BitTorrent swings back At Comcast

February 15, 2008

BitTorrent swings back At Comcast BitTorrent developers are banding together to fight back against the bandwidth throttling methods of Comcast and other heavy hitting ISPs. The interference buster is a new form of encryption that goes above and beyond the current method of encryption (protocol header encryption).

Comcast developed its Sandvine application to fight off protocol header encryption, and other ISPs followed suit. ISPs claim that throttling benefits the customer, but in reality it harms those looking to share legal files as much as those looking to share illegal ones. Sure, there are people who pirate software and music, among other things, using BIttorrent, but there are also a healthy number of people who use BitTorrent as a reliable way to transmit large amounts of perfectly legal data.

The current policy of ISPs like Comcast is a sneaky one. The user makes a BitTorrent Swarm connection using a client like uTorrent. Comcast’s Sandvine program sends Comcast an RST flag alerting it to a peer reset. As soon as Comcast receives the RST flag the download stops. The reset usually happens after an exchange begins.

According to the proposal for the new encryption method:

“This extension directly addresses a known attack on the BitTorrent protocol performed by some deployed network hardware. By obscuring the ip-port pairs network hardware can no longer easily identify ip-port pairs that are running BitTorrent by observing peer-to-tracker communications. This deployed hardware under some conditions disrupts BitTorrent connections by injecting forged TCP reset packets. Once a BitTorrent connection has been identified, other attacks could be performed such as severely rate limiting or blocking these connections.”

From president and co-founder of BitTorrent, Inc. Ashwin Navin’s interview with Torrent Freak:

“In recent months, consumers enjoyed unprecedented participation in the political process thanks to the ability to upload opinions and feedback in the YouTube presidential debates. Musicians, filmmakers and artists are finding ways to connect with their audiences across the world thanks to MySpace and BitTorrent. Students are engaging with interactive learning tools in their schools. Which bandwidth intensive application will banned or shaped or metered next by these ISPs? The creative spirit of millions has been ignited, and our need to participate, to communicate will not be silenced.”

Navin is exactly right in his speculation that the throttling capabilities will be misused. Already the Senate his shown a disturbing lack of concern for free speech and the rights of Americans by voting to continue offering immunity to telecommunications companies who have participated in Bush’s spying scheme. If the government is so willing to toss rights away when the country is not under threat, how can we assume they would not continue to do so if a situation arose where they felt a need to limit the free flow of ideas and information? We can’t, and that makes defeating throttling technologies about more than just legal or illegal files.


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