One of the most popular uses of VPN is to mask the activities of P2P downloaders, so news that the only truly decentralized BitTorrent client will soon offer its users anonymity through a Tor-style onion router network is fantastic!
Tribler (available for Windows, OSX and Linux) is already one of the most interesting BitTorrent clients around, thanks to the fact that, in addition to being completely free and open source, in February it became the only BitTorrent client to boast that it does not require any torrent sites to find and download content. This is because it uses peer-to-peer (P2P) communication instead. As Dr. Pouwelse, the leading developer of Tribler (the whole team works as researchers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands) told TorrentFreak at the time,
‘The only way to take it down is to take the Internet down.’
Unlike other BitTorrent clients, when you type a search into the Tribler search box it does not simply search for links stored on BitTorrent websites, but pulls them directly from other peers. This means that Tribler will work even if all central BitTorrent trackers go down.
Content verification and virus scanning is crowd-sourced using user-generated ‘channels’, in a Wiki system called Open2Edit. Trusted channels can be followed by other users, and the more popular a channel is, the better the search results of the content it has approved.
‘Our key scientific quest is facilitating unbounded information sharing. We simply don’t like unreliable servers. With Tribler we have achieved zero-seconds downtime over the past six years, all because we don’t rely on shaky foundations such as DNS, web servers or search portals.’
Users still have the option to import .torrent files and magnet links from regular BitTorrent sites if they so choose.
The exciting new news is that Tribler has been working on a built-in Tor-like network that protects users’ anonymity by routing the BitTorrent swarm through other computes, encrypting the data each time.
This onion network is based on Tor technology, but uses its own isolated mini network so that it does not interfere with other Tor users (P2P is strongly discouraged on the main Tor network, as it is not only bad for security , but is very rude since it makes the Tor exit node volunteer potentially liable for other users piracy, and slows the entire already very slow network down for everyone).
It should be noted that devs do stress ‘we do not offer the same level of anonymity as Tor, decentralization weakens security.’
This anonymity feature has yet to go live, but downloaders of Tribler version 6.3.1 are invited to try it out with a 50mb test file, and provide feedback to the devs.
We did not realize that we would get only one opportunity to download the test file, so this image is from the Tribler website. We did notice, however, that the download speeds we achieved were nowhere near the 1.5MB/s shown here
As is, this Tor-like system only protects downloaders, not seeders, which is quite important as the BitTorrent protocol relies on seeding to work. Tribler aims to fix this issue ‘in the future’, a move that should bring fantastic additional benefits,
‘The beauty of hidden seeding is that it can encrypt the content already in such a manner that only the downloader can read it (end-to-end encryption). This creates a darknet that is quite safe.’
Also built into the Tribler client is the ability to stream movie files while they are downloading – Popcorn Time style.
In our tests we found loading times to be a little slow when streaming, but this is great idea, and we hope more BitTorrent clients include it in the future.
Tribler is an exciting piece of software that points the way forward for BitTorrent clients. When the new anonymity feature is given a full release we will review the client properly, although its utility will remain limited until seeders are also made anonymous.
In the meantime, however, we love that Tribler is completely decentralized, something that will become ever more important as the entertainment industry continues its bitter war against copyright violation.