Feeds

Researchers spy on BitTorrent users in real-time

User uploads and downloads revealed

The essential guide to IT transformation

Researchers have devised a way to monitor BitTorrent users over long stretches of time, a feat that allows them to map the internet addresses of individuals and track the content they are sending and receiving.

In a paper presented earlier this week at the Usenix Workshop on Large-Scale Exploits and Emergent Threats, the researchers demonstrated how they used the technique to continuously spy on BitTorrent users for 103 days. They collected 148 million IP addresses and identified 2 billion copies of downloads, many of them copyrighted.

The researchers, from the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control, also identified the IP addresses where much of the content originated. They discovered the the vast majority of the material on BitTorrent started with a relatively small number of individuals.

"We do not claim that it is easy to stop those content providers from injecting content into BitTorrent," they wrote. "However, it is striking that such a small number of content providers triggers billions of downloads. Therefore, it is surprising that the anti-piracy groups try to stop millions of downloaders instead of a handful of content providers."

The researchers said the information leak is built in to the very core of most BitTorrent systems, including those used by ThePirateBay and IsoHunt. They support commands such as "scrape-all" and "announce started/stopped," which when used repeatedly can be used to identify the IP addresses where content originates or is being distributed once it has proliferated.

By collecting more than 1.4 million unique .torrent files, they were able to identify specific pieces of content being distributed by particular IP addresses. The results are about 70 percent accurate.

"At any moment in time for 103 days, we were spying on the distribution of between 500 and 750K contents," they wrote. "In total, we collected 148M IP addresses distributing 1.2M contents, which represents 2 billion copies of content."

The insecurities baked into BitTorrent allowed the researchers to discover IP addresses even when they were hidden behind the Tor anonymity service. It should be pointed out that this isn't the fault of Tor, which has long urged people to refrain from using BitTorrent over the virtual privacy tunnels. In light of the new research, project managers renewed that admonition on Thursday.

"The BitTorrent protocol is vulnerable to tampering by malicious parties," Jacob Appelbaum, a full-time developer for Tor volunteer wrote in an email to El Reg. "This is not so different than when you're using Tor or on any other internet connection. If someone wants to tamper, there's nothing in the protocol to stop the tampering."

A PDF of the paper is here. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
KER-CHING! CryptoWall ransomware scam rakes in $1 MEEELLION
Anatomy of the net's most destructive ransomware threat
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?