Q&A: watching the BitTorrent watchers

BitTorrent users are being watched – and it’s not entirely clear by whom, according to University of Birmingham researchers.

Q&A: watching the BitTorrent watchers

If you download a file using leading BitTorrent sites, you could be under surveillance by companies looking to harvest your IP address details, according to a paper by Tom Chothia, Marco Cova, Chris Novakovic, and Camilo Gonzalez Toro.

The quartet found that anyone sharing the most popular tracks or films was likely to fall under the watchful eye of monitoring systems – potentially making file-sharing a tricky proposition for even the most casual or careful pirates.

We spoke to Dr Chothia to find out more about his research and what it means for file-sharing users.

Q. Why did you start this research?

A. It started with people getting sued [for illegal downloads] – I’m very interested in the mechanism by which that was happening. There have been questions about evidence for some time, so we really wanted to see what was exactly going on.

It started with people getting sued for illegal downloads – I’m very interested in the mechanism by which that was happening

What we did was we took a normal BitTorrent client, and we altered it. So instead of sharing files, it would just log all the connections made to it, how it worked, what other peers would connect and how they’d behave when they connected.

This is kind of similar to the tactics monitors are using themselves, where they write their own peers and record IP addresses, but as well as recording the IP addresses, we recorded their behaviour as well of all the clients we talked to, and all the patterns of what they did.

Q. And what did you find out?

A. To make it clear, we never actually shared any illegal content. But as soon as we told other peers we were sharing illegal content, we would get particular IP addresses connecting to us every few hours.

They would never share any file data. When they connected, they tell us what part of the file they had. What we were seeing is they’d connect and say “I’ve got this part of the file”, and an hour later the same peer would connect and have a different part of the file.

We saw that they never actually shared any of the files themselves, so the only possiblilty is that they’re monitoring.

Q. What information could they get on a user?

A. The main thing is the user’s IP address, so their identity, and the file the peer says it was sharing.

Q. Aside from legal action, how could this information be used?

A. This information has a marketing value as well. For instance, a company could go to a copyright holder, and as well as saying this person is illegally sharing your file, they could also say your product is really popular in this country, why not do some advertising in that country?

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos