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Torrenting is an awesome way to transfer files. Distributing the download over an entire swarm of peers and seeders allows large files to be downloaded with less network impact, and with more potential for file distribution from smaller machines.
That being said, the nature of the BitTorrent protocol means you end up connecting to a large array of computers. You don’t always know who you’re connecting to, or if they might want to harm your computer.
There are a lot of risks associated with BitTorrent; especially for people who might be less familiar with the protocol, and file-sharing in general. However, a lot of progress has been made in terms of personal security and privacy, and there are plenty of ways that we can curb some of the dangers of torrenting.
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With so many different clients and services promising high speeds and privacy, we need to ask ourselves: is torrenting safe? In order to answer this question, we’ll take a look at a few different topics:
- the risks associated with torrenting
- ways of keeping yourself safe
- which torrent client is the safest?
- the verdict: is torrenting safe?
Hopefully, once we’ve covered these topics a little more in-depth, we’ll be able to better answer the question and help users like you get on with some safe and private file sharing. Is torrenting safe?
Let’s have a look.
The risks of torrenting
Torrenting allows us to transfer large files over small bandwidths, using home computers to do so as opposed to large server farms. The protocol effectively puts control of huge data transfers into the hands of the masses, which can seem like a good thing.
But there are a lot of risks that we take on when we connect to so many users and potentially share our files with the world. This means that torrenting puts us at risk of malware infection, which can be a huge risk to your privacy and the well-being of your computer.
There’s also the legal ramifications, which are different between countries and always changing. In order to torrent safely, we will need to understand how these risk factors operate.
The BitTorrent protocol work by allowing you to download small portions of data from distributed sources. While this provides many advantages for file transfers, it also exposes your computer to a large amount of potentially malicious connections. There’s also the possibility of downloading malicious software disguised as a legitimate file.
In addition to these risks, torrent clients typically allow other users to connect to your computer for downloading the files you can supply as well, which provides another avenue for malicious software or other manipulations.
Malicious software can compromise your computer’s functionality and privacy in a number of ways, and it can be very troublesome to remove. Some malware can even permanently damage your computer, or hijack parts of it for somebody else to use without you knowing. In order to curb these risks, we obviously want to limit our exposure to potential malware infections.
Much of the files transferred over the BitTorrent protocol are illicit copies of media; such as movies, video games, and music.
Downloading these files is typically illegal in most countries. While it is always a good idea to only download files you’re legally entitled to, it can still be a good idea to safeguard your privacy when torrenting for legal purposes.
Some organizations actually go around doing what they call “copyright trolling”. This means enforcing copyrights in order to profit through litigation. While this practice can legitimately protect owners of intellectual property, there is a large amount of activity focused around baiting and charging offenders who download copyrighted files that were provided specifically for this purpose.
Getting caught torrenting something illegal can get you in a lot of trouble, so it’s always in your best interest to protect your privacy. Staying informed on your local laws is also a good idea. Look into whether there is a large culture of copyright trolling in your area, and be wary of torrenting popular items which may be provided in order to track illicit downloads.
So, is torrenting safe? The key here is staying informed, the first step to safe torrenting is knowing the risks involved.
Ways of keeping yourself safe
Once you understand the risks, torrenting might seem like its not worth it. The potential for malicious software infection and privacy compromise is significant. The main thing we want to focus on for increasing the safety of our torrents is privacy.
Torrents are associated with trackers, which store information on the IP addresses and software packets of BitTorrent users. This allows the protocol to facilitate large downloads over distributed networks of users, but also increases your risk of having your IP tracked.
The best ways to safeguard yourself against these risks are to employ responsible download practices and privacy protection.
Safe download practices
The first thing you can do to avoid exposing yourself to unnecessary tracking or malware is to download responsibly. This means using trusted websites and making sure the files you’re downloading are what they say they are.
The first thing you can do is learn about the website you’re using.
Making sure you only use trusted websites will reduce a lot of the risk of downloading malicious software that could compromise your privacy, or the functionality of your device. In order to differentiate between safe and unsafe websites, you need to do some research and see what other people are saying about a website.
If there are a lot of people saying good things about the website, then it’s probably (mostly) safe. If, however, there are extensive negative comments or even a malicious report notification (such as with TorrentKing, pictured above), then it’s a sign to get the heck out of there!
Another aspect of safe downloading is making sure the file you download is the one you want. The best way to do this is to always make sure the files in the torrent match the ones listed on the website, and check their file sizes.
If they are mismatched or they seem strange (like Ben Hur in HD for 3.1 MB), they could potentially contain malicious software masquerading as legitimate data.
Aside from malware, the other major risk associated with torrenting is privacy. Downloading unvetted software from dozens of distributed sources can easily land you with a tonne of spyware clogging up your machine. This compromising software can be used to farm data about your computer and browsing habits, or even take control of part of your computer without your knowledge.
Since torrents track the IP address used to connect to them, using a proxy, or a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) to privatize your connection is probably your best bet. A VPN allows you to connect through a privatized network specially designed to allow users to connect to the internet privately, with all the increased security and functionality that the proprietary VPN server provides.
There are a lot of VPNs out there, and they all offer varying feature sets and prices. Figuring out which VPN is the best for torrenting could flesh out an entire article by itself, but we can go over a few basics here.
A good VPN will effectively privatize your connection while retaining decent speed. The problem with most VPNs is that they require your connection to go through an extra step before reaching its destination, which always makes your downloads and websites slower.
That being said, there are a lot of competent VPNs out there which offer decent speeds and prices. ExpressVPN is one which comes highly recommended. It offers full privacy protection for a reasonable price, and regularly features discounts and deals for its services.
Which client is the best for safe torrenting?
Another step you can take is to make sure you’re using the right torrent client. Many of these clients offer a wide range of security features, such as allowing you to customize how peers connect to your client, and giving you full control over how files are downloaded.
Which features are most important for safety?
There are some features which torrent clients offer that are very effective for tackling privacy concerns.
Many torrent clients offer VPN support, and most of them also allow the user to set proxy settings to connect automatically through a proxy. Others include support for encrypting data so that anybody trying to take a look at what you’re downloading won’t be able to see what you’re doing.
In order to achieve maximum privacy when torrenting, you must use a VPN in tandem with a proxy. This will stop the torrent tracker from logging your actual IP, and will hide your activity so nobody can actually see what you’re doing. The best torrent clients will allow you to do this as a built-in feature, and will also have things like IP filters so that you can automatically ban malicious IP addresses from connecting to your device.
qBittorrent is a great client for privacy. It has a simple install, open source-architecture, and a minimalistic feature set based on privacy. there are plenty of good VPNs available that are easily usable with qBittorrent, as well.
Which client is really the best?
Is torrenting safe? Ultimately, it will depend on the client and configuration you end up using when you torrent. There are dozens of highly-recommended clients out there which integrate very well with the various VPNs available. Some other clients have feature sets which are very conducive to privacy and general safety.
After all, the best torrent clients are the ones that users actually want to use. Keeping users safe is one of the easiest things a good client can do to make itself attractive for torrent users.
A lot of clients feature open-source architecture, which can be very good for safety and privacy concerns. A large community of developers usually works better than a lone coder working from his garage.
A client like Deluge has great plugin support, allowing for extensive customization of the interface and safety features. It has standard desktop and client-server iterations, as well.
This client comes highly recommended for use with Nordic and FreeNAS storage OS. Typical users will find the desktop install to be just fine, but the client is powerful enough for torrent freaks running specialized storage operating systems as well.
When you go to the download page, you will find a list of operating systems for which the installer is available. If you click on the Windows link, you will find a list of uploads:
Simply download and run the newest .exe in order to install Deluge. The installer does not have any sneaky extra software or offers in it, so it’s fairly straightforward to set up. Once you’re up and running, you’ll want to go through some of the settings to make sure you’re doing all that you can to safeguard your privacy:
Making sure that the network extras are turned on for public trackers is important, as it will ensure the best and fastest connections to seeds and peers. This is important if you’re using a VPN, since these programs can slow down your connections considerably.
The encryption settings underneath allow you to remain anonymous when connecting to a tracker through cryptography. Making sure both Inbound and Outbound encryption are set to “Enabled” will ensure that you stay at least a little bit anonymous.
The verdict: is torrenting safe?
Overall, torrenting can be a very risky activity. There’s a lot of hype built around the legality and safety of peer-to-peer file sharing, and for all the fear mongering that goes on, we’ve found torrenting to be fairly safe in 2020; provided you take the necessary measures to safeguard yourself.
The risk of malware infection and privacy compromise is fairly scary, and there’s a lot of legal trouble you can get in for illegally downloading copyrighted material (or, god forbid, having your PC hijacked into a malicious botnet). Luckily, most clients and VPN services are very diligent in staying one step ahead of the copyright trolls and malware programmers.
Like anything else, if you’re willing to educate yourself and safeguard yourself, torrenting can be well worth the risk.
How do you keep yourself safe while torrenting in 2021? Is there anything we’ve missed that you might have to share? Let us know in the comments below!
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Jan is the captain at the helm of VPNpro. He ensures that every crew member is practicing perfect digital hygiene and spreading only accurate pro tips about technology. Besides that, he is a frequent contributor on many renowned publications, such as Forbes, ComputerWeekly, PC Mag, TechRadar, and ZDNet.