The Dangers of Using Torrents

When you browse for items on the web, be it books, movies or music, you're likely to get a link to a torrent file readily available for download.

Torrents enable users to share and distribute large media files. It for this reason that they have become the primary means of sharing and trading movies, software, music and eBooks. The problem with torrents is they often contravene copyright laws, and for this reason, they are particularly unpopular with copyright authorities like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). The major concern for these bodies is that most torrent sites host or distribute pirated materials in violation of copyright.

Not all torrents are illegal though. Open source-based projects such as Linux Tracker distribute their software through torrents, for example. The difference is the copyright laws involved. Most vendors listed on LinuxTracker are open source, meaning that they actively promote making copies, reproducing and distributing their software.

Organisations like the MPAA, however, operate under a much stricter copyright regime. Their concern is that torrents are used to duplicate, reproduce and distribute material without the permission of the copyright holder.

Research has shown that most people turn to illegal downloading of torrents because of the following reasons:

  • Cost of items downloaded is out of reach for the downloader on the official market.
  • The material may be unavailable in the downloader's region due to area restrictions.
  • The 'plenty of fish' argument - Some downloaders claim that since there is so much stuff out there, they say you can’t buy it all. They argue that you can download a little and the creators will still make money.
  • Some downloaders say they don’t make good movies or music anymore so why bother buying, I might as well download for free.

Following the mushrooming of torrent sites, the MPAA, Anti-Piracy organisations and copyright authorities have cracked down on the big hosting sites with some success, forcing many to shut down.

This hasn't stopped the downloads though. Users continue to seek alternatives, and more torrent sites keep appearing!

Do people really know what happens when they use or download torrents? Here are some things you need to know before you click on that magnet link:

  • Some Copyright authorities and Anti-Piracy organisation are constantly monitoring torrents, their traffic and logging IP addresses of illegal downloaders. In some cases, depending with the region, the authorities will forward the IP Addresses to the relevant Internet Service Providers and demand that the ISP issue warning letters to the customers (downloader in question) to cease the illegal activity.

  • Arrests have been made, where after constantly monitoring particular torrents the downloaders were tracked down

  • Not all torrent peers are in it for sharing purposes. Black hat hackers disguised as seeders, leechers or part of the swarm can target and harvest IP addresses through torrents. They then scan these for open ports, vulnerabilities or services. If successful, the hackers can then steal private data and exploit the machines behind the IP addresses. They can install software for malicious purposes, like running botnets, spambots, SMTP Relay attacks.

  • Not all torrents are genuine, some torrent files contain malicious code, malware, trojan horses and once installed can lead to the machine being backdoored or vulnerable hence hackers can connect back to it and use it for different purposes. As an example, the machine becomes a zombie that awaits commands from a Command and control server to attack other machines. These infected machines form part of a botnet.

  • Torrents generate a lot of traffic. If you are a heavy downloader, chances are your ISP is probably throttling your traffic, meaning that your speed and browsing experience is affected. If you're torrenting on a shared connection, other users will be affected on your network.

To make things worse, if at work, organisations can end up having their I.P Address blacklisted causing inconveniences like external mails not being delivered. Losses can be incurred, as we know most organisations businesses revolve around emails.

Torrents aren't always illegal, but when they are used for piracy or stealing of digital products, that's definitely against the law. People should understand that there is more to it than just downloading torrents. It’s what happens behind the scenes. Torrents might appear to be free of charge, but truth be told, nothing is for free! If everyone can see your IP address when you torrent, how much are you revealing out there? Who knows what that information will be used for? I do not encourage people to download torrents. Be considerate. Let’s support each other legally!