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Friday, February 29, 2008

Is encryption the solution?

Several BitTorrent developers have joined forces to propose a new protocol extension with the ability to bypass the BitTorrent interfering techniques used by Comcast and other ISPs. This new form of encryption will be implemented in BitTorrent clients including uTorrent, so Comcast subscribers are free to share again.

BitTorrent throttling is not a new phenomenon, ISPs have been doing it for years. When the first ISPs started to throttle BitTorrent traffic most BitTorrent clients introduced a countermeasure, namely, protocol header encryption. This was the beginning of an ongoing cat and mouse game between ISPs and BitTorrent client developers, which is about to enter new level.

Unfortunately, protocol header encryption doesn’t help against more aggressive forms of BitTorrent interference, like the Sandvine application used by Comcast. A new extension to the BitTorrent protocol is needed to stay ahead of the ISPs, and that is exactly what is happening right now.

Back in August we were the first to report that Comcast was actively disconnecting BitTorrent seeds. Comcast of course denied our allegations, and ever since there has been a lot of debate about the rights and wrongs of Comcast’s actions. On Wednesday, Comcast explained their BitTorrent interference to the FCC in a 57-page filing. Unfortunately they haven’t stopped lying yet, since they now argue that they only delay BitTorrent traffic, while in fact they disconnect people, making it impossible for them to share files with non-Comcast users.

In short, the Comcast interference works like this: A few seconds after you connect to someone in a BitTorrent swarm, a peer reset message (RST flag) is sent by Comcast and the upload immediately stops. Most vulnerable are users in a relatively small swarm where you only have a couple of peers you can upload the file to.

Dewayne Hendricks
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