An Introduction to Bit Torrent
There was a time when using the Internet was, primarily, to exchange data such as emails or for just reading the newspaper. However, it's been a good few years since file-sharing hit the news for all the wrong reasons, when file-sharing giant Napster was shot down at the height of its glory by a music-industry supported legal team. Now the buzz word on everyone’s lips when it comes to file-sharing or transferring data is “bit torrent”.
What is it?
Bit Torrent is a peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, whereby users download software which allows them to directly send and receive a file, such as a song they know the name of. A torrent is simply a resource that shows the route to the file being sought.
Here’s an easy way to look at it. Say 100 people are sharing a Bon Jovi song. The Bit Torrent software will grab “bits” of the file from the 100 people sharing it and direct it to you. A central server, called a tracker, coordinates the actions, while users upload and download portions of the file at the same time, sharing with many users simultaneously. This maximises the effectiveness of broadband Internet.
What this means is the more popular a file the more quickly the file is located and downloaded. In other words, a group of people all share different parts of the same file until they have the file in its entirety.
The reason that record labels and film production companies are so concerned about this technology is simple: if you are looking for the latest blockbuster, you can go to the cinema and watch it or you can download a Bit Torrent client and have it on your hard drive half a day later, depending on the speed of your Internet connection. (A Bit Torrent client is any program which implements the Bit Torrent protocol).
The same goes for songs, albums and TV programs. Adding to their concerns, the more popular an item is the easier it is for the downloader. There are numerous programs you can use, and most of them “legal” to some extent, such as eMule, Soulseek and Limewire. Each of these ask you to tick a box during the installation process saying you agree NOT to download copy-written material.
Bit torrent risks
Sure, there are plenty of upsides but, as with all technology, there is also a down side (apart from the fact you’re probably breaking the law). Things to watch out for are:
- Always make sure the program you are using does not put the downloaded files in your “My Documents” folder. If this is the case, anyone that establishes a connection with your computer can look at any other files in that folder.
- Make sure other users just have access to your “Shared Documents” and don’t keep anything personal in there!
- Finally, don’t even think about using Bit Torrent or other peer-to-peer programs without a decent firewall installed. Viruses and spyware are common. If you can’t resist, check your computer regularly with software such as Spy Sweeper or Ad Aware.
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