Sometimes you find useful information in the oddest of places. Much of computer forensics is based around that understanding. Backup tapes. Replies to replies to replies with the original email and addressee list intact on a 4th party 3 times removed mail archive. Usage statistics for particular ports and IP addresses. And that mountain of “work files” that Microsoft leaves scattered across the landscape of your disk…
Usually it is something relatively focused on a particular person. Sometimes a small group of people. Then there are other times where the information presented is much more broad in character. Seeing that a load of IP addresses for downloading porn of young girls in “school uniforms” come from Japan, for example. (A common poster I saw in Tokyo on the “wrong side of the tracks” had such an image. My guide explained that it was one of the more popular Fantasy Roles there…) or noting that the attacks logged into your syslog file that were the more repetitive, pedantic and “by the book” (literally) had origins in the old USSR said something about their organizationally trained “system crackers”. (The Russians have some spectacular programmers and hackers, but the old USSR was not geared to use them well…)
In this case, I was looking at my Bittorrent Server activity. I’ve only recently started using Torrent services. It is a highly effective “peer to peer” file sharing / distribution service. The best advances in it have come from the Pirate and Hacker communities. Every time Law Enforcement would go after someone for what was arguably “fair use” sharing of a song recording or movie, the sites and software would ratchet up to move one more step ahead. When the file sharing central servers were attacked, things moved “peer to peer” so there was no central repository. When the “.torrent file” coordinating sites, called ‘trackers’, (the places that hand out and coordinate sharing – encrypted if desired – via .torrent files) were hit, various protocols were added so that no .torrent “trackers” were needed. Folks would / could just announce they were interested in a particular .torrent and “things would come”. Now there are “magnet links” to draw your desired content too you, no central anything need apply…
So am I a music and video Pirate? No, not at all. For one thing, I’m partially deaf. I like music, but it isn’t high on my list of important sensory things. Anything above about 6 kHz is just gone, and while music from 50 Hz to 3 kHz is nice, well, lets just say that without the piccolo a lot of classical music isn’t quite the same… (think 1776 and marching songs…) Similarly, I like movies, but once I’ve seen one, I “have it”. It’s in my head and I can just replay it more or less. I like that “first image load” to be on a big screen in a theatre. (We don’t even have HDTV at home yet, just old “scan and pan” aspect ratio regular “antique” TV…)
So why do I do torrents? Well, I didn’t until lately. But a tool doesn’t care who invented it or why. As of now, a boat load of software is distributed via torrents. I like collecting “old releases” of Linux, since often times they run in far less memory and on “garbage” computers Just Fine. I’d started making a collection of some of them and discovered it eats up a lot of disk space fast ;-) Having torrent servers lets us ALL share our old stuff around. (I’ve bought a 1 TB disk and will be slowly making an archives of selected old crap releases on it ;-) But along the way, “Stuff Happens”.
Part of that “stuff” was The Feds deciding that the First Amendment and the Second Amendment only apply when they agree to it. Sorry Charlie, it doesn’t work that way. Authority rests with We The People. Rights originate from God and are inherent to We The People. They are not subject to your granting nor removal; despite what you may think. Ask Old King George about that… Yes, we can be damn lazy and generally not make much of a fuss about it when you trample us. NEVER confuse being polite and restrained with agreement nor with passivity.
I have a very biased view of the American Population. I’m a native Californian. I’ve grown up and lived within about 100 miles of San Franciso my whole life. I’ve been in Silicon Valley for the last nearly 40 years. So I have no idea what the “intersection” is of “gun rights advocates” and “geeks”; as my sample is dominated by Geeks. This is Geek Heaven and odds are that at the gun range the guy or gal next to you is a programmer or similar. It’s also a very “liberal” place, so many folks who would be pegged as ‘right wing’ via owning guns are in fact not. (I’m pretty “liberal” on a lot of things, from drugs to what folks do in their bedrooms. I’m much more a Classical Liberal that is now called Libertarian here. I don’t really care what you do as long as you leave me alone.)
I once hired a girl out of college. Cute as could be, blond, did occasional modeling – she shared her portfolio when one of the staff asked about it. Maybe 110 lbs soaking wet? Well, she was one of THE best computer programmers I ever hired. We were having a staff “offsite” (i.e. out to lunch somwhere) and the topic of guns came up – one of the more ‘liberal’ in the team was interested in learning about them since some of us had ‘expressed an opinion’ that being ignorant was not a good basis for decisions… and he was anti-gun. Little Miss pipes up… Seems she likes to shoot… Asked “what do you shoot, .22 or .38, or?…” she replies “I have a .44 Magnum revolver that’s my favorite.” Seems she grew up in Farm Country near the hills and the occasional need to stop a charging bear meant you needed to have something ‘of enough size’… Long story short: The “liberal” found out it was fun to shoot tin cans at the “junk range”, realized we were not a bunch of “gun nuts”, found out that fully 1/2 the shooters were fellow “liberals”; and we all got to watch a beautiful petite blond shoot rings around all of us with a gun bigger than ours! ;-)
But the point of that digression is that every single one of those folks was a hard core Unix Systems Programmer, including me. My “sample” was a 100% intersection of that group with “shooters”. Entirely a matter of selection bias in where I worked. So I can say nothing about the relative proportion of computer Geeks vs Shooters in, say, Wichita or Dallas or New York City. Just keep that in mind when seeing the following picture. Is it ignoring the 99.99% of shooters who don’t have a clue what a “torrent” is? Or are shooters more connected to the music piracy and software communities? I don’t know. So here’s my sample:
Click it to “embiggen” and read the stuff for yourself.
This is a screen capture of my Bittorrent Client on my laptop. I’m deprecating it as I move my Torrent archives onto a dedicated Raspberry Pi SD card. It had not been running in a month? or so. So I fired it up to make available a couple of things from it, to the R.Pi. (In particular, a Knoppix 5.1 release that was only available from me, on the laptop, after leaving the R.Pi ‘waiting’ for it for all that time, and a Cryptonas old image). Now what’s interesting here is the relative “demand” for different things.
Typically a Torrent will be in very high demand when new. Both the music / movie folks and the software folks want that new release ON release date. That’s one of the big advantages of Torrent. IFF I’ve got a 1 GB ‘release’ and a 1 mbit ‘leased line’ and, say, 1,000,000 people world wide want it at the same time… that’s 1 Million GigaBytes to shove down a 1 MegaBit/second line. At 10 bits / byte (8 data, start , stop bits) that’s about 10 Giga seconds. 1 x 10^6 x 10^9 x 10 / 10^6 = 10^10 seconds. As there are 86,400 seconds in a year, that’s about 115,000 years… So you can see that “central distribution” of new software releases “had issues”. Especially for smaller sized companies that “had a hit product” by surprise.
Peer to peer fixes that as you aggregate bandwidth with popularity. As soon as I have some bits, I start sharing what parts I have with anyone who doesn’t have those blocks yet. In theory, the central site only needs to send each block of the data ONCE and to any of the connected “peers”; after which an exponential ramp of Peer to Peer sharing takes off. (In practice, there are ‘leachers’ who don’t share so some amount of excess transmission is needed to cover them, but it isn’t large.)
This, BTW, has an interesting side effect. The “etiquette” is to “share as much as you get”, so if you download a 1 GB file, you are expected to keep sharing it until you have a download / upload ratio of greater than 1. The problem, of course, is that you can not have “everyone above average”… In practice, the early flood of distribution starts to fade, the first folks get ratios above 1, and the “late to the party” folks end up with a copy, but few folks wanting it following them. So the tendency is to a ‘fad’ type pattern. LOTS of peers early on, then a lingering death of interest as it become “old hat and irrelevant”. Where, if you are lucky, you might find some one person somewhere who had Knoppix 5.1 on their torrent server and forgot to remove it when it became stale… Which is exactly why I’m seeing some utility in a very large disk full of old release archives for folks who need that old release (to recover some old box / data / whatever… as often happens in forensics and computer support…) Now, lets look at some numbers in that screen capture.
The first 4 are related to the FOIA-2011 release. They are now a bit “stale” as the folks “moved on”. Single digit “seeds” (like me) keeping it available for others to download. My “ratio” is a fractional number as I was a bit late to download, and then almost immediately moved it to the R.Pi and stopped the Bittorrent on the laptop. No activity at all on the ‘upload’ so nobody looking to get a copy now. A bit further down, we see some Knoppix releases. That old 5.1 is being actively uploaded by some guy (not my R.Pi) who had also been waiting for months, no doubt… so is happy I restarted Bittorent on the Laptop… Under “seeds” you can see a “1”. That’s me, the only guy providing that particular file at the moment. In the whole of the .torrent space. Just me. Kinda makes a guy feel all “special” and “wanted” ;-)
A bit further down, the newer Knoppix releases (that are also larger and fatter and don’t work as well on old small slow boxes like a spare x486…) have many more “seeds”. The ones ending in “DE” are in German, the ones in English end in “EN”. The English one has 77 folks actively “seeding” it at the moment. Those are relatively normal numbers for “Tech stuff” that’s been around a while. Single digits of seeds for “old stuff”, and double digits for “current but out a while”. Only in the first “flush” of a few days of release do you tend to higher numbers.
Now look at that highlighted blue line. Liberator. 1647 seeds. I am not one of them. (I’ve halted that particular torrent.) We’re into this some relatively long time since the original release of the .torrent file onto the internet. The first night I grabbed a copy. More as a political statement than anything else. I wanted to “be heard” stating “this is OUR freedom of speech and we choose to talk to each other in bits and bytes.” as I’ve never seen a “3-D printer” the content is actually useless to me. I expect that is true for most folks. The simple fact was that there were SO many folks with 100% of the file actively seeding it, and with high bandwidth, that I was just not getting any “share” of the upload requests.
Bittorrent has a method of finding the best source for you. It prunes out sites that are far away (topologically) and with low speed. You tend to get the most bits from the sites that are fastest and best connected to you. I was just not “important enough” when compared to big servers in large data centers with massive internet connections. (Many .torrent servers are sited at co-location facilities. Pirate Bay is reputed to be done with a cluster of Virtual Machines such that any Co-Lo site could be shut down and the ‘standby’ servers would detect that, and bring themselves up again in a different legal jurisdiction.) So after a while of watching me get “polled” (a 1 size or 0.1 size momentary ‘upload’) and then be dropped for a ‘better source’, I just turned off that seed. Notice that my “ratio” is zero.
Now the big question is just how many more folks are there “like me”? Discouraged that we were “too small” to matter? Just waiting “For that day” when the number of seeds drops down? Add in the slightly paranoid folks who have a copy and are NOT sharing (since your IP address shows up in the window of the person doing the download and “agencies” can run ongoing downloads to identify the sources… or some of the sources since not everyone connects to all of them…)? I’d guess a couple of orders of magnitude more. Heck, I want to be a seed for it, and it’s just too crowded right now to bother!
What does this say to me? There are a heck of a lot of folks, willing to “make a statement” on this point. There are a very large number “in the wings” (like me) watching the stars on stage and doing ‘understudy’ of their lines. There is a very large and appreciative audience…
And there’s a guy with a badge in the back of the room scowling as the audience jeers at him… This is OUR burlesque, and we do not need him trying to apply his “blue laws” when Gypsy Rose Lee hits the stage… We have tomatoes and cream pies at the ready, should he get too full of himself…
Were I a politician indulging in political overreach, I’d be afraid. We The People are a generally passive and quiet lot. But this is fairly clear evidence of a restive undertone. A willingness to say “Stuff it, and stuff you, if you think I’m a door mat.” The Little Guy found a momentary voice, and was happy to use it, to yell “Up Yours!”. And they are still using it.
That’s not the kind of atmosphere where you want to be pushing them even more.
Add in the IRS political tool scandal (and the Democratic Spin Doctoring trying to make it a Republican issue… it isn’t and they look the fool for that spin…), the Obamacare Fiasco In The Making (the damn dog sunk his teeth into the tire of the passing car and is now wondering what happens next…), the A.P. Piss Off all the press and alienate your friends scandal (and cause folks like me to get to work on removing our speech from your reach…), and more… Well, lets just say it’s a bad idea to light cigars in celebration of having poured gasoline all around yourself…
Though it can be fun to watch…
Hey, buddy, got a light? I’ll just stand over here while you get yours lit…