ITS bars file sharing websites to decongest network

Information Technology Services has blocked a number of websites associated with BitTorrent downloads in an attempt to alleviate pressure on Linfield’s network.
ITS finished upgrading the network’s physical components and digital organization, but students are overloading the network with downloads that use BitTorrent tracking protocols, Irv Wiswall, chief technology director, said.
BitTorrents are a type of peer-to-peer download. When a file is selected for download, the program finds multiple computers of user that share the file. It then downloads part of the file simultaneously from each.
“The most common use of peer-to-peer [file sharing] is copyright violation,” he said.
The process takes up substantially more bandwidth than downloads that have one source, Wiswall said.
BitTorrent uses tracking protocols to organize and sort the incoming information and reassemble it at the downloading computer. Tracking protocols can be compared to a tag or label on a file being downloaded.
“We don’t have enough bandwidth,” he said. “We’ve got 100 megabits of bandwidth per second, and it’s full most of the day.”
“What we’ve done is block, at the gateway, the BitTorrent trackers,” he said. “It’s what you need to make the BitTorrents work. It’s given some relief to the network.”
Students attempting to reach a forbidden website are redirected to a website bearing a message from Wiswall. It tells students that they have been redirected because they are trying to download files using a BitTorrent tracking protocol, and it slows down the network and that they should contact Wiswall if it was reached in error.
The policy of blocking trackers began during the last week of September, Wiswall said.
ITS was using a device called a packetshaper to regulate BitTorrents. It ceased to regulate BitTorrent traffic effectively for reasons unknown, so the department decided to change its strategy.
The packetshaper examines information coming and going from the server. It then assigns a percentage of Linfield’s available bandwidth to the data.
The device is programmed to be especially vigilant in discovering peer-to-peer tracking protocols and assigning them a low priority for bandwidth space, Wiswall said.
He said the packetshaper lost its ability to detect and block peer-to-peer file sharing sometime last year.
“People that write peer-to-peer protocols play a cat-and-mouse game with the people that program the packetshaper,” Wiswall said. “They keep trying to get around it.”
Wiswall said the packetshaper was initially installed to counter Napster, which was making Linfield’s network unusable at the time the device was purchased.
The programmers of BitTorrent protocols may have written programs beyond the packetshaper’s ability to analyze, Wiswall said.
“We don’t know if the packetshaper can’t figure out the protocols or if we don’t know how to make it do that,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of time to look into this.”
Using BitTorrent to download copyrighted material
is illegal under federal law. Posters hanging inside Renshaw Hall warn of the
consequences for illegally sharing copyrighted
material.
Wiswall is unable to determine who is illegal downloads material on Linfield’s network.
“Our network is set up in such a way that I can’t track back to the individual that downloaded the material,” Wiswall said. “I get notifications from people trying to protect their copyright all the time.”
Wiswall is not against using BitTorrent protocols to download material even though it causes problems for the network. Anyone who wants to use BitTorrent to download material that is not copyrighted can ask the ITS support desk for assistance, he said, but no one has asked for help yet.
Even with the blocks on BitTorrent tracking sites, students said they can still use the program to share files.
One student, who requested to remain anonymous, said he uses other programs and websites as proxies for the blocked ones, allowing him to stay connected to peer-to-peer networks.
He added that he has had to change his proxies frequently because ITS kept finding and blocking the websites he was using but that it was more of an annoyance than an obstacle.
ITS is making plans to troubleshoot the sluggishness. Wiswall said he hopes to increase Linfield’s bandwidth by 30 percent next year if the budget permits.
If successful, Linfield will have 130 Mbit/s of bandwidth instead of 100 Mbit/s.
Wiswall said he hopes this will help counter the slowdowns the network suffers during peak usage.
“I think we will still reach those peaks because 30 Mbit/s isn’t enough to keep people happy,” he said. “But we should reach those peaks less.”
Linfield pays $48 per Mbit a month. Wiswall said he does not expect that price to change if he does increase the bandwidth.
Linfield purchases its Internet service from Online Northwest. The contract expires in one year, and Wiswall said he is looking at other providers for a better deal.

Joshua EnslerNews editor
Joshua Ensler can be reached at linfieldreviewnews@gmail.com.

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