Torrenters Beware, You're Likely Being Tracked


There aren't many people in such Internet-savvy times who would plead ignorance to ever using a BitTorrent client to download pirated music, video or programs. But even so, our behaviour online is likely drawing us a whole lot of unwanted attention from copyright-enforcement agencies, according to a new study by a group of computer security researchers from the University of Birmingham.

Announcing their findings at this week's SecureComm conference in Padua, Italy, the group says it has discovered “massive monitoring” on file-sharing websites such as The Pirate Bay, and also noted that anyone downloading a torrent file could have their IP address (a unique identifier for every device connected to the Internet) logged by those 'watching', usually a copyright-enforcement agency, within a space of just three hours.

The group explains its methodology in its presentation paper, where they describe how they set up their very own “indirect monitoring client” and then proceeded to monitor and log all connections made to it. The research found about 10 different monitoring firms logging content, with everything from copyright-enforcement agencies, security firms and other researchers accounted for. Each was found to be concentrating its respective monitoring efforts on the 'Top 100' torrents within each of the main categories (whether film or music) only. “This implies that copyright enforcement agenies are monitoring only the most popular content on public trackers,” the team says in the paper.

Such monitoring systems will not differentiate between heavy users and first-time BitTorrent users, either. As Tom Chothia of the group explains, “Almost everyone that shares popular films and music illegally will be connected to by a monitor and will have their IP address logged.”

The team speculates the kind of monitoring seen today on such sites has been going on for at least three years. Which makes us wonder, exactly what is it the enforcement agencies who employ such tactics are doing with the masses of data they've gathered? Are they biding their time until a major crackdown on only the most prolific of BitTorrent users? Better start getting your head down.

Richard Birkett