No more LimeWire: what other options do I have?

This post discusses tools that can, but are not designed to, aid copyright infringement. Leaving aside potential legal issues, this post is intended to serve an educational purpose and merely describes already available services and software.

As part of my consulting business, I’m often asked to suggest alternatives for popular P2P programs like Kazaa and Morpheus. The first thing I mention is that I no longer support LimeWire, which is a P2P client that uses the Gnutella network. Unfortunately, most search results for any popular keywords contain pornography, trojan executables or MediaSentry “fake” files. Executing one of these files can do significant damage to a system, on the level of installing “MSN Block Checker” or similar software.

Just a note, for those reading: “MSN Block Checker” is a trojan that preys on people wanting to find out who blocked their account on MSN/Windows Live Messenger. There is no way to do this, since online status changes are sent by Microsoft. You can’t find out who blocked you with client software.

MSN Block Checker and its ilk necessitate a complete Windows reinstallation, and generally you can’t run a “repair” procedure. Systems can become reinfected just by viewing an old Windows folder with a shellcode exploit. We recommend a complete system wipe (deleting the original partition) and reinstallation for this particular problem, followed by disabling MSN file transfers and applying a limited user account for the teenager involved.

There are three P2P alternatives that I generally offer to clients who ask. For those who aren’t aware, the iTunes Store does offer high quality tracks without DRM as “iTunes Plus” content. You have to pay – but this method ensures clients that the music is legitimate and will work on any given iPod, which is the most commonly seen MP3 player in my work. I generally remind people that the price for songs also encompasses proper tagging and album art, which is more often wrong than not when Internet releases enter the picture.

The second alternative is BitTorrent. Unfortunately the protocol has come under fire from large industry groups: the record and movie industries patrol highly popular files, seed fake content that will never complete its download, and its ubiquity has ensured that trackers such as the Pirate Bay follow the wishes of the lowest common denominator in the crowd. People who have never seen a .rar file in their lives, don’t have the correct codecs or are incompetent at selecting a download folder are thrust into a world of pain when they encounter these problems using BitTorrent. Communities such as TorrentFreak only encourage this kind of behaviour by promoting substandard movie releases and drama.

My personal choice and recommendation for people willing to learn is Usenet access. Unlike BitTorrent, users of the protocol are not required to upload content. A standard level of access to Usenet is offered by several commercial providers for $15 per month: Newshosting and Usenetserver are two newsgroup providers that I’ve used. Downloads generally run at the top speed of your Internet line. Combined with a client like SABnzbd+ and a search solution such as (free) or NewzBin (paid), Usenet is a powerful utility that discourages people who are unwilling to learn.

Some of the changed concepts from BitTorrent to newsgroups involve:

  • Multi-part files and recovery. Newsgroups contain binaries in multiple “posts”, which are usually separated into multi-part .rar archives. The advantage to this system is that provided enough recovery information, a partially complete upload can be restored and made usable.
  • Retention time. With BitTorrent, files are available as long as at least one seed (or enough partially complete peers) announce themselves. Newsgroups rely on retention time (how long has passed since the files were posted), which is provider-dependent.
  • Client software. Both BitTorrent trackers and Usenet search providers provide a “key” file (a .torrent or a .nzb) that indicates how the content should be retrieved.

In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss some of these details in depth and provide some pointers on getting started with newsgroups. Stay tuned.

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