For many people, internet piracy is not a huge issue. In fact, it is something that some of us are engaged in ourselves to some degree. For better or worse, most people don’t view internet piracy as being a particularly serious issue. Of course, many of us can still remember a time when the music and film industry came down very hard on those they suspected of piracy. For a number of years, we would hear horror stories from people who had, rightly or wrongly, been accused of illegally downloading content and threatened with enormous fines.
While the average internet user is clearly unconcerned with piracy, many businesses, not just the film and music industries, feel threatened by the existence of piracy. We could debate whether these concerns are well-founded or not all day long. However, regardless of the actual or perceived level of threat, there are a lot of organizations out there who have a vested interest in ensuring that the work they own the rights to is not illegally distributed.
Many of those who are most interested in fighting piracy, and who stand to lose the most from being victims of piracy, are very well funded and well resourced. Coupled with the fact that these people tend to have the law on their side, you would think that they would have come up with a better method than just sending threatening letters to people.
Among the many tactics that have been used by both industry and law enforcement to combat piracy, the most popular is probably the honeypot. A honeypot is a trap that is designed to lure victims by apparently offering them what they want. However, once the user has entered the honeytrap, they will be covered in delicious sticky honey, which will make them really easy to find.
So, in order to identify and potentially prosecute pirates, law enforcement agencies have been known to create fake websites while industry businesses have sometimes uploaded their own copyrighted material with some digital trackers added to it. To the average pirate or internet user, it isn’t obvious that any of this is happening – they just see the same irresistible copyrighted content as always.
Just by accessing the honeypot, a pirate can end up giving away a lot of information about themselves. In some cases, law enforcement has been known to log the IP address of everyone who has connected to a honeypot website. These aren’t always masquerading as something as innocent as a torrent repository, and in some cases just accessing the website is highly suspect.
However, if a user downloads a file from the honeypot, they are almost certainly going to find themselves being tracked and monitored. Not only does it become much easier for the copyright holder to track down the infringer after they have downloaded a booby-trapped file, but an infected file could also easily contain keyloggers or other malware that could be used to deanonymize a user.
Pirate Bay is one of the most infamous websites associated with illegal material. You may remember the many controversies that seem to follow Pirate Bay and its founders wherever they went. Ultimately, the Pirate Bay inspired the Pirate Party, which is now an established political force in a number of European countries. Platforms like Pirate Bay highlighted the chasm that still exists between copyright holders and consumers with regard to the morality of the situation.
When the Pirate Bay was first taken offline, it triggered a wave of protests and backlash from the online community. Given the strong emotions on both sides of the debate, many people were at least a little bit suspicious about its apparent re-emergence in February 2015. You might have expected the pirates to be overjoyed at having their favorite haunt restored to them.
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However, the overriding feeling among the community was one of suspicion. Rumors soon began to fly suggesting that Pirate Bay was now under the control of the FBI and that they planned to use the whole service as one big honeypot for catching out unsuspecting pirates.
Sound paranoid? Well, it wasn’t an idea without precedent. Back in 2013, a popular file-sharing site called UploaderTalk was revealed to be an anti-piracy honeypot the whole time. The announcement, when it came, took everybody by surprise and no doubt contributed to subsequent rumors about other websites actually being honeypots.
Free VPNs and Proxies
One of the most common types of honeypot seen online today is the honeypot masquerading as a VPN or proxy service. Both VPNs and proxies provide an additional layer of security and distance between their users and the wider internet with the servers acting as intermediaries. When they are configured correctly, VPNs and proxies can significantly enhance a user’s online privacy and security.
However, the nature of these technologies means that they require users to trust them. All the data sent between a user and a VPN server is encrypted, but the VPN server itself must be able to encrypt, decrypt, and read any information that flows through it. If that server is a honeypot, there is nothing to stop its owner from logging every bit of data that passes through and then mining it for financial details or other personal information.
It costs money to maintain a VPN or proxy service. No one can afford to give it away for free. Free VPNs and proxies need to make their money somehow. If they aren’t selling you access to their services, they must be funding them through other means. All too often, these other means involve stealing and selling the data of unsuspecting users.
The good news is that it’s pretty easy for the average internet user to avoid any honeypots. Honeypots tend to be set up in places where they are most likely to attract their desired targets. You are unlikely to inadvertently stumble into one. However, if you insist on searching for pirated content, honeypots are something you have to watch out for.