The Dangers Of P2P File-Sharing Sites
BitTorrent, the popular file sharing protocol, is a bit of a controversial subject in the security world. It wasn’t created to be controversial, of course -- it was created for peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. But what’s important to remember is intended use and actual use aren’t always the same, especially not in the case of peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted and illegal content. There’s a reason BitTorrent has a reputation for piracy; whether piracy is the technical, intended use or not, it’s a reality we have a responsibility to face.
I wrote last month that the use of the wrong VPN can easily be more dangerous than not using any VPN at all. Part of that involves P2P file-sharing sites. I believe that no VPN that allows P2P file-sharing is truly safe or secure. While this may not be the most popular stance to take in the world of P2P file-sharing, it is a stance I take seriously and will certainly stand by. Allow me to explain.
P2P file-sharing does have many legitimate uses, particularly among businesses. That being said, for the most part, these sites are used in a completely different context than they are at the consumer level.
Even though P2P file-sharing sites can be used by consumers for legal file sharing, the reality is that’s not how it’s most commonly used. Video makes up nearly 58% of all downstream volume of internet traffic, and nearly a quarter of internet traffic is estimated to be infringing copyright. In 2017, nearly all of the top 50 most-searched phrases on the most popular BitTorrent index were the names of copyrighted movies or television shows. If a user wants to access P2P file-sharing sites with a VPN, there's a chance they are doing so with the intent to access illegal content anonymously. If they’re downloading illegal content, not only are they liable for copyright issues, they could easily be downloading dangerous malware without realizing it. That’s where our responsibility comes in as VPN providers.
Although not necessarily as common as it is elsewhere on the internet, malware can still be unintentionally obtained through P2P file-sharing. Remember the unlucky user who had more than four bitcoins (worth nearly $2,000 at the time) stolen from his computer after downloading a pirated version of a video game infected with malware? That risk is still very real. According to ZDNet, P2P file-sharing websites infect millions of users every month. Online piracy cost the U.S. economy $8.9 billion in 2016, based on data from Digital TV Research.
VPN providers are not in the piracy business; we are in the privacy and security business.
VPN providers can’t have it both ways -- if you want security, you have to eliminate known threats. If you’re enabling P2P file-sharing sites, you’re enabling danger and illegal activity. I know this might sound like a strong stance, and it is. But at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves: Are we a broker of security or an enabler of piracy? VPN providers that enable illegal downloading don’t just allow their users to risk malware -- they’re hurting the reputation of VPN providers everywhere. They’re damaging the credibility of this crucial tool. BitTorrent wasn’t built for piracy, but that’s its reputation now. And if VPN providers don’t take a stand against piracy, that will be our reputation, too.