Disclaimer: Make sure that any movie or software you download is not a movie or application that you would have actually bought. Intellectual property isn't really equivalent to physical property, because 'stealing' it isn't a zero-sum problem; it could be more accurately described that you were instead 'copying' it (which is, in fact, what you are doing). So, to help you sleep at night, only download things you wouldn't have bought anyway, therefore your actions have absolutely no financial impact on the corporation whose content you're craving. Better yet, download something that is impossible to buy. This way there isn't any real question about the possibility that you've negatively impacted the finances of a corporation, since you wouldn't have been able to buy it in the first place.
Oh wait. What you just read was complete bullshit. The Management apologizes, and those responsible have been sacked. When you see unmarked white vans parked across the street and dozens of blue windbreakers your only real option is to douse your hair with black shoe polish, don (or remove) a pair of glasses, and try and sneak out the back to begin your new life. More on this in Is file sharing theft?
Note: A not-so-brief history of the warez scene is contained in the following paragraphs. If you'd just like to get on with it, skip down quite a ways
Ok, hell, lets get on with it. The warez scene is a lot different today than it was back in my day. The warez scene began with the explosion of all things computerish into the lives of the average geek. You see, we didn't have no fancy Best Buy or Comp USA, back then we were truly hardcore. That's right, I'm talking mail-order software. Basicly, instead of some fancy retail packaging we bought software in the form of a few floppy diskettes in a plastic bag. Back then, computers were more accurately described as hobbyist than professional retail soulless goo. A lot of people set up game studios or application houses literally in their own garages or flats.
Most of this homegrown software was sold as shareware - initially released for free through computer magazines or convention booths. Usually, the software was neutered in a variety of fashions - timed trials (after a set period of time, the software stopped working), limited functionality (Use the software as much as you want, you just can't save or print your work) or, in the case of games, only a sample level (will our hero escape the horrible squid demon? Send $29.99 to?). So then, should you be significantly endowed with cash and possess a strong desire to purchase said product, you called a phone number with your credit card handy, or stuffed an envelope with cash, etc. So, in one form or another, you paid to get yourself a serial number to activate the program, unlocking hidden features, levels, etc.
Hokay. So back then the extent of software piracy was people sharing serial numbers or manually making copies of diskettes for friends. You must remember young grasshopper, this was before the explosion of that whole internet thing. Then towards the late 80's some serious warez circles started forming up. Many of them remain in existence to this day, to serve your every whim and desire.
Most of these groups were formed, not out of malicious intent or desire for profit (the irony inherent in buying pirated software), but for many of the same reasons people join clubs, societies, and gangs - desire for interpersonal relationships, connection with a larger social organism, and boredom. Well, some shit like that anyway. So these groups ranged from a few friends to more than a dozen associates acting in a professional manor. Members of these groups preformed a variety of tasks in order to release a piece of software. Most often, the following had to be completed ;
- Obtaining the software - Warez groups rush to be the first to release a new version of a popular game or application. Being the first in line at the store just isn't going to cut it either. Larger groups have individuals working within courier companies, gaming magazines, CD duplication facilities, etc; pretty much any place where gold (completed, but unreleased) software might be found.
- Cracking the software - this is often the most time consuming process, as modern copy-protection schemes are more complex than ever. Programmers use a variety of methods to crack software; SoftICE, a debugger, is often used to freeze programs at certain breakpoints (popup windows asking for registration info, etc) in order to find memory locations, lines of code, etc. related to copy-protection. Programs are often decompiled into assembly and copyright protection mechanisms are removed.
- Packing the software - After programs are cracked, groups then must prepare it for release. Images of the retail software's CD are made, and then extra things are added - often just the cracked executable and an NFO file. NFO files are plaintext files with an nfo extension; they contain information about the software, instructions on defeating the copyright protection, and information about the group - various shoutouts and a graffiti-like ASCII logo. The CD image is then compressed (.rar being the current standard) and is often broken into little bits during the process.
- Initial distribution - Groups have networks of FTP sites, called topsites, which are used to distribute programs initially. Topsite access is reserved to elites. After this point, it is out of the releasing group's hand, software begins to spread like cancer throughout the mediums which I will (finally) describe below. The rate of growth and popularity of a release is, of course, related to how much hype the software has had and how many people are trying to get their grubby little fingers on it.
Getting in on the action
There are dozens of ways to get warez released by groups, a few of them are covered here on E2, but a great deal are not. The first thing you'll want to know is if whatever you're looking for has been released by a group. Odds are if it's some popular new game or program, its already been released (or will be in the near future). If what you're looking for is rare (niche business, programming, or graphics software), you should check out a website like nforce.nl to find out if it's been released, and by whom. There are a number of methods to actually get software; I'm ranking them from their l33t-ness and the amount of effort involved.
IRC, internet relay chat, is one of the oldest places on the internet. Basically, it's a world of thousands of chat rooms hosted on a few hundred servers - mostly inhabited by bored teens, l33t hAx0rz, FBI agents posing as pedophiles, and warez guys. With the rise of internet user-friendly-ness, graphical websites, IM, etc IRC has dropped a bit in popularity, but is still a good place to go looking for warez. To access IRC, you'll need mIRC (www.mirc.com) or one of its many modifications (called scripts). There are many different networks you can connect to with IRC. A huge list of servers comes with mIRC. EFnet, DALnet, and Undernet are some pretty nice places to go. Don't hesitate to explore one with a cool sounding name. /list lists all the channels on a network with that word. Try using ingenious phrases such as, "warez" and "ISO" (Note: a lot of people seem to think that z is a suitable replacement for s. So search for "game" instead of "games" or "gamez" so you get more hits).
Once you find a decent channel, there's really two things you can do to get some warez, set up a trade or get yourself leech-ness from an FTP or file server. An fserv is a little automated ad a user sends out that has info and a trigger. Say the trigger (usually starts with an exclamation point) and the server will connect to your computer and you use DOS-esque commands to move around and get stuff. Some channels don't like file servers and instead allow you to leech via FTP - ads with addresses and logins will be broadcasted periodically.
You can, using your superior negotiation skills, broker a trade with someone else lurking around in the channel. These trades are often made via FTP or over DCC (direct connect feature built into mIRC for sending someone a file). You can usually find people who'll trade for what you want, or even give it to you for free. Remember: politeness is always in order, don't hesitate to send some desperate soul some files or point people in the right direction for things or just be overall useful. People like nice people. Never piss people off on IRC. In my experience most of them are immature punks with self esteem problems, but if you piss them off, not only will they make fun of the size of your penis for hours, they will also not give you any warez, both scenarios are annoying, so tread carefully
Binary newsgroup is hosted by your broadband ISP (if you're on dial up, you probably shouldn't bother with all this. Make a friend do it for you. Offer sexual favors, if necessary). A very nice person would upload files (which he has probably received from a group topsite or floating around on IRC) into a newsgroup (such as alt.binaries.movies) and the files go onto his local ISP's big steamy computer, which then sends it to all the other big steamy ISP computers and before you know it, every ISP computer around the country has a pirated copy of Spiderman. The real great thing about newsgroups is that files are hosted locally by your ISP. This means that files you download from newsgroups go as fast as your line's top down speed. For most cable modem users, 350KBs(ish), A CD is 700 megabytes. You can get one CD roughly every half hour from your local newsgroup.
To access your newsgroup, you need a binary newsreader program (xnews is excellent - xnews.newsguy.com). Once you have that, you'll have to figure out the server address. For road runner users its "news-server" dot whatever your email extension is. So if your email is firstname.lastname@example.org, your news server would be news-server.triad.rr.com. Just punch in the server address, get a list of all the groups, and check them out. If you can't find your server address look on your ISP's help website, or call them up to find out.
So you got a bunch of files, now what?
Hokay, so through some insane method you've acquired a release, most likely in the form of a few dozen 14.3 MB segments. File extensions end in order, .r01, .r02, etc. (note: it's really handy to turn off 'hide known file types' in the folder options so that you will be able to see if you're missing any bits). Try using Winrar (rarlabs.com) to uncompress them. So you get all the files for a CD (usually around 50ish) and you extract the two or three files inside. Now you have 3 or so files, a pair of files, .bin/.cue, and an .nfo. The bin/cue pair is an image of a CD. Burn it with a nice CD burning app (nero, blindwrite) and you will have an almost exact copy of the original CD that some ninja stole from Electronic Arts's HQ. Open the .nfo file up with notepad, and it will contain some nice messages from the group you downloaded it from, along with any CD key(s) and installation instructions. Because the CD you have is not a real CD, but rather a burned forgery, you will have to trick the game or application into thinking it's the real deal. There are instructions in the .nfo that tell you how to install the cracked .exe - overwriting the program's original exe so it will run without checking CD-protection (in most cases, you don't even need the CD in the drive to run the program). Some member of a group probably lost out on hot sex to write this crack, so don't curse under your breath when you have to take 20 seconds to copy it over to the programs dir. After you copy over the crack, the software is ready to run; evil Nazis are ready to be battled, term papers ready to be written, and music ready to be listened to.
Par files are sometimes floating around on IRC, but are most prevalent on newsgroups. You can use them to reincarnate lost or corrupted .rXX files. Say you have rars 1-40, but were missing .r25. You could use the par files to reincarnate it from the other rar files. It's either some weird math formula, or black magic. Either way, they come in handy. One par file is required for every missing .rXX file. Par2 is a relatively new format, and is similar to par files except it is able to process even smaller bits of information - a single file is split up into a few dozen 'blocks'; allowing you to recover corrupted files.
Why do they do it?
These people spend much money (on computers and stuff) and hours of their time to provide to you the hard works of others, for free. Why do they do it? You would really have to ask them, but I personally think it's the same reason people drive fast cars; ego (and boredom). Whatever makes you happy I guess. I'm certainly not complaining.
But wait! There's more!
IRC and newsgroups are pretty handy when it comes to downloading warez, but there are a number of recent inventions that threaten to make them obsolete - p2p. I'm sure you've heard of p2p before, peer to peer. That whole Napster deal, you know? Ok, I'll explain this right quick. Newsgroups and the file transfer methods centered on IRC (FTP and DCC (sick of these acronyms yet?)) are all top-down, server based. That is, someone who has something gives it to everyone else. The ftp server you download on sends files out to dozens of other people, splitting up its bandwidth into itty tiny bits, which, of course, means slower downloads.
p2p networks are by far the most popular file-sharing source; their networks have millions of users at any given time. Napster started it all, back in the day. There was a lot of media coverage and hoopla, ironically enticing thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens to log on and start downloading, and eventually Napster was shut down by court order. So then everyone flocked to Kazaa.
Kazaa is a nice simple network to get yourself music. Other noders have thoroughly covered the subject, so I suggest you check out their nodes. While it's a pretty nice way to get music, and it has options to download movies and software and such, I wouldn't recommend it - most files are corrupted, incomplete, and unprofessionally done. Music is usually pretty peachy, although recently the RIAA has been flooding the network with contaminated files - faux songs by popular artists that're filled with static or dead air. The only real way to avoid this is to try and download songs that dozens of other users have (using the logic that if it was a bad file, people would delete it).
Bittorrent is a pretty recent development in the warez world, and is a pretty impressive system. Other noders have already covered the subject extensively, so I'll keep this one brief. Basically, small metadata files (extension .torrent) are distributed by a centralized server (the most popular of which is www.suprnova.org). These metadata files contain some tidbits of info about the files you're actually craving - integrity hashes, sizes, etc. One of my favorite clients is Burst!, which is pretty robust without being overly complex or confusing.
To use Bittorrent, all you need to do is get a torrent file from a website or IRC channel, and then launch it with your client. The client should be ok from there, requiring very little user interaction from that point on. As always, the popularity of the file(s) you're looking for will affect your download speeds and availability.
This article has touched base on the primary methods of software distribution today. As with any skill, the more you practice and do the more you'll know and understand. Seriously though, you should probably go out to Blockbuster and your local independent record store every once and awhile to buy content, otherwise you might lose your soul.
Links 'n Things
www.mIRC.com - Powerful and popular IRC client
xnews.newsguy.com - Binary newsgroup reader/downloader
krypt.dyndns.org:81/torrent - Homepage of Burst!, a powerful BitTorrent client
www.rarlabs.com - Home of WinRAR, a nice file compression client that works with all popular formats
www.quickpar.org.uk/ - Home of QuickPar, a program you can use to recover files using both Par and Par2 files