December 20, 2004 12:52 PM PST
BitTorrent file-swapping networks face crisis
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for efficient distribution of big files, not underground file-swapping that has to keep a step ahead of the law, he said. Some of the same features that made it useful have rendered it deeply susceptible to the overnight crisis in which the file traders have now found themselves.
"It's weird that it hasn't happened sooner," Cohen said. "The main reason warez (a slang term for illegally distributed software) has become so big is that it hasn't been cracked down on. They've been getting away with being pretty flagrant."
BitTorrent's strength is Achilles heel
Although often mentioned in the same breath as Kazaa or eDonkey, two popular post-Napster file-swapping networks, BitTorrent is actually a very different tool.
Other leading peer-to-peer services aimed to create shifting networks of computers linked over the Internet, in which people could search for specific files and download them from other people's hard drives.
Early versions such as Napster funneled all the searches through a central server, making them relatively easy for groups like the recording industry or the MPAA to shut down. Shutting the central server down through lawsuits or other means would kill the entire network.
Newer file-swapping networks such as Kazaa, eDonkey and Gnutella are decentralized, without any central point, however. Searches are relayed through the network by individual users' computers. Taking out any of these points has no significant effect on the network as a whole. This makes them much harder to shut down.
Cohen's creation was built around a significantly different model. Each single file is essentially a separate network, controlled by a special "tracker" server that contains all the information about the file itself, where it's located, and who is uploading or downloading it at any given time.
In order to become part of this network, a user has to download a "torrent" file that includes all the information about the requested content and instructions on how to find the tracker server. These torrent files are typically posted on Web sites or distributed through chat services like Internet Relay Chat
Once the torrent is activated, a user becomes part of that file's network, simultaneously downloading bits of the file and uploading them to others once they've been received. This two-way "swarming" traffic makes for fast file-swaps compared with earlier generations of download tools.
However, Web sites like SuprNova and others that operated
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