Swedish courts may have slapped an injunction on The Pirate Bay, but not only has the site stayed up and running but the team behind it is hard at work on the IPREDator virtual private network (VPN) service — and we managed to land an invite to the beta version. As a fan of proxies, VPNs and any other way to get around pesky access restrictions, I gave it a spin. The short answer? It’s easy to set up and use, though if you don’t live in Europe, it’s probably not worth the money for the level of performance.
But IPREDator also suggests two notable things about the future of file-sharing: One, that “darknets” of network traffic hidden behind proxies and encryption may well make unofficial distribution even easier and less risky for users; and two, that sites like The Pirate Bay, which stand accused of profiting from copyright infringement, might be able to subsidize their non-commercial distribution efforts by offering the tools to share files securely rather than selling ads alongside indexes of torrent files.
To sign up for IPREDator, which is named in honor of the European Union’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, you simply sign up with a username and password on the site, pay 15 euros ($21.41) for three months of service, and follow the instructions to log into the VPN. It took all of five minutes on my MacBook, with no software to download.
One thing to note is that for the privacy of users, the site doesn’t store login and password information, so don’t forget your password because it won’t let you retrieve or reset it. Also, you’ll want to make sure you have a software firewall set up on your machine, especially if you configure a router pass-through — just as a VPN lets you tunnel through ISP filters to get to the sweet stuff, any malefactor can tunnel back through your router to get to your machine.
What the VPN does is securely encode all the information sent and received from your computer with state-of-the-industry, 128-bit encryption, and hide all traffic behind a single IP address. So any site you visit couldn’t identify you, specifically, among the thousands of users represented by that address. Granted, the IP address is in Sweden, so you’ll be out of luck if you’re trying to use the service to access geographically restricted sites like Hulu.
And of course, that also means all the data has to travel to Sweden, then to wherever you were trying to access, then back to Sweden before finally returning to you. Latency, in other words, is a problem. Testing the system on a well-seeded torrent also showed a marked decline in download speed and performance. So as pointed out above, unless you live in Europe, you’ll probably want to look into another VPN service closer to home.
And there are plenty. In a piece for PC World last month, I took a look at a number of different software applications that are being designed to limit access to shared files to a known group, as well as encrypt data transfers and obfuscate IP addresses, many of which are free or, like IPREDator, low cost.
So rather than stemming the flow of unlicensed distribution, the crackdown on intellectual property is driving file sharers closer to the edge of secure and anonymous Internet access, with paid services possibly helping to fund torrent index servers and legal defense funds, and developers working on user-friendly tools to make darknets accessible even to the lowliest noob. So even if IPREDator seems too complicated, expensive or distant to be practical, don’t worry, something will come along soon enough to meet your desperate need to watch the latest pirated movie or international TV show. Content providers should still consider letting it be their technology, and not The Pirate Bay’s.