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Can you safely torrent with a VPN?

Posted by Steve Vondran | Jan 18, 2019 | 0 Comments

Virtual Private Networks (“VPN”) – Will it save your from getting BUSTED file sharing Strike 3 Holding Movies?

Introduction

There are many LEGAL uses of Torrent protocol, and many people use VPN'S to seek to block their IP addresses.  This blog addresses whether or not a VPN is a foolproof way to avoid copyright infringement lawsuits from adult porn and movie companies like Strike 3 Holdings.

Using VPN'S to Avoid Infringement Detection

VPNs: Myth vs Fact

VPNs have been growing in popularity due to today's online and connected world, but what exactly is a VPN and does it actually accomplish all those things that your coworker said at the water cooler? In this blog post we will go over everything from what a VPN is, how it works, its legality, and court cases relevant to VPNs.

Relevant Court Cases:

United States of America vs Suzette Kugler

Case summary: Suzette Kugler was an employee of PenAir for 29 years working as an IT administrator for their database system, which ran ticketing and registrations for the airline. In February of 2017 she was terminated from her job and was disgruntled with the conditions involving her termination.  Due to her resentful nature at the time she used her positions abilities to generate multiple fake employee user accounts with high-level privileges.  Sometime between April and May Kugler erased pertinent information on the Sabre system used by employees at eight airports. Without said system functioning employees could not do essential functions such as booking, ticketing and boarding flights. Following this on May 3rd Kugler erased seat maps using “considerable time and expense,” for PenAir according to the plea agreement.

Then in May 5, 2017 PenAir reported to the FBI about intrusions to their Sabre system. The FBI was granted a search warrant for Kugler's home where they found two computers containing installations of Sabres VPN software. PenAir used the Sabre VPN, as many companies do, to keep their corporate and employee information private. What Kugler did not know is that VPNs keep logs of traffic data within their network. In the end Suzette Kugler pleaded guilty to one felony offense in fraud and agreed to pay $5,616 to PenAir so the Department of Justice would drop the second count for the same offense.

Opinion: This is a pretty cut and dry case of a disgruntled employee who used her work privileges to screw over her ex-employer and watch the mayhem. Kugler was clever but not clever enough to know how VPNs work or that she should use her own VPN instead of the one provided by her employing company.

United States of America vs Ryan S Lin

Case Summary: Ryan Lin, a 25 year old citizen of Massachusetts, who plead guilty to seven counts of cyber stalking, five counts of distribution of child pornography, nine counts of making false bomb threats, three counts of computer fraud and abuse and one count of aggravated identity theft on October 3, 2018. From approximately May 2016 to October 2017 Lin cyber stalked a 25-year-old woman who was his former housemate. Lin hacked into the victim's online accounts and devices where he stole private photographs, personal diary entries, personally identifiable information which held information such as medical, sexual, and psychological history.

He then distributed said personal information to hundreds of people associated with the victim. Along with this Lin used her information and photographs to create various online profiles in her name seeking rape fantasies, which ended up with men coming to the victim's home attempting to fulfill the profiles requests. Six other victims were also targeted by his cyber stalking campaign, some of which were associated with the victim, while others were isolated. Included with these other victims were two female housemates of Lin at his time of arrest. Lin sent sexually explicit pictures of prepubescent children to the main victim's mother, that same victim's co-worker and housemate, a friend of the victim, along with two of Lin's former classmates, none of which asked for such images. Just when you think, “Okay, that's enough” it keeps going, Lin repeatedly reported false bomb threats at the main victims home to law enforcement.

Lin went on to create fake social media profiles using the likeness of the main victim's housemate making claims of “shooting up” schools in the area and building to different threats to homes, schools, businesses, and other institutions.  In the end Lin pleaded guilty to having made over 100 bomb threats, he was sentenced with a minimum of seven years and a maximum of seventeen and a half years in prison. This entire time he was using a VPN thinking that it would completely cover his tracks

Opinion: Ryan Lin is a mentally disturbed individual who became fixated on his female housemate and due to his illness became disorganized eventually leading to him being caught. He had a much better grasp of VPNs and other privacy software than Suzette Kugler, but even with that knowledge he could not get away with his crimes.

The above two cases are extremes in terms of VPN related crimes. Most of the time if one is illegally torrenting or streaming movies, it is unlikely they will get caught with a VPN (but that's not to say its impossible).

For starters VPN is an acronym for Virtual Private Network, meaning that when using the software correctly your IP address and other data cannot be gathered because it is in a standalone connection between you and the Internet destination. Think of it as Batman's tunnel out of his Batcave, he can use it to come and go but no one will know to/from where or who it is.

Who would gather and use this data?

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are notorious for this and in 2017 under the Trump Administration the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) removed the safeguards keeping ISPs from collecting its users data. This user data is valuable to many companies for market research, targeted ads, and datasets of demographics.

How secure is a VPN?

  • No single software or hardware is completely safe or anonymous. Just like when you're protecting yourself from the cold you use layers, Internet privacy is the same. Although many VPNs do not gather your data and give it to other companies, they do gather and keep logs of history from its users.

Can a VPN crash or be hacked?

  • A VPN crash is possible just like with any software, basic software fixes such as restarting the software, closing other applications, and keeping the software up to date can remedy the problem. While a VPN is crashed it will not provide privacy to ones computer data and traffic habits. Hacking VPNs is also possible but expensive and time consuming. Edward Snowden whistleblew about the NSA intercepting encrypted data and passing it to computers where they grind out the key to decrypt the data.

Are all VPNs the same?

  • No, each has its own specs. Some are faster, easier to operate, log less, allow more devices to use the software, have live chat support, better features, lower monthly price.

Are VPNs legal to use in the USA?

  • In short yes, but like with torrenting, bitcoin, or even owning a gun it is not the act of owning it that is illegal but how you use it.

Conclusion

In short, a VPN will be mostly effective for the common person who is trying to keep that last bit of privacy on the Internet, but like anything it can break or be bypassed. VPNs are not the be-all and end-all of Internet privacy or anonymity.  There are legal ways to safely torrent without infringing copyrights, and for those who want to take their chances downloading copyrighted content, like Strike 3 Holdings or Malibu Media movies will be taking their risks.  If the software crashes and illegal movie downloads are found to be going in and out of your computers, you may end up calling our firm one day especially if a huge library of downloaded books, music, games, films or software is found or believed to have been downloaded).  For now, however, there are not a ton of cases discussing civil lawsuits starting this way. 

About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337

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