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Out of curiosity do the web based file hosting services such as Oron and Rapidshare store information about who downloads what? I ask because I'm wondering, when someone is "caught" downloading something do the authorities catch them based on analyzing the traffic to their computer or is it more of the office of Oron/Rapidshare/etc. is raided and the log files are seized and used to determine who's downloading what?

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Yes, web service providers of all kinds store some information about their users and users' activities. For various reasons — infrastructure monitoring, resource allocation, targeted advertisement… That information can be obtained by authorities with a warrant, subpoena, or a polite request, depending on the provider, type and amount of data. Here Google for example provides a map with requests broken down by country.

Raiding is usually not necessary, though happens sometimes. Even Megaupload provided information requested by the authorities with a warrant and held on to the potential evidence.

The situation is a little different for p2p networks. There, evidence against users is usually provided by companies doing active monitoring of the "swarm" by joining it and downloading data from users to confirm that they are indeed sharing copyrighted materials. Torrentfreak obtained some insider details a few years back and the general idea remains the same.

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What I don't get is why people think using a VPN service protects them. If a user has to log in to or provide personal information then they're caught. –  Celeritas Dec 8 '12 at 4:35
    
VPN providers sometimes claim they're not keeping any logs. The nature of their service does make it possible, though hard to know beforehand. If true, that would mean they have no information to share with the authorities. –  Damn Terminal Dec 8 '12 at 7:15
    
If the VPN is to a box with hundreds of users, how do you identify the infringing user? You can't, not easily, and especially not if the person running the VPN service is trying to make it anonymous. –  Polynomial Dec 8 '12 at 10:17
    
But if you have to log into use the site anyways and have given personal information then VPN is irrelevant right (that's my question)? For example if a group of hackers are using a premium account on Rapidshare to exchange files, doesn't matter if they connect using VPN since they need to log in and if Rapidshare keeps track of which account uploaded/downloaded files then the owner of the account is affiliated with that content. Or do file hosts not keep track of such things? –  Celeritas Dec 8 '12 at 12:44
    
What "personal information" do you believe a hacker provides? –  schroeder Dec 10 '12 at 16:18

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