Downloading files via peer-to-peer file sharing, using a BitTorrent client, through the process normally called torrenting, can be a great way to get movies, TV shows, music, games, and other software – but often, this is done illegally, without respect to copyrights and ownership rules. We’re not here to judge! What you do is your business. But we do want to offer up some important tips to help make your torrenting safer and more secure, and keep you in as little legal jeopardy as possible.
Tip #1 – Know Your ISP’s Policies
Depending on where you live, you may have a choice of several ISPs, or only one. When you can choose from more than one, you should review their policies and history with regards to file sharing. Some companies state very clearly that they will tolerate no illegal file sharing on their networks, and pass along all notices to cease and desist that may be served on them by lawyers for copyright holders. Others have strong protections for their customers, keeping identities secret and refusing to pass along such notices to their customers. While no company is going to place your privacy over its own legal needs, some are much better than others when it comes to allowing or encouraging torrenting, even of copyrighted material, and how they treat you, the end user.
Tip #2 – Don’t Reveal Your Real IP Address
One of the fundamental security risks of peer-to-peer file sharing is that everyone you are connected to, and everyone who is connected to you, through any of the BitTorrent clients that are out there, can plainly see your IP address, and you theirs. What’s more, they know your system is online, and has open ports. This is an open invitation for hackers to root around in your system, or at least to try. Hiding your true IP address can allow you to torrent in relative safety. But how can you do that?
There are several ways to hide your real IP address. Two of the most common are proxy servers and VPNs, both of which obscure your true IP. Proxy servers are most commonly configured for HTTP/HTTPS traffic, and it may take some effort to find a good proxy server online that works with the file-sharing protocols used in BitTorrent (SOCKS5), but they are definitely out there. They act as an intermediary, or proxy, that retains your true IP address, but passes on only its own, meaning users connected to you only see the IP address of the proxy server, not your true IP. In this regard, VPNs work in a similar fashion (though with additional security and other protections).
Tip #3 – Use a VPN
When you’re going to be torrenting, the best comprehensive protection you can use is a VPN service. VPNs protect you in several ways. In addition to obscuring your true IP, as with proxy servers (see tip #2), they encrypt traffic between you and the VPN server. This means governments, copyright lawyers, and importantly, your ISP, can’t tell what you are sending, receiving, or accessing. Many ISPs throttle, or deliberately slow down, file sharing traffic. With a VPN, they can’t automatically identify the traffic to flag for throttling. Additionally, unlike a proxy server, there are usually many more security features built into a VPN, to keep your system and our traffic safe and secure.
VPNs aren’t only used for torrenting, of course – they have plenty of general safety and security uses. Usually, the client or app for the VPN service provider can run in the background all the time, meaning not only your torrenting traffic is protected, but all of your web browsing, gaming, streaming, and other services are safe and secure. Perhaps most importantly, almost all top-tier VPNs maintain no service logs, so there’s no way for them to tie specific traffic back to your real account or IP address, and thus no way for them to accept or pass along cease and desist notices from copyright lawyers.
Many of the better VPN service providers use a subscription-model, where you pay a small fee for access, with most offering a few devices per account, so you can cover your smartphone, laptop or desktop for torrenting, tablet, whatever you want. But, there are also some free VPNs for downloading torrents as well, with varying bandwidth caps or limitations due to the fact that they are free. So, whatever your budget, a VPN should be at the top of your list for safe and secure torrenting.
Tip #4 – Use Quality Trackers
It’s not always easy to find the kind of content you are looking for. Naturally, because some of the file-sharing activity (ok, probably a majority of it) that goes on is technically illegal or violating copyright law, a lot of sites you might turn to as trackers (to find content and the torrent file itself to download) can be fairly sketchy. You won’t always be able to tell this from a simple Google search or a quick visit. But, in order to avoid potential adware, spyware, malware, viruses, or other problems, sticking to semi-reputable or mainstream torrent trackers is the best advice.
Tip #5 – Always Have Virus/Malware Software
At the same time, to complement tip #4 above, you should always have a good virus scanner, malware prevention, and removal program, or other web security program installed. Ideally, any of these programs should have an active scan mode, that will automatically prevent execution of harmful scripts, prevent the download of contaminated files, and so forth. Higher-end programs, usually with paid subscription services, may include features that preemptively warn you about websites containing malicious code or threats, too.
Let’s face it, if you’re going to be pirating software, movies, music, and similar, you’re taking some risks. Both tracker sites and the files you download are a great vector for hackers and bad actors to try to insert code into a lot of people’s machines with relative little effort. So, be sure your tracker browsing, and the files you ultimately download aren’t infecting your system, by using a quality virus and malware security suite. This is one area we don’t recommend skimping or taking the cheap route – a good quality security program can cost just a few dollars a month, and save you massive headaches down the road.