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Microsoft censors Pirate Bay links from IM

Malware blamed – but other torrent links still allowed

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Microsoft has confirmed that users of its instant messaging app will not be able to send each other links to popular torrent site The Pirate Bay, citing malware fears.

"We block instant messages if they contain malicious or spam URLs based on intelligence algorithms, third-party sources, and/or user complaints. Pirate Bay URLs were flagged by one or more of these and were consequently blocked," Redmond told The Register in an emailed statement.

One can understand banning links to malware, even if that's something that IM providers have been less than successful at managing in the past. But Redmond's ban does rather raise the question as to why Pirate Bay has been singled out for blocking, when there are plenty of other sites to choose from, many with a much worse record for malware content than the Swedish site.

When asked about this, Microsoft declined to give any more details for their censorship choice. Certainly Pirate Bay is still the most popular torrent indexing site – even if, strictly speaking, it's not indexing torrents any more. But no security vendors with whom El Reg has spoken says it's any worse than others, and having such a large and comment-happy user base it actually provides more protection, since malware torrents are flagged-up earlier than on less-popular sites.

Torrent sites are certainly a security problem. Security vendors at the recent RSA 2012 conference repeatedly lambasted the technology for allowing users to bypass security perimeter controls and download malware directly, while grudgingly acknowledging that the technology has legitimate uses. The same arguments were being made five years ago about peer-to-peer technology.

There's plenty of legitimate material for download using Pirate Bay's feeds, and that too is being censored by Microsoft's move to block all links, not just those that it knows contain malware. It would be difficult, expensive, and largely a waste of time to identify each link that contained malware and just ban those, since new ones can be created faster than they can be banned.

But in singling out this target, Redmond is opening itself up to claims that it is joining the global jihad against Pirate Bay – certainly its lack of explanation for targeting just that the site and not others indicates this. The owners of the Pirate Bay are still enmeshed in legal problems, and the group appears to be willing to consider highly unorthodox measures to keep the service up and running – and this latest move will not help the site's operators. ®

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