Over the past 18 years, ever since P2P clients made their run into the big time, users have been trying to figure out a way to avoid expensive lawsuits.
At the beginning, no real solutions were available, so it was a roll of the dice from start to finish. People either got lucky, or they didn’t. The majority did but a significant number didn’t feel like taking so many chances.
Somewhere along the way, so-called ‘peer-blocking’ applications raised their head. These pieces of software act like a firewall on a user’s computer, with the aim of preventing ‘hostile’ IP addresses from connecting to a torrent client, for example, thus preventing lawsuits.
Over the years, millions of users installed these programs (along with the blocklists containing the supposed IP addresses of anti-piracy groups) believing that no ‘bad players’ could access their machines. Unfortunately for those using them, these blocklists were completely ineffective and remain so today.
Peer-blocking applications should have died a death more than a decade ago but for some inexplicable reason, torrent users on many public forums continue to post about them, asking whether they’re doing the job they’re supposed to and if additional precautions are needed.
Despite plenty of information to the contrary, some still swear by these lists and a few stubbornly believe they are “better than nothing”. If locking every window on a house but leaving the front door open is “better than nothing” to prevent burglars, then it’s difficult to disagree. If making sure is the aim, blocklists should be thrown in the trash can marked ‘placebo’.
The problem is the way these things work. Peer-blocking applications use lists of IP addresses (generally compiled by volunteers) which are thought to be connected to anti-piracy, copyright trolls, government bodies, and others interested in stopping piracy. The aim is that if all of these IP addresses can be blocked, the problem can be solved.
Years ago, when people had less understanding of these matters, blocklists seemed like the tool everyone needed. However, blocklists are massively incomplete, woefully out-of-date, and cannot ever hope to ‘know’ every IP address used by every anti-P2P group. For those that still aren’t convinced, let’s take site-blocking as an example.
When ISPs block ‘pirate’ websites, they prevent users from accessing either their domain names, IP addresses, or DNS. When customers try to access any or all of these things, a firewall on the ISP’s end prevents the connection. No further explanation is necessary because after a decade of blocking, most proficient users generally understand how these things work.
Now think for a moment how easily these blocks are defeated. As soon as an order is handed down, sites can grab a new domain, a new IP address, or have their traffic funneled through any number of proxies and mirrors. Users, for their part, can evade bans by using these modified services or utilizing tools like VPNs. Blocking is very easily bypassed.
Now for the big non-surprise: anti-piracy groups can deploy just as many and more techniques to ensure that their entries on blocklists are out-of-date or completely irrelevant. Their tracking machines can be shifted around IP addresses in the blink of an eye, through datacenters or even residential ISPs, if there is a real need for stealth.
No one anywhere on the planet – no matter how clever or resourceful – has the skill or resources to keep up with these changes and/or make a blocklist that deals with them all. A hundred people couldn’t manage it, nor could a thousand. The information required simply isn’t made public and the result is the publication of blocklists that massively overblock legitimate resources while letting through who-knows-what.
The only real way to ensure that your IP address is never connected to ‘bad players’ while using torrents is to use something like a VPN. Or, of course, don’t share copyrighted content in the first place.
Blocklists have never worked to the extent required and will never work in the future. Anyone who trusts them may as well use a fishing net as a rain hat. It’ll still catch some fish but don’t expect it to keep you dry.
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Written by David Minister
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