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Study Vindicates Your Friend’s Paranoia, Finds Most BitTorrent Pirates Are Being Monitored

Anyone that’s used a BitTorrent client to illegally download music, movies, or really any popular media content at all might have already been tagged by a number of different monitoring firms. According to a study conducted by computer scientists at the University of Birmingham, popular torrents for things like recently released films are being constantly watched by several groups. Some of these trace back to known copyright enforcement elements, whilst others are hidden behind third-party hosting.

Tom Chothia, a computer security researcher, and his colleagues revealed their findings at this week’s international SecureComm conference in Padua, Italy. SecureComm is billed as being about “security and privacy in communication networks.” They say that monitoring on a grand scale of BitTorrent sites like The Pirate Bay has been occurring for at least three years.

By constructing what appeared to be a BitTorrent client and logging all the connections made to it, the team discovered around 10 different monitoring firms that were keeping track of who did what. While some turned out to be related to copyright enforcement, other research labs, or security firms, six of the largest monitors were difficult to identify as they used third-party hosts to do their dirty work for them.

“Our features only detected monitors in Top 100 torrents,” their research presentation paper states, “this implies that copyright enforcement agencies are monitoring only the most popular content on public trackers.” Given that the largest potential loss in revenue would be seen in products like The Avengers being pirated, this approach makes sense. It’d be unrealistic to monitor everything at all times, but monitoring the most popular torrents should provide the greatest yield.

The real concern here is exactly what those six unknown firms intend to do with this data. The goal of copyright enforcement agencies is pretty clear; the goal of unknown monitors that appear to just be hoarding data is less so.

(The Unbearable Lightness of Monitoring: Direct Monitoring in BitTorrent via New Scientist, BBC News, image credit via Anthony Kelly)

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