What are USyd students torrenting on campus Wi-Fi?
Disclaimer: The author of this article does not advocate copyright infringement, although he believes that its abolition would result in a creative and artistic utopia.
For many, their first experience of torrenting is something of a revelation to the power of the internet. Having heard about ThePirateBay through whispers in the schoolyard, they quickly install a sketchy torrent app (now with bonus crypto-miners) and immediately download the latest 1080p.h265.HDRip from Spiderman 3. Unlike centralized sources hosting such files on their own servers, peer-to-peer file-sharing networks are inherently difficult to shut down, despite being in the crosshairs of large media conglomerates seeking to enforce their privacy rights. intellectual property for decades.
A particularly insidious tactic employed by “copyright trolls” these days is to pressure the intermediaries of any network, such as Internet service providers, to monitor user activity by their name. It’s not uncommon these days to hear of movie and video game publishers uploading a branded copy of their own media to public trackers, like ThePirateBay, and harvesting the IP addresses of those who upload it. Within weeks, a cease and desist letter shows up at your doorstep or, worst case scenario, a process to initiate legal action. Even though these companies don’t engage in hacker baiting themselves, it’s fairly easy to retrieve a list of IP addresses from existing torrents by monitoring a file’s “peers” at any given time.
To demonstrate how simple this detective work can be, the “I Know What You Download” website actively tracks peers on a list of 1.5 million torrents and makes their recordings publicly available online. All you have to do is search for an IP address to find the full history of their torrent activity. Of course, the first thing I did upon discovering this resource was connect to campus WiFi and poke around what USyd students (and potentially staff) were torrenting in the background as they were sitting in class or studying in the library. The results, while not entirely surprising, should sound alarm bells on your average USyd participant’s digital OPSEC.
It’s mostly porn. Overwhelmingly, the activity demonstrated that the vast majority of torrent traffic through the USyd campus network was for large HD porn videos, sometimes up to 10GB in size. In fact, the website realized that the USyd’s IP address downloads so much porn that it’s even automatically categorized on the network with the “likes porn” tag. As to why anyone would want to have multiple 10GB porn videos on their hard drive and choose to torrent them through the University network, I can’t say. The other categories that saw heavy traffic were video games, with someone downloading a full 50GB repack of far cry 6 last week, and art house films like David Lynch’s Criterion Collection Edition Twin Peaks: Fire Walks With Me.
Am I trying to be a copyright narc for reporting all of this? Absolutely not – although I think hacking Ubisoft games is a waste of anyone’s bandwidth, even the University. But I have to imagine that this kind of activity, which is so easily detectable by a third-party source, would be even simpler for the technical department of the University. Also, while the website I visited cannot decipher the individual student ID numbers responsible for downloading each torrent, I understand that this too would be a trivial challenge for the University to figure out.
However, if you just need to find a way to download strictly legal files for completely above-ground and (I emphasize again) strictly legal purposes, then maybe it’s time to learn some privacy practices to escape prying eyes. network administrators. First, find what you need on online archive sites or blogs, like archive.org. Although they are centralized, it is ironically much more difficult for administrators to identify specific uploaders on these websites, unless they are required to publish their records – if they keep them. For even more security, consider tunneling through a VPN, or even using the Tor browser. While administrators will be able to see traffic spikes or the fact that you are using Tor, the encryption offered by these avenues means that it will be nearly impossible to decipher the content of the transmitted data. Additionally, you can redirect the actual torrent download away from a network by investing in a seedbox, which is a high-bandwidth remote server accessible via SSH FTP. Finally, you can even choose to investigate the very mysterious world of private torrent trackers (which this author knows nothing about).
Stay safe out there, USyd.
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