Should IT Worry About P2P's Traffic Domination? Yes

Carl Weinschenk

IT managers who want a case of indigestion need go no further than peeking at the figures from ipoque on peer-to-peeer (P2P) traffic. The firm says the approach accounts for 50 percent to 90 percent of the traffic on the Internet, according to a report in Ars Technica.


ipoque says that the main offender is BitTorrent, which was responsible for 50 percent to 75 percent of P2P traffic. The firm surpassed eDonkey, which accounted for 5 percent to 50 percent of traffic.


The news wasn't all bad, the story says. Ellacoya, a deep packet inspection (DPI) firm, in June said that P2P comprised only 37 percent of North American traffic. Forty-six percent of traffic, that study said, was in the hyper text transport protocol (HTTP) format.


P2P is associated with two major indigestion-producers. One is the fact that it chews up bandwidth at an alarming rate. The other is the security concerns that it raises. Indeed, on August 16 Skype -- the leading P2P VoIP provider -- suffered an outage that lasted a day or so and was as crippling to its image as to its network. It was interesting that folks are so nervous about P2P that the original assumption -- which proved to be inaccurate -- was that the outage was caused by a huge distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. (A Microsoft update, a flaw in Skype's SuperNodes and some bad luck were the culprits.)


Though capacity issues may get the lion's share of the coverage, it may be that security is the bigger problem for P2P. During a U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing in July, Computerworld reported on comments by a professor of operations management at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He said that the problem of the loss of sensitive data over P2P networks is worse than many people think. Retired Army General Wes Clark -- who is on the board of Tiversa, a P2P monitoring service -- claimed to have accessed more than 200 sensitive documents in hours over a file sharing network.


E-Commerce Times covered what apparently was the same hearing. The topic of its story was the grilling given to LimeWire chairman Mark Gorton. The fourth paragraph of the story does a good job of listing the type of sensitive data found on the P2P service. What drives the point home most effectively, however, is the next paragraph, which is frightening in its matter-of-fact nature:

What may have caught committee members most off-guard was learning that tax return information from both British and U.S. citizens was easily located by simply entering the term "tax return" in the LimeWire search window.

This posting at Siliatech's Blog Channel, which seems to have been written by a network administrator, says that P2P networks are very common internal structures among small businesses, while larger organizations opt for domain structures. The writer feels that small companies' reliance on P2P is unfortunate because it means that there is little oversight. Conversely, a domain system charges one administrator with responsibility for for what goes on.


The bottom line is obvious: Companies of all sizes should bypass P2P in their networks, and do whatever they can to squelch their employees' use of it.

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