AfterDawn.com

Using PeerBlock to safeguard privacy


PeerBlock is used by a lot of users of P2P networks and BitTorrent and similar software to guard against snooping by parties looking for illegal file sharing activity. It has, however, the power to more or less block out anyone or anything on the Internet as long as you can identify the IP ranges associated with it. It blocks everything from anti-piracy organizations, to law enforcement and to spyware peddlers using long lists compiled by users. Some believe it can protect even against getting legal hassles over file sharing activity, but it is certainly not guaranteed to do so.


Introduction & Requirements


Software you must download and install
PeerBlock
Required: You need to install PeerBlock for this guide as it is the main subject of it. PeerBlock is essentially an IP range blocker that blocks everything in loaded lists. Download!


PeerBlock is a small utility and is easily installed At the end of the install process it will kick into a wizard that this guide will cover to help you get setup.

PeerBlock Startup Wizard




The PeerBlock Startup Wizard loads first after the installation. The wizard allows you to make settings to your own personal preferences quickly which can be altered later. One thing, for example, that we will do now is choose what kind of lists you want to load into PeerBlock, depending on what you are using it for.

Click Next when you are ready.

PeerBlock Wizard - Select Lists




P2P, Ads, Spyware, Educational and Import/Create Lists are the options for adding lists. P2P includes IP ranges associated with anti-piracy organizations or investigators hired by the entertainment industry to snoop on users' shared files often for the purpose of legal action. Such companies are the reason why letters warning against P2P activity are even possible. If you want to block P2P selected it.

Ads can also be blocked using PeerBlock but it is not exactly needed and could be a waste of resources, especially if you allow HTTP connections (web traffic) anyway. Spyware is a good idea to block as the pre-loaded IPs include known peddlers of spyware and other malware. Educational includes educational institutions and Universities. Select any of these lists if you would like to block the parties they would represent from connecting to your computer.

Always Allow HTTP is something I recommend you keep selected. HTTP traffic is what loads websites into your browser. Sometimes an IP address of a totally innocent website gets mixed into the blocklists and this can be annoying. If you choose to allow HTTP traffic, then PeerBlock shouldn't interrupt your web browsing too much, if at all.

When you are ready, click Next.

PeerBlock Wizard - Automatic Updates




To keep you as secure and stable as possible, PeerBlock runs an Automatic Updates window as soon as its run. It can update both the PeerBlock application itself and the lists that you have subscribed to. Here you can choose when you want the updates to be checked for and also if you want PeerBlock program updates, Lists updates or both.

When you are done, click Next.

First Update




The first thing PeerBlock will do is look for updates for the program and your selected lists. Usually there will be at least a list update by the time you install the program from its latest release. Once it is done you can close the Update window.

PeerBlock Interface




The main thing you notice about PeerBlock is the log because it is often updating every couple of seconds for something it blocked. You also see you have options here.

Disable can stop PeerBlock from working until you choose to Enable it again. List Manager lets you add new lists or stop blocking lists (see later). Check Updates will allow you to run the Update window again. Block HTTP allows you to switch between blocking HTTP Traffic and allowing it. View History gives you a much longer log and Clear Log will clear it all out for you.

Let's take a look at the program settings quickly. Click the Settings tab.

PeerBlock Settings 1




This is the first of two pages of settings and it deals mostly with the Log Window and external Log. It allows you to change the amount of Log lines that can be shown on PeerBlock. Showing Allowed Connections means all the connections your computer makes, blocked or not, will appear in the log. Color code log window does exactly as it says. You can also change the text color and background colour under the Log Window options.

As for the History Options, this deals with the longer log that is kept externally from the program. It also logs Allowed connections by default but you can change that here. You can choose the duration after which to Remove it too, or Archive it if that's what you are interested in doing. A filesize limit can also be applied here.

Notifications allows you to be notified on something, like a HTTP block. Blink Tray Icon means that in that case the tray icon for PeerBlock will start blinking.

Click Next to get to the second page of Settings.

PeerBlock Settings 2




The Startup options basically deal with whether you want PeerBlock to run on Startup (Start with Windows). Always start hidden is probably a good idea as PeerBlock won't pop up every time you restart but it will run. Show splash is whether or not you want the PeerBlock splash screen to show when it launched on boot.

The Updates settings allows you to again choose whether to automatically check for PeerBlock program updates, or lists updates, or both. It also allows you to specify a number of days between checking for updates automatically. Use proxy allows you to use a proxy server while the program checks for updates. Auto-close will close the update window automatically after a certain time once it has finished updating.

Under Miscellaneous, Always hide tray icon means that PeerBlock will not be visible in the system tray. Minimize to tray on close means that if you click the close X on PeerBlock it will disappear from the taskbar but keep running in the system tray in the background. Keep PeerBlock on top means that when other windows are on the screen, PeerBlock will always stay in front of them until you minimize it.

When you are done, click Save, then click the Protection tab to go back to the main interface.

Changing Lists




On the main screen of PeerBlock (Protection tab) is a button to take you to the List Manager, click it. The List Manager allows you to select P2P, Spyware, Advertising and Education again, but it also allows you to create your own lists or Add lists from Internet sources. Keep this in mind if you ever feel you want to modify who you choose to block from connecting to your computer.

Finally


Hopefully PeerBlock will have helped you to safeguard your privacy online. If you would like to discuss PeerBlock or similar things, then please visit our Discussion Forums.

Written by: James Delahunty
Last updated: