June 15, 2024

Shielding P2P Users' Identities

New P2P technologies are more effectively shielding the identities and net addresses of their users, according to a John Borland story at news.com. This is not surprising given that the past generation of P2P systems did essentially nothing to hide their users’ addresses. Agents of the RIAA exploited that lack of protection to identify people uploading copyrighted music, leading to the wave of lawsuits against P2P users.

Given the lawsuits, and the relative ease with which P2P technologies can be redesigned to shield users’ addresses, it’s not surprising to see such redesigns. If anything, the surprise is that this didn’t happen sooner.

It will take some time for address-shielding technology to be adopted, but eventually it will be. And this will be bad news for copyright owners, because it will thwart their current identify-and-sue tactic, which seems to be having some effect.

Copyright owners’ best hope in the short run is that users will have trouble telling the effective shielding technologies from the bogus ones, and so will come to doubt that any of the shields work.

BayTSP CEO Mark Ishikawa is already trying to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the shields; he says in the article that his company will still be able to defeat the all of the shields. He is wrong, in the sense that BayTSP-proof shields are certainly possible and probably already exist; but it’s easy to see how his claim advances his company’s interests.

The adoption of address shields is just the latest step in the ongoing co-evolution of P2P systems and media business models.


  1. The easier way to shield the user is to keep no log files and/or require no user identification for connecting to the Internet. That seems to be the default for many public Wifi access points.

    There is a debate in Europe right now if Internet service providers should be obliged to keep log files or if they should have the right or even the duty to provide anonymous access. The answer to that question will have a strong influence on the future of P2P networks.

  2. I have wondered for some time if these shielding p2p systems might not open their participants up to conspiracy charges (i.e., conspiracy to do X, rather than simple X). In particular, it seems that you are exposed to the charge even if you neither request nor host music (or whatever the contraband du jour might be), provided that someone somewhere is trading in contraband and you are facilitating it.

    Unless, of course, you are a “common carrier”, but I think that is a special right only allowed to corporations.

  3. There was an article on the Unlimited Freedom blog expressing skepticism about an earlier round of articles on using encryption to shield file sharers from lawsuits, http://invisiblog.com/1c801df4aee49232/article/e89ed3e8da1e42e86bb9346003f0907b .

    I did fire up Mute once, but it immediately bogged down my machine (admittedly an older model). And Freenet is unusable as well. The article says Mute takes an hour to download a song, and to some extent that seems to be inherent to the node forwarding architecture which is supposed to provide legal protection. These other schemes, like proxy nodes, seem vulnerable to legal attacks on the proxies, so I don’t see how that could work.

    I’d like to see a good, technical summary of the various proposals for using crypto and anonymity in file sharing networks. Does anyone have any pointers to that kind of data?

  4. an example of such a network can be found at http://mute-net.sourceforge.net/

    I am not affiliated, and I only post, because they have some pages of easy reading theory up.

    what isn’t told, and will also inflict adoption, is that in a world of asymmetric residential access, this shield will come at a severe transfer speed penalty; not that the A in DSL does not harm other internet uses too.