Research Exposes Risks for BitTorrent Seeders

A recently published paper found that it is relatively easy to expose BitTorrent's biggest content providers. The researchers were able to identify 70% of the initial seeds of publicly available torrent files that were uploaded to The Pirate Bay, something that might peek the interest of the entertainment industry.

It is no secret that BitTorrent users publicly share their IP-address when they share something. This is how anti-piracy outfits collect info for their takedown requests, and how some copyright holders use the information to demand cash from claimed infringers.

Less known is the fact that the people who are adding content – the initial seeders – can also be exposed quite easily. With this info copyright holders could potentially track down the big uploaders that are responsible for providing the content which goes on to be distributed among millions of people, and take action against them.

TorrentFreak spoke with Arnaud Legout, one of the researchers who examined how easy it is to spy on BitTorrent users. “Our goal is to make the privacy issues associated with BitTorrent usage public,” he said. “BitTorrent is truly one of the most beautiful, elegant, and efficient protocols ever designed. However, it has never been designed with privacy in mind.”

Legout and his colleagues found that spying on BitTorrent users is relatively easy and cheap. “We showed that anybody can monitor tens of millions of BitTorrent users in real time from a single machine and with a xDSL connection,” he told us.

The researchers also found that pinpointing the IP-addesses that make files available (initial seeds) is relatively easy to do. “We were able to identify 70% of the initial seeds for all the contents uploaded to The Pirate Bay in one month,” Legout told us, adding that they could have achieved a much higher percentage if they further refined their techniques.

The researchers were able to find the initial uploaders by quickly jumping on new torrents that were added on The Pirate Bay. This allowed them to grab the IP-addresses of the ‘content providers’.

Another interesting detail that the research revealed is that the majority of all the uploaded content originates from a small group of users. The Pirate Bay has millions of users, but only 100 IP-addresses are responsible for seeding 30% of the material uploaded to The Pirate Bay. The top 1000 IP-addresses are the ‘content providers’ of 60% of the torrents.

Taken together, this means that anti-piracy outfits could quite easily track down the biggest providers of copyrighted material, instead of just going after regular sharers.

Although most of these top providers do not use their home connection but high bandwidth seedboxes instead, shutting these down through legal action might hinder the distribution of copyrighted material.

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