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By: MarkJ - 7 July, 2010 (5:50 AM)
internet piracyUnlawful copyright broadband ISP file sharers (P2P - BitTorrent etc.) in the UK and around the world, fearful of new government laws and the crackdown by Rights Holders, are shifting in their hundreds of thousands to using FREE and PAID encrypted Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to help protect their identity online (i.e. they are going underground).

The UK 2010 Digital Economy Act (DEA) is one such example. It threatens to identify those "suspected" of unlawful copyright file sharing to Rights Holders for legal action and could lead to the blocking of legitimate websites, service speed restrictions, limit open Wi-Fi usage or even account disconnection from your ISP.

However, instead of encouraging the most profuse abusers to repent, the new laws appear to be pushing knowledgeable file sharers underground. TorrentFreak reports that the ItsHidden service, one of many new FREE and PAID VPN solutions that only launched 12 months ago, has already attracted no less than 300,000 subscribers!

VPN?

A VPN is effectively a network within a network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure, such as the internet, to provide individual users with secure/encrypted access to an organization's network. Neither the ISP nor Rights Holders would easily be able to identify you (but you might want to disable IPv6 in Vista/Win7 due to a flaw in some web-based VPN's that can expose IP addresses when it is enabled).

In the past VPN's have been used by remote office workers or for gamers to create Local Area Networks (LAN) between friends on the Internet for the purpose of multiplayer gaming. However they can also make for an excellent tool when somebody wants go online and download anonymously. PAID services are generally the best as FREE ones can often be slow and too restrictive for the task.

Unreliable Evidence

Most of the new laws are based around the tracking of Internet Protocol ( IP ) addresses, which are assigned to your computer each time you connect to the internet. IP addresses are not and never have been a reliable means of accurately identifying specific individuals.


Fig.1 - Example of P2P torrent download files

An IP address can easily be abused, redirected, spoofed and generally abused in ways that could easily cause errors in the data that Rights Holders collect. Likewise, even when the information is correct, it can only identify the connection owner (e.g. an office network, hotel Wi-Fi etc.) and not necessarily who is responsible for the unlawful act itself.

This results in a situation where the source data can become so unreliable that innocent individuals can and have already found themselves being unfairly targeted and penalised. It is therefore easy to understand why innocent as well as guilty internet users might choose to make themselves more anonymous when online.

After all if somebody does spoof your IP or connect to your home network without you knowing (many people still use open or WEP encrypted Wi-Fi, which is easily circumvented) then there would be virtually no evidence of this. This makes it almost impossible to appeal or defend against the DEA's apparent "guilty until proven innocent" philosophy.

The Other "Evil" Services

It's not just VPN though. There is a large and growing array of non-P2P tools and services available, including abuses of legitimate download websites, private IRC, newsgroups, private FTP and proxy servers. These are all legitimate internet services that, just like a car on the road, could easily be used for good as well as bad. Most of them are also virtually impossible to monitor, when run under secure conditions.

The outcome of all this appears to be that, by the time copyright file sharing can actually be measured with any degree of accuracy (debatable), most of the worst abusers and more knowledgeable casual users will have already gone underground. It could therefore end up being those who least deserve punishment that end up feeling the full wrath of some very unfair laws. Biting the hand that feeds the creative industry, domestic consumers, could be very risky.
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