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Torrenting Still A Thorn In Enterprise Networks

A quarter of enterprises still see torrenting activity and among those, 43 percent of apps contain malicious elements.

UPDATED to include BitTorrent response, Wednesday, Dec. 23 -- Even though the typical corporate policy today forbids peer-to-peer file sharing, the reality is that many enterprises still bear the brunt of torrenting activity.  According to a new report out by security rating firm BitSight Technologies, nearly one in four firms today have P2P activity lurking on their networks. And that is bringing a lot of risk to the P2P party.

“While the sharing and downloading of copyrighted or pirated content and applications over peer-to-peer typically violates most corporate policies, the behavior continues to occur at a high rate," says Stephen Boyer, co-founder and CTO of BitSight.

Across the more than 30,000 corporate networks that BitSight observes for security soundness, 23 percent of them were using the popular BitTorrent protocol for P2P file sharing.  

The high rate of enterprise P2P prevalence is disturbing if not surprising. According to a report out earlier this month from broadband management firm Sandvine, torrent traffic accounts for 29 percent of all upstream U.S. Internet traffic during peak hours. That's four times as much as Netflix, Google Cloud or YouTube upstream activity. In fact, it is more than all three put together.

Digging deeper into the issue, Bitsight found that 43 percent of torrented applications contain malicious software. This is key, considering that the currency of enterprise torrenting is software, rather than the traditional media most people associate with P2P sharing.

"Movies and games often come to mind when organizations think about P2P file sharing; however, the majority of infected applications that we uncovered were either Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office or various versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system,” Boyer says.

Unsurprisingly, given the high rate of infections carried out through torrented applications, BitSight also found that a higher rate of botnet activity correlated directly to the detection of P2P use on a given network. Machines on networks exhibiting P2P use are far more likely to suffer from botnet infections.

"The high malware infection rates suggest that organizations with file sharing activity are more susceptible to machine takeover," Boyer says. "File sharing activity can serve as one of many key risk indicators and should be considered not only internally, but also when assessing vendor risk, conducting M&A due diligence, and underwriting cyber insurance.”

UPDATE:

A BitTorrent representative responded to the BitSight report. Christian Averill, vice-president of marketing for BitTorrent told Dark Reading:

“BitTorrent is an Internet protocol. An HTTP replacement, a better way for file transfer. It is the most efficient way to do the heavy lifting. As such is used by just about every core platform on the Internet. This includes companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia for server updates; the BBC, Amazon, and Blizzard Entertainment for moving content; scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider, the Human Genome Project, and Cancer research for moving massive data sets.

"There are hundreds more examples which have nothing to do with malware, botnets and other bogeys BitSight asserts is caused by BitTorrent. My guess is that those don’t help sell the new products they are promoting. ...

"We work with many corporations and have products designed for their needs. This overgeneralization of distributed technology and BitTorrent only creates fear and confusion when accurate information is needed."

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