Is Bittorrent Safe?
The question of safety is often foremost in one’s mind when they discover a new technology; Bittorrent is no exception. As a massively adopted new technology that blurs the line between freedom and crime, the question of safety takes many forms and is one that must be explored.
What is Bittorrent?
Bittorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing technology. Files are transferred between participants by connecting to what is known as a ‘swarm’. It is a decentralized filesharing protocol in which the bandwidth burden of downloading a specific file is shared among all participants who possess the entire file, or even pieces of the file. Because the workload is distributed among the entire bittorrent community, files can be shared extremely fast and efficiently.
Is Bittorrent Legal?
The technology itself is legal and in fact was initially designed for distributing research data among many participants. Because of it’s decentralized and efficient nature, however, the protocol has become widely adopted for the distribution and downloading of pirated or copywrited materials. Because Bittorrent is a decentralized network, there is no single company or organization that can be targeted to disrupt copyright infringement. The responsibility to use the technology legally falls on the Bittorrent user, not the technology itself.
Bittorrent Safety Concerns…
Because Bittorrent is such a versatile technology, it also presents a number of personal security concerns, including personal privacy as well as questions of legal liability.
The Dangers of Using Bittorrent:
1. Anonymity and Personal Privacy
In the company of over 200 million users worldwide, it’s easy to feel anonymous when using Bittorrent. The reality, however, is that the activities of the vast majority of Bittorrent users is easily tracked. Nearly everyone with a home internet connection has a unique identifying address known as an IP address. Any server or internet technology to which we connect online has access to our IP address. It tells them where exactly to send the digital information we exchange. This address can literally be traced right back to our home address. Your IP address is visible to every user that you connect to in the Bittorrent swarm. 99.99% of those users have no interest in your IP address whatsoever, however there are two types of people who may use your IP information to target you: Patent Trolls and Hackers.
2. Security Risk (Hackers)
An IP address is all that is required to locate someone’s computer digitally and attempt to hack it. While the percentage of Bittorrent users that are hackers is extremely low, the percentage of hackers that are Bittorrent users is extremely high, so it is possible that someone could choose to target you after joining your Bittorrent swarm. If motivated by personal gain, the hacker’s most likely objective would be stealing personal data such as financial records, personal passwords, etc. While personal antivirus and firewall software is effective at blocking automated security attacks like viruses, they will likely only delay a proficient hacker. The reality is that such an attack is extremely unlikely, and you could easily be targeted whether or not you use Bittorrent, but it is certainly one more avenue of exposure to a digital security breach and should not be overlooked.
3. Legal Risk (Patent Trolls)
If you elect to use Bittorrent for the purpose of copyright infringement, the greatest risk you face (and usually the one most overlooked) is Legal Risk. Because the users themselves are also the ones distributing the files (your files are shared with the swarm even as you download them) the end user is also the one with the greatest legal liability. Bittorrent related lawsuits are on the rise, and increasing numbers of media companies are systematically targeting copyright violators with lawsuits. The lawsuits are usually initiated with a settlement offer of between two and five thousand dollars for the infringing download. These tactics have proved relatively successful and have been used for several companies as alternative revenue streams rather than purely as a theft deterrent. While only about 1% of Bittorrent users has been targeted with a lawsuit, this number is higher in the U.S. because our justice system enforces intellectual property laws more stringently than less developed nations. Making a personal choice not to download copyrighted files with Bittorrent is the only sure way to avoid legal issues, but the risks of a lawsuit can be greatly reduced through the use of a Private VPN, which allows the user access the internet through an encrypted connection using an alternate, anonymous IP address.