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Downloading on an open wireless connection...hypothetically
March 2, 2008 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to anonymously download a torrent?

I got a letter from my cable company, saying they had noticed that I might have downloaded some copyrighted material and could I please erase all that stuff? The letter said it could have been someone on my open wireless account, a minor in my household or a virus.
Wow. Relief. Whatever happened, it won't happen again.
However, if one were to want to download something, a weekly show that's unavailable any other way...
what would happen if one were to go to someplace with a wireless network, download the torrents, then leave after erasing the torrent files? Can the ISP trace the files to my notebook or just to the wireless router?
Just curious, hypothetical question.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
You will not prevent your ISP from guessing about your internet activities. You can get mostly there with encryption, which many popular bittorrent clients support. The default in most clients is unencrypted, but some have the option to only exchange information over encrypted connections.
posted by odinsdream at 7:41 AM on March 2, 2008


The Ugly Truth About Online Anonymity.

In short, no, you can't be perfectly anonymous, but yes, using somebody else's Wi-Fi is likely enough to divert an ISP's attention away from you.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 7:41 AM on March 2, 2008


Your ISP can't trace files just sitting on your hard drive. Provided you did download a torrent through another network, and neither the traffic between you and the tracker(s) nor you and the torrent peers passed through your ISP, they would be completely unaware of it. Additionally, it is unlikely that your ISP tracks every torrent or every torrent suspected of containing copyrighted material. You were probably just unlucky enough to participate in one that attracted particular attention from the content owner or their representatives, who then complained. Encrypting traffic to the tracker via SSH tunneling to an outside endpoint can cut down on your visibility to the ISP; using the Tor network for such things (and especially peer connections) is discouraged. You are probably fine using another wireless network, though you will encounter download speed caps and NAT issues in most places. Lastly, consider choosing your network based on the ability of the owner to deal with ISP harassment. Don't download a torrent on a neighbor's network and get them sent a letter from their ISPs. Academic institutions and similar places are probably much better able to blow that sort of thing off, and, should they be pressed, will only be able to trace such activity to your IP address and associated MAC address - which hasn't been seen on their network since.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:45 AM on March 2, 2008


About a year ago, I got a letter from my ISP, but it was clearly at the behest the people who had the rights to the copyrighted material. Apparently some, err, stranger must have downloaded using my wireless network. Are you getting letters because your ISP is noticing things, or because networks are? If it's the latter, your best bet would be to find a darknet.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2008


They can pretty much trace it to the wireless router, but not much else. They might be able to get your MAC address which should theoretically be unique to your wireless card but realistically there would be no way to correlate MAC to identity in that situation and MAC addresses can be spoofed.

As for 'anonymously' downloading a torrent: the other downloaders/seeders will always need to know your IP for the protocol to work, so you might want to find a way to buy some server space/bandwidth in a way that doesn't conclusively connect that account to your name or purchase an encrypted VPN service in the same way.

Alternatively you could leave your home wireless access point open and increase it's broadcast strength to ensure many connections from various people and use that as your alibi as you keep downloading from home as before.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:39 AM on March 2, 2008


Academic institutions and similar places are probably much better able to blow that sort of thing off, and, should they be pressed, will only be able to trace such activity to your IP address and associated MAC address - which hasn't been seen on their network since.


This is really bad advice. Don't ever download a torrent at an academic institution.

Can the ISP trace the files to my notebook or just to the wireless router?

Only to the router provided you don't have to sign in to access the internet (like a campus/hotel wifi) or from a campus ethernet port (which clearly identiify building/room, making it easier to trace it to you)
posted by special-k at 11:19 AM on March 2, 2008



Here is the thing that I think most people simply dont "get" about downloading torrents (or other P2P connections):

The risk involved in downloading torrents is NOT:
--how often you do it
--how fast (or what type) of connection you have

The risk in downloading torrents is WHAT specific files/torrents you are downloading.

Here is why I say that:

The people who want to bust you (RIAA, etc)... are looking for the most "high value" targets. They cant possibly watch all torrents/P2P exchange connections, so they have to focus their resources on the most popular sites, most popular files, or more popular users (its a similar mindset to the drug war, where they focus on the high profile dealers, not the johnny 2-bit no name users)

SO... if browse PirateBay.. and start downloading the top box off movie (lets say, "300") or some very popular TV show (lets say "Lost" or "30 Rock")... and you then leave your computer sharing those files for a week------you are making yourself a pretty high target.

I'm not saying you shouldnt / cant download popular files, I'm just saying "be smarter about how you do it"

1.) read the torrent comments before you download it to see if anyone is having problems or suspects the file is corrupt/fake/"its a trap".
2.) Once you're done downloading, immediately close your torrent app so you aren't "seeding" (sharing) the file anymore.
3.) Look for other ways to get the file besides Torrents (binary newsgroups are arguably as advantageous as torrents and more "underground" - when was the last time you ever saw a news headline of someone getting busted for downloading from Newgroups?.. never ? I thought so. )

There are other ways to protect yourself such as :
--using a anonymous coffee shop wifi connection
--using protection programs such as "Peer Guardian"
--using encrypted "darknet" software such as SSH, Proxies, IRC, Waste,etc

My advice: Dont rely on external tools or configurations to keep you safe. The best tool you have is your brain. (in other words, if you are making dumb decisions on the way you use the internets, no amount of software protection is going to keep you safe forever) Its the same thing I tell people about virus's and spyware. You can have all the protection software you want, but if you're still going to run that strange email attachment that "jose2945!@hotmail.cn" (nobody you recognize) sent you-----you are still going to get infected.
posted by jmnugent at 11:52 AM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


If it's a new television show, or is available on DVD, it will be on Usenet for a time after it is on tv or the dvd's are released. You can use a paid newsserver and newzbin. This is about as safe as you can possibly get. Bittorrent is not safe. If you use it, you may as well use peerguardian. ymmv
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:49 PM on March 2, 2008


2.) Once you're done downloading, immediately close your torrent app so you aren't "seeding" (sharing) the file anymore.

After you've uploaded to a 1:1 ratio, of course. Unless you're the selfish sort.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 4:39 PM on March 2, 2008


After you've uploaded to a 1:1 ratio, of course. Unless you're the selfish sort.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:39 PM

Yeah, thats always the double-edged sword when it comes to P2P sharing. Its a give/take system, but if (out of fear) people take but dont share.. then the system collapses (or becomes taken over by low quality junk files.

Hypothetically, while downloading a torrent, you are simultaneously sharing the bits and bytes that make up each segment, so that helps. (or using private trackers)

The creation of the internet drastically changed the dynamic of an economy based on the trade of actual physical goods. How do you police the transfer of digital content?... you dont. (or rather, "cant"). The genie is out of the bottle and not going back in. Society will wrestle with this for a while and (hopefully) come to the conclusion that "Open source" and doing things "for the common good" are higher goals than greed and content-controlled-by-corporations. Sadly, it may take some rather disruptive changes to get people to understand that.
posted by jmnugent at 5:46 PM on March 2, 2008


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