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An invincible file-sharing platform? You can’t be serious

A new version of the peer-to-peer sharing application Tribler has created a buzz online following claims by the software’s lead developer that the app is impervious to attack. In a recent interview with…

Treats are great to share, provided you have the owner’s permission. Kalexanderson

A new version of the peer-to-peer sharing application Tribler has created a buzz online following claims by the software’s lead developer that the app is impervious to attack.

In a recent interview with TorrentFreak, Dr Johan Pouwelse from the Delft University of Technology, said “the only way to take [Tribler] down is to take the internet down”.

Tribler has been in development for five years and, as with many other file-sharing applications, is based on the BitTorrent protocol. But unlike other BitTorrent platforms, Tribler is a decentralised system that works without the need for torrent sites – lists of links to files available for download through the BitTorrent protocol – and trackers. Instead, Tribler has been designed to search the internet for hosts that contain the desired files.

Dr Pouwelse’s claims of Tribler’s invincibility are simply amazing. If he is to be believed, peer-to-peer file-sharers finally have a tool that can’t be turned off nor attacked by government and the music and movie industry.

Sadly, these are difficult claims to take seriously.

In the 1980s and 90s, music and movie companies flooded the internet with hosts containing music and movies that had been altered from their original form. The aim was to trick users into wasting time and bandwidth downloading a file that wasn’t the file they were looking for.

One way files could be modified was with the addition of a cuckoo egg (as we all know, the cuckoo lays its eggs in another bird’s nest to trick the victim bird into tending the cuckoo egg).

A cuckoo egg is a file that looks the same as the file a user is searching for – in filename and filesize – but is actually a totally different file.

Tribler makes great claims … and is popular. tribler.org

Watermarks can also be added to music and movies, allowing the files to be tracked across the network. This allows organisations such as PeerMedia Technologies – who provide this service to the music and movie industries – to identify people who have breached copyright.

As countries move towards implementing traffic filters and systems to prevent cyberattack, it has become easier to identify and then disrupt, stop or distort Tribler traffic streams.

The process of distorting, altering or substituting a different stream is not complex and in some ways may occur much as a “man-in-the-middle attack” is used to penetrate secure systems. (In such an attack, a third party intercepts traffic between two users, creating a fake stream of data, while making one – or both – users believe they are communicating with the other).

Another approach is to filter the Tribler stream and if a copyrighted music or video stream is found, the source and destination IP addresses could be added to a blacklist, blocked by filters or blocked from essential network services such as the Domain Name System (DNS). (DNS is the service used to translate web address names – such as amazon.com – to IP addresses – such as 72.21.214.128.)

Late last year a group of Australian ISPs – including Telstra and Optus – proposed a copyright infringement policy that would allow ISPs to send users a warning after five illegal downloads. The policy lists a range of consequences for customers that fail to comply with the warning notice, such as providing the copyright holder with access to the customer’s details upon request.

Over time, we’re likely to see music, movie and media companies developing closer links with network carriers and ISPs because the internet is becoming the medium of choice for distributing this content. For carriers and ISPs, revenue from access systems is decreasing due to competition, leading to a decrease in the number of ISPs. At the same time, we’re seeing an increase in revenue from bundled products including music, movie and media distribution.

Carriers and ISPs will increasingly want to reduce the amount of pirated content on their networks as copyright infringement reduces income from customers subscribing to IPTV – television delivered over the internet – video on-demand and music-streaming services.

This symbiotic relationship between ISPs and media companies should be a cause for concern for peer-to-peer file-sharers. We shouldn’t be surprised if we even see music and movie companies buying ISPs in the near future.

Regardless, claims about Tribler’s invincibility are almost certainly overblown, and it’s clear the battle between file-sharers and copyright holders is far from over.

Join the conversation

21 Comments sorted by

  1. Donncha Redmond

    Software Developer

    "In the 1980s and 90s, music and movie companies flooded the internet with hosts containing music and movies that had been altered from their original form."

    The music companies were on the Internet in the 80s? I find that hard to believe.

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  2. Rob Abbott

    Project Manager

    This article feels like either a scare campaign, or the weak stringing of big words together by someone who really doesn’t know much…

    >Another approach is to filter the Tribler stream and if a copyrighted music or video stream is found,

    Tribler will eventually include end to end encryption making this all but impossible. However even without end to end encryption circumventing this is trivial (SSH Tunnels, Seedboxes etc.)

    > source and destination IP addresses could be added to a blacklist…

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  3. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    P2P has become an insidious disease sweeping across countries. I personally know of people who have an internet account of 500 G a month, and they can use that in just a few days downloading pirated movies and music.

    That extra traffic must be increasing the costs of operating the internet, and increasing the costs for everyone else. P2P systems can also be filled with viruses which can eventually affect everyone also.

    At the same time, pirated movies and music decreases the value of the movie…

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    1. Wally Week

      Bicycle Engineer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      No offence, but this statement 'That extra traffic must be increasing the costs of operating the internet, and increasing the costs for everyone else.' makes no sense at all from the technical point of view.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Wally Week

      Wally
      Ultimately, nothing is free.

      More powerfull and more expensive servers, routers and communication lines are needed just to transfer pirated music and movies.

      That eventually costs everyone money

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    3. Wally Week

      Bicycle Engineer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I am not here to educate anybody how computer networks work, but that is incorrect. In short, buying additional computer network components is mainly determined by the number of people accessing the Internet, not by the volume of data of existing ones.

      And from the business point of view, your logic is also questionable, as it would cost less to access the Internet to those people not downloading big files (those that you only attribute to copyright infringement) because they would go with the lower Internet access plans. Just look at how the prices of Internet access per GB plans have decreased in the recent years.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Wally Week

      Wally,
      If I get an internet account from some company, I am also paying for the more powerful and more expensive communications systems that company uses to enable other clients to download pirated movies and software.

      Eventually the movie and music industry can also run out of steam supplying movies and music for free, and the whole system comes crashing down.

      You could make a movie or some music, and pay for the costs yourself, and then give it away for free, and see how long you can remain viable.

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    5. Con Zymaris

      Untethered Polymath

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      this is an economy of scale issue. In essence, the more users, the more data, the cheaper that bandwidth becomes. As someone who has had Internet access since 1989, I can confirm that the price paid for an IP link now is orders of magnitude less than what was paid 20+ years ago.

      I commend the following articles which, may explain economies of scale:

      - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economies_of_scale
      - http://www.economist.com/node/12446567

      You also state:

      "Eventually the movie…

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Con Zymaris

      Con
      I would think the internet account companies are very much implicated. They would obviously know that many (or most) of their clients are downloading pirated movies, music and software. I don’t download anything pirated, and would barely use 100 MB a month, and someone comes along and wants a private internet account for 500 GB a month.

      There is a style of thinking that everything on the internet should be for free, because it creates more freedom and democracy.

      Ha ha.

      What it does…

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    7. Con Zymaris

      Untethered Polymath

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      the facts don't seem to agree with your synopsis.

      That models of production, distribution and monetization are changing is not in dispute.

      That the 'larger multinational companies dominate even further' does not appear to be the case.

      Witness the rapid growth in free culture:

      - http://www.fsf.org/about/
      - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_culture_movement
      - http://www.free-culture.cc/freeculture.pdf

      And open source software:

      - http://sourceforge.net/
      - https://github.com/

      And user generated content:

      - http://www.wikipedia.org/
      - http://creativecommons.org/
      - http://search.creativecommons.org/

      And open science:

      - http://www.plos.org/

      -- Con

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    8. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Con Zymaris

      Con,
      I have been involved with open source, and also involved in producing software for sale.

      Open source is slow to develop, and much of it never gets past beta. People don’t here about many open source projects because they die so quickly. It is only when a major company begins to sponsor an open source project does it seem to get going (eg Google and Android, but I wouldn’t trust Google that much or say it is overly democratic)

      You would also be surprised what people will do to avoid paying a few dollars for some software, and then go to the corner shop and buy $10 worth of junk food.

      That is the type of mentality that is now developing.

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    9. Con Zymaris

      Untethered Polymath

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      you claim:

      "Open source is slow to develop, and much of it never gets past beta. People don’t here about many open source projects because they die so quickly."

      Do you have any evidence to back these assertions up?

      Do you have further evidence that the proportion of sub-par or orphaned open source projects/products is higher than that for non-open source (proprietary) products?

      Do you have corresponding evidence that proprietary products are brought to market faster than open…

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    10. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Con Zymaris

      Con,
      I am using a system called Phonegap, which was (and maybe still is) open source. Phonegap is a good idea, and probably the future for mobile apps, but it sat on beta for over a year. Now the main company behind Phonegap has been bought by Adobe.

      I don’t want Adobe involved, but maybe they will finally get Phonegap past beta.

      The open source systems you get to hear about are just the top of the pyramid. Hundreds fall beside the wayside because they didn’t get enough money to keep going.

      There are people who believe pirating is actually good, because they think it defeats evil capitalism and faceless multi-national corporate giants. What it actually does is wipe out the small players, and leaves the field open to capitalists and faceless multi-national corporate giants.

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    11. Con Zymaris

      Untethered Polymath

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      the importance of free and open source software for users is that, *if* there exists a need, there *is* the potential to continue (or resuscitate development of) a codebase. This means that any important-enough application will not be orphaned. This assertion cannot be made with a proprietary codebase.

      Fundamentally, it's not about 'money', but about there being enough user interest to maintain an open codebase. While money helps, it's not the sole and often not the primary contributor…

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    12. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Con Zymaris

      Con,
      I am well aware of Phonegap, and Adobe is now integrating Phonegap straight into some of its software.

      Nothing is free, and without money coming in, open source eventually collapses.

      The point is, the more people keep pirating, the more likely it wipes out the small players, and leaves the field open to the faceless multi-national corporates.

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    13. Con Zymaris

      Untethered Polymath

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      you continue to make broad, sweeping statements, such as:

      "Nothing is free, and without money coming in, open source eventually collapses."

      without supporting evidence for your claims. If you want to be taken seriously in these forums, please lift your game.

      I've given you example after example of things which are free (as in cost) as well as free (as in freedom), yet you're stuck repeating this mantra.

      Open source software, free culture and the creative commons have shown that…

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    14. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Con Zymaris

      Con,
      Sorry now, I don't reply to insults.

      See ya.

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    15. Alex A. Sanchez

      Post-Doc in Clinical Psychology

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,
      I agree with you that it is frustrating that so many young people today believe that all media content should be available for free. However, that was an unfair attack you made on teachers and the education system.
      1) How many teachers do you know that encourage students to pirate teaching materials from the Internet? I'm willing to bet that it in not a significant enough number as to affect the rate of pirating.
      2) Obtaining media content from the Internet does not give teachers "less" to teach. Yes, it does make their jobs easier (especially considering that many teachers are paying for teaching materials out of their own pockets), but it does not lessen the responsibilities that they are paid to meet . Your comment unfairly implies that teachers are lazy- a conclusion that that my extensive experience have taught me is false.

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  4. tqft

    logged in via Twitter

    "This symbiotic relationship between ISPs and media companies should be a cause for concern for peer-to-peer file-sharers."
    It should be a cause for concern for everyone.

    No your kids can't watch the Disney channel as we have TeenyToons from our partner for them.

    All your internet access from News Corp? No ABC.net.au for you.

    It is bad enough in Australia now with the limits on what and when movies, dvds, books and tv shows are released down here (if at all).

    IRC, usenet, darknets if you can get unfiltered access at all. If the media companies up the ante in this war, they will lose. Ask Sony about their exclusive access to the $250m Michael Jackson back catalouge.

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  5. Marilyn Shepherd

    pensioner

    The thing is that since the very first method of recording and taping people all over the world have been capable of copying and recopying hundreds or even thousands of copies of anything they want.

    Why is file sharing any different.

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  6. Niels Zeilemaker

    PHD student @ TUDelft/Tribler

    I would like to comment on this post as it contains some flaws. I work for the Tribler team and are actively involved with the implementation of the client.

    Let me make a small correction on the cuckoo egg part of your post. In Tribler we are using Channels to discover new content. Users vote on these channels, resulting in some being popular while others are not.
    If any company/person would like to start distributing cuckook eggs in our network, then we would expect that not many people would…

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