While most people connect P2P file sharing with a certain maritime profession, this sort of communication has a lot of legitimate advantages. From academics to business, P2P sharing can be a safe and reliable way to spread your content worldwide without a need for a dedicated platform.
Peer-to-Peer, or P2P, sharing is a useful and ingenious technology, and it will probably be used for a long time in some form, but there are two main issues for all users, regardless of their reasons. The first and primary issue is the national governments worldwide, most of which don’t look fondly on P2P file sharing.
The second reason is security. Both when using a direct P2P link and a torrent, your IP address is visible to all other users sharing the same file. In private communication with people, you trust this wouldn’t be an issue, but this is rarely the case.
Thankfully, premium VPN providers like Le VPN can both mask your IP address for the one on the servers, and provide you with military-grade encryption to protect your device while sharing.
What is a Peer to Peer Network?
A P2P connection is quite a simple technology, but one with incredible significance and potential. It wasn’t so much invented as discovered, as early internet developers noticed that server computers could send data as well as receive. This made it possible for each device in the network to become both a client and a server simultaneously.
Technically speaking, a P2P network predates the Internet, with ARPANET having a similar system of participating nodes, but without any means of context or content-based routing.
First modern P2P networks emerged in the last years of the 2nd millennia, with Napster being the first file sharing system, widely used around the world.
While the systems and protocols change and develop through the years, the core idea of P2P networks remains the same. Each user is both sending and receiving information from one or more sources.
Solutions to faster and more reliable sharing can become quite technical and rely heavily on the relationship between the internet overlay network on top of the existing physical topology. To have good software, you need to imagine and execute a very complex set of commands.
The good thing is that to use this system, regardless of the platform, you just need to have an internet connection, preferably through a proxy, or better a VPN.
The technology behind P2P File Sharing
Although the P2P technology itself is quite simple, to share specific files and data, there needs to be a stable platform shared by all parties, as well as a system of nomenclature in place so that everybody knows how the files are marked.
There are three types of networks when it comes to P2P, and they describe how the network is structured. Wheatear, a user, will choose a structured or an unstructured network, or a mix of both, will depend on their needs, as well as on accessibility.
Finally, the technology used will depend on the type of files being shared, and if there is a dedicated platform, or maybe a primary source of content.
Different to most things, too much order on the Internet is not viable when you need to create large systems. While current bandwidths can sustain a relatively large P2P node network, it pales in comparison to its unstructured counterpart.
A structured P2P network is placed in a hierarchy using a distributed hash table, or a DHT.
This type of network is best used in academia or large organizations where most user devices are constantly online. This way, it is easy to find any data that you need on the network and download it quickly and efficiently, and the system itself will not suffer from a lot of devices opting in and out of the system, which is also called churn.
Unstructured networks are much more common, with both early and current P2P protocols using it to bring their users together. Protocols like Gnutella and Kazaa are one of the first that used this type in an official capacity.
Unstructured networks don’t have a hierarchy, but rather every computer connects itself to the closest peers that have the data that they need by flooding the networks with a request and connecting to only those who answer.
The inefficient system used to search for data is the biggest downside of this type of P2P file sharing system, but it also makes it very robust and quite anonymous.
As the name suggests, a hybrid network is a mix of structured and unstructured networks that all share the same data and terminology between them. These networks make compromises between the two models to get the benefits of both as much as possible.
In most cases, a hybrid P2P network will be clustered, with each regional cluster being unstructured in its core but having a joint DHT number.
Generally, this model works the best for all types of data, as it supports both a large number of users and a set of search and stream functions.
The name torrent, alluding to a quick stream, got its name from the BitTorrent P2P file sharing system, even though most people would imagine it being the other way around. As the extension for torrent files is now very common, it has far surpassed its original developer in popularity.
A torrent is a genius solution to efficient search and distribution of P2P sharing files. The torrent file alone has a full index about the data it is sharing and connects to the torrent client, matching others that are online.
This way, all users who use the torrent file simultaneously share and download the file, with cryptographic hash values being used to verify the integrity of the file. Finally, if you are using a good torrent VPN, your IP will be masked from other users, but you will not experience any lapse in download or upload speed.
As the size of the torrent is exceptionally small, a user can hold a whole Library of Congress worth of data on something equivalent of a floppy disk, which ironically fell out of use roughly at the same time this type of sharing became popular.
Reasons to use a VPN for File Sharing
There are several reasons why everyone should be using a VPN in general, but when it comes to P2P file sharing, these become even more prominent.
Thankfully, using a premium VPN provider all but annuls all of the downsides that come with using a P2P VPN creating a superior experience for anyone. Companies like Le VPN use AES-256 algorithm to place an encryption that would require whole regional systems to break, and it’s being updated and upgraded all of the time.
Primarily, we should always try to keep our IP address as private as possible as that makes us less susceptible to hacks and other types of attack. This becomes quite hard when using a torrent, or any other type of P2P connection as your IP address will be blasted through the network.
Additionally, since the files shared might conceal a tracker or some other type of spyware, you might be under a direct attack is you are uncertain of the sender, or it someone else is pretending to be the sender. This is quite frequent in peer to peer networks, especially in unstructured ones.
Governments and P2P
The second issue is legislation. There is only one thing that governments as a concept hate more than VPNs, and that is unmonitored file sharing and communication. For benevolent governments, this is a question of security, while for those who do not hold personal freedom in high esteem see it as a political attack, even when the files shared have nothing to do with politics.
If you believe that a this doesn’t concern you because ‘Murica is a free country, a 40-year-old Pompey (Resident of Portsmouth, Virginia, USA), Jeramiah Perkins, was sentenced to five years in prison for file sharing in 2013.
Without using a VPN, your device will be visible for anyone in the network. In some countries, you might be jailed just for owning a P2P client platform, while in some others you might be prosecuted because someone on the network had some sort of unlicensed or illegal content on their device.
Copyright and Licensing
While it most democratic countries it is not illegal to use P2P file sharing on its own, copyright and licensing is seen very seriously, and most verdicts, including the one mentioned from Virginia, are due to this breach.
While watching a bootlegged movie is not a crime, sharing one is. And, if you are using a torrent file, even if you are streaming, you might be charged for this offense.
As you might probably know, most developed countries are under a lot of influence by large corporations, and companies such as Disney, Sony, or Fox don’t look kindly on you sharing the movie you bought with your friends, as they feel like that is cutting into their profits.
Risks of P2P File Sharing
The freedom provided by P2P networks is also the main reason for all the risks that they create. Even if you only want to share files with specific people that you trust, you can’t be certain that they are the only members of the network and that your shared folders will not be viewed by someone only pretending to be them.
Additionally, it is hard to be confident in the safety of the files that you are downloading. Whole virus systems and other malware can be indexed as useful shareware or independent music. You will need to be very careful both when you download items from the network and when you try to open your downloaded files.
Finally, there is a question if the files you are downloading are legal. There is some diligence needed to use a P2P file sharing system safely, and simply using a VPN will not protect you if you store and open everything you download.
What a good VPN will give you is time and resources to look through the files you have downloaded safely. If you are using Le VPN, anyone trying to track you via your IP address will be blocked by the server, and no SWAT team will break through your door while you browse through your files and see which ones are safe and which are malicious.
Showing Your IP Address
When you are connected to a P2P network, you are always showing your IP address. If this is a large platform or torrent, you may have hundreds of peers all over the world seeing that address explicitly.
In all cases, it is best to use a torrent proxy, or even better a premium VPN to mask your address and thus protect yourself.
Always make sure where your files are coming from, who is the maker of the torrent file, and what are the protocols of the sharing platform. If this is impossible, use an active anti-virus and see if the contents downloaded are safe.
If you don’t trust the source and anything about what you have downloaded seems fishy, delete at once. Better safe than sorry.
Spyware and Malware
It is quite possible to download a full set of malware through a P2P network, and this system is often used to bypass VPN safeties and firewalls.
Technically, by allowing malware to download, you are giving it all of the permissions it needs to alter your system. In this case, none of your protections will even see it as a malware, but a legitimate app that you have downloaded.
Illegitimate File Sharing
We need to make a differentiation between illegal file sharing and illegitimate. Depending on your region and country, different types of file sharing can be illegal, most of it completely benign.
Technically speaking, if you send a song in a voice message over WhatsApp or Viber, this would also constitute an illegal sending of copyrighted material, even though there is nothing bad about it. This can also be the case if you are recording a concert on your phone and sending it to your friends.
But, regardless of your membership to any school of thought, some types of file sharing should never be accepted by the community. If you notice any content that contains explicit exploitation of any people, especially minors, for either profit or pleasure, you should report it and flag it immediately.
Some may consider this a slippery slope, but if there is to be an argument for free file sharing worldwide, there should be some moral guidelines when it comes to the content being shared.
You Wouldn’t Download a Car?
To paraphrase the vice president of EA, Kerry Hopkins: “it is not stealing, it is a surprise discount”.
There is an argument often made as an extrapolation of illegitimate file sharing and copyright laws, as large content creators usually try to equate sharing their products as a similar offense to sharing the exploitation of minors.
While sharing a copyrighted movie does violate copyright laws, there is a full set of reasons why that is not as bad as the other. Most companies don’t realize that illegal sharing usually leads to promotion and even more consumption.
It is a known part of the “pirate code” that you should purchase any game, movie, or song that you liked that you have previously downloaded illegally. This way, you will support honest and hardworking developers, helping them to make more good content.
File Sharing Programs
It is hard to make a proper list of P2P file sharing programs, as this will depend on the way you use them, but there are a few worth mentioning in all cases. Some of these are on the list both due to their legacy and their utility, as well as their design.
Regretfully, some of the services like Napster and Kazaa ceased to be a sole P2P sharing clients and became music and video subscription services, still working on a P2P network model. Others, like LimeWire, have been discontinued.
If you are using Le VPN, you will have a secure connection to all of these platforms and will be able to use all of their services.
Very light and very fast, uTorrent (Technically μTorrent, pronounced “Me-Torrent” r/iamverysmart) is one of the most popular services in the world, with over 150 million users having it and more than a million being online at any given time.
BitTorrent is the creator of the torrent extension and one of the first companies to start with making P2P file sharing systems. As they “fell from grace” for a while, most think of them as a new contender, even though they are, in fact, the biggest platform in the world, and the oldest on this list.
Although this software came out back in 2003, the development phase lasted a long time with a stable release coming out only in 2019.
While they are developed in China, they do have quite a bit of security protocols, and they are well adjusted to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese alphabets.
Developed back in 2002 by Hendrik Breitkreuz, also known as Merkur (Mercury), eMule is a structured client system that works on a GNU GPLv2 license.
While not as populated as other clients, eMule is much safer and has a lot more moderation.
Also known as Azureus, this client was made back in 2003 and quickly became of the most beloved platforms around due to its intuitive, and for that time beautiful, design.
Azureus Vuze is the only torrent client that has an I2P system that provides native anonymity to their users. It is disputable how much security this provides, and you should still use a VPN, but it does inspire some degree of confidence.
There is no question that P2P file sharing is a great tool to have and use. But, as with all tools, some prudence is advised. You should practice caution both when sharing and when downloading content if you don’t want to suffer penalties from an overzealous government or a lawsuit from a belligerent company.
The best way to protect yourself is to use a VPN, and if you are using a premium VPN provider like Le VPN, you will be able to use your full download speed to access all of the documents and apps that you need.
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