Digital Life


Bypassing Telstra's P2P crackdown is child's play

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Does Telstra really think it can thwart P2P file-sharing, or does it just want to drive data hogs to other ISPs?

Telstra's threat to detect and throttle BitTorrent traffic is back in the headlines this week -- Telstra to clamp down on peer-to-peer -- after the telco confirmed a trial which could become permanent policy. It aims to detect P2P traffic using "deep packet inspection" to see exactly what its customers are uploading and downloading. It's roughly the equivalent of opening your mail to see if you're up to something dodgy -- a practice which naturally doesn't sit well with privacy advocates.

It's not the first time we've heard of such a plan from Telstra. ISPs around the world, including Australia, have deployed various hurdles over the years to thwart peer-to-peer traffic -- even though P2P itself isn't illegal and has many legitimate uses. Telstra's latest plan might sound like the death knell for file-sharing on Bigpond but, just as with the proposed Great Australian Firewall, encryption offers a simple workaround to bypass deep packet inspection.

Popular BitTorrent clients such as uTorrent already feature built-in encryption protocols and enabling them is as simple as ticking a box. Enabling encryption might reduce your download speeds if you only accept connections from other people using encryption. But the trade-off is that Telstra can't open your packets to see if they're P2P traffic. Modern BitTorrent clients are also designed to work around ISP tricks such as port throttling.

As more people start encrypting their P2P traffic, encrypted file-sharing will become faster and perhaps even the norm. Of course you could run a standalone VPN client to encrypt all your internet traffic, which would bypass deep packet inspection but really be overkill and perhaps hamper your internet speeds for other applications and services.

It's not unheard of for ISPs to go the extra step of throttling all VPN encrypted traffic, but Telstra is unlikely to go down this path as it would punish legitimate users, such as people using a VPN to log into work from home. Some ISPs deploy anti-P2P measures which recognise P2P traffic patterns even when it's encrypted, and they're in a cat and mouse battle with those looking to bypass it. Australians will look to the experience of US and Canadian users in their efforts to combat Telstra's anti-P2P plans.

So why would Telstra threaten a crackdown which is so easily bypassed, or else will drive away paying customers? Because it sounds scary, perhaps scary enough to encourage some file-sharers to switch to another ISP. What Telstra really wants is to drive away customers who actually push their broadband connection to the limit. Telstra only wants those juicy customers who pay for bandwidth which they never use, not customers who hammer their connection because they expect to get what they paid for.

Are you concerned about threats to throttle P2P traffic? What's your workaround?