Researchers at Delft University of Technology have taken up the ambitious challenge of creating a BitTorrent client which secures the privacy of its users. Their Tribler client is already completely decentralized, meaning it will still work even in the event that all BitTorrent sites are shut down. Anonymity is the next big step in its evolution. “We’re going to take Internet privacy to the next level,” the lead researcher says about the upcoming release.
BitTorrent users are increasingly looking for more anonymity but right now their options are limited.
For a monthly fee they can sign up with a VPN or proxy to hide their IP-address. Free options with decent speeds or without other restrictions aren’t easily available.
This lack of fast, unlimited and free anonymous BitTorrent options is what the Tribler team at Delft University of Technology are hoping to change. Their Tribler client has been around for more than half a decade already, and during that time it’s developed into the only truly decentralized BitTorrent client out there.
Unlike traditional BitTorrent clients, Tribler does not rely on central servers or third-party sites. Users can search, download and moderate files from within the application itself, based on pure peer-to-peer communication. Quite a remarkable achievement, but it’s also just the beginning for the research team.
During a talk at the Stanford University this week, Dr. Johan Pouwelse talked about the past and the future of Tribler, announcing the ambitious play to add make BitTorrent transfers more private.
Talking to TorrentFreak, Pouwelse explained that the idea is to add a proxy layer where proxies act as “caches” of content. This can hugely improve downloads speeds, but also makes BitTorrent downloads more private.
“Our goal is to provide all users with the download speed which today can only be found in private BitTorrent communities, combined with the privacy that is currently only offered by paid VPN services,” said Pouwelse.
BitTorrent With a Proxy Layer
The Tribler team has been perfecting the technology for years and it’s expected to be released in two or three months. Initial tests show that even with the added anonymity, people don’t have to sacrifice speed at all. Quite the contrary.
“Experimental results have shown that the performance of the proposed mechanism is better than that of regular BitTorrent in a large number of scenarios. At the same time, the proxy layer can be used to offer the users a shield of plausible deniability enhancing their privacy,” Pouwelse told us.
With the new code Tribler says it outperforms other clients such as uTorrent in download speeds. Ultimately, the researchers hope to compete with on-demand video services such as YouTube.
“BitTorrent has served us well for 11 years, but modern features such as YouTube-like easy streaming, sharing of your 1 Terabyte harddisk and solid anonymity are needed. The BitTorrent protocol simply does not scale to safe private sharing of 1 Terabyte, which would begin to bridge the gap between the wealth of content on YouTube versus the weak archive capability of BitTorrent.”
Helped by money from European tax payers, the “understaffed” team say they are now at a point where Tribler can compete with some of the fastest centralized services. Their P2P streaming technology is currently under consideration to become an official Internet standard and is being actively tested by major broadcasting companies including the BBC.
The Tribler proxy layer is expected to be implemented this fall, but those who want to give the current version of Tribler a spin are welcome download it here. The client is completely Open Source and has a version for Windows, Mac and Linux.