VPNs Become File Sharing Sites

Peter Suciu for RedOrbit.com

A decade ago peer-to-peer filing sharing service Napster was essentially shut down for copyright infringement. Many in the music industry likely hoped that would be the end of digital piracy, but in fact it was only the beginning of a trend in the illegal sharing of music and movies.

Since Napster, many sites have come and gone, but now young people are increasingly turning to virtual private networks (VPNs) as a way to share files. According to a study from Sweden’s Lund University, there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of 15 to 25-year-olds using these services since 2009.

VPNs are set up as a secure network that essentially uses public telecommunication infrastructure, including Internet, to provide access to a central organizational network. Whilst VPNs require remote users of the network to be authenticated, and even offer firewalls and encryption technology to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of private information, these are now being used as a way to share files and data anonymously.

The study, which was carried out by the Cybernorms research group at Lund University, revealed that more than 700,000 Swedes use anonymous VPN services such as Pirate Bay’s iPredator. This is an increase from 2009, when 500,000 Swedes were taking steps to become anonymous with their online connections.

VPNs could be one way for those wishing to share files illegally to stay ahead of site shutdowns and avoid copyright infringement. Last year New Zealand enacted legislation that was aimed at deterring illegal file sharing, including a P2P file sharing ban. However, some sites offer advice on using VPNs to mask a user’s identity for non-lawbreaking uses.

The website Purevpn noted: “For those you who want to use P2P file sharing for legal and personal purposes (and not for any illegal activities), we recommend using VPN service to change your IP location. Choosing a secure VPN connection would enable people to share files in a more secured way. The problem is, and always will be when it comes to holding an alternate IP address, it will be even more difficult to trace down the offender who uses the internet secretly. In the end, the onus lies with the netizens to use the available internet services for legal purposes only and avoid illegal file sharing using VPN as well.”

And, according to the researchers, the number of individuals aged 15 to 25-years-old now hiding themselves online accounts for 15 percent of online users, up from 10 percent in 2009.

But it is likely that the music industry won’t back down. While it has shifted its focus away from individual file-sharers to going after the services, and working to shut down sites via domain name service blocking – which in essence stops anyone trying to get to the site – this may only be the first step. VPNs could be the next big target.

“VPNs could become the next front in the battle against piracy,” independent music analyst Mark Mulligan told BBC News.

In the corner of the music industry are governments as well. In addition to Sweden, the UK, Spain, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Denmark and Italy have declared a war on piracy and The Pirate Bay. And just as piracy on the high seas was eventually stamped out through international efforts, these efforts could bring down additional piracy as well.

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