Researchers launch anonymous, robust BitTorrent client

December 19, 2014 | 11:55

Tags: #anonymity #censorship #copyright #file-sharing #p2p #peer-to-peer #piracy #pirates #privacy

Companies: #bittorrent #delft-university-of-technology

Researchers at Delft University of Technology have unveiled a next-generation BitTorrent file-sharing client which they claim is immune to the raids that have closed major tracker sites in recent months.

BitTorrent is designed as a robust peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol which operates without the need for a central file server. Instead, files are broken into pieces and distributed around each member of a BitTorrent shared connection; so long as the pieces for the entire file are present they can be sent to all other members to complete the file, even if no active user currently has a full copy of the original file. Finding other users, however, typically requires a 'tracker' service - and these are often the target of lawsuits and police raids owing to their users' sharing of copyright content without the permission of the rightsholders - exactly the issue that recently saw major BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay disappear from the internet earlier this month.

A team of researchers at Delft University of Technology claim to have resolved this issue in the latest release of their own BitTorrent client, Tribler. According to a write-up by TorrentFreak, the latest release - created in response to increasing censorship of the internet - is capable of operating entirely without a central tracker infrastructure. 'Tribler makes BitTorrent anonymous and impossible to shut down,' lead researcher Johan Pouwelse told the site. 'The public was beginning to lose the battle for Internet freedom, but today we are proud to be able to present an attack-resilient and censorship-resilient infrastructure for publishing'

The software works by allowing searches to take place through the peer-to-peer network itself, finding files and their holders without the need for a central 'master' tracker. Combined with a Tor-like onion routing protocol which hides the origin of each request, the team claims that it is impossible to censor and entirely anonymous - although said anonymity does have a direct impact on the speed of the network, which is slower than a traditional BitTorrent connection.

'The Internet is turning into a privacy nightmare,' Pouwelse told TorrentFreak. 'There are very few initiatives that use strong encryption and onion routing to offer real privacy. Even fewer teams have the resources, the energy, technical skills and scientific know-how to take on the Big and Powerful for a few years.'

The new client is available cross-platform at the official website.

UPDATE: A developer working on the Tor Project has warned of severe insecurities in the Tribler software and recommended that users do not attempt to use it. 'Cursory analysis found enough fundamental flaws, and secure protocol design/implementation errors that I would be reluctant to consider this secure, even if the known issues were fixed,' the developer, identified by the handle 'Yawning Angel,' wrote on the Tor mailing list. 'It may be worth revisiting in several years when the designers obtain more experience, and a thorough third party audit of the improved code and design has been done.'
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