show that using blocklists along with software such as PeerBlock can help speed up downloads, but no-one knows how many of the potential “bad IPs” are covered by currently available blocklists.
P2P aside, Mark says there has been feedback to suggest that PeerBlock discovered a Conficker infection on a user’s machine that their anti-virus programs missed, and can also stop ads appearing in browsers that lack in-built blocking.
One other exciting thing for the future of PeerBlock is porting it to the Mac. Mark says they’re saving all the donations for additional development and this is the most-requested request right now.
Users of PeerBlock are encouraged to give as much feedback as possible to Mark’s team, via their forums, IRC (#peerblock on freenode.net) or email.
PeerBlock can be downloaded here.