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Torrenting is a huge part of online life across the world. From the latest movies to classic albums, video games, and ebooks, a vast library of entertainment content is being shared via P2P networks at the moment.
And all of it comes with huge risks. Torrenting isn’t popular among global governments and corporations, especially ones with a vested interest in copyright protection.
That’s where it makes sense to use a reliable VPN (Virtual Private Network) for every torrent download. In this review, we’ll be looking at one of the newer contenders for the P2P crown: ProtonVPN. Could it be the solution to your downloading anxieties, or is it just another low-quality security tool? It’s time to find out
What should you look for in a good VPN for torrenting?
Not all VPNs offer what torrenters need. Torrenting is a very specific online activity, and some VPNs simply flat-out refuse to optimize their servers to cater to its requirements. So be aware of that when choosing a provider.
Otherwise, here are some key criteria to look for when picking your VPN:
- Jurisdiction – Is the VPN in one of the 5/9/14 Eyes countries? These countries are known to share intelligence and crime data with the US and other countries that are hostile to torrenting. So look for VPNs in countries like Switzerland or Panama instead.
- Speed – An obvious plus point for any torrenter, you’ll need a VPN which shaves as little as possible from your standard download and upload speeds.
- Kill switch – Kill switches are vital for torrenters. When we torrent, we often leave our downloads unattended. And if your VPN coverage drops for some reason, this can leave your security exposed. A kill switch makes sure you are always protected.
- Encryption – Another obvious consideration. Torrenting is under the microscope of security agencies who would love to know exactly what you are downloading. Solid 256-bit AES encryption makes sure that they can’t get a detailed read-out of the files you are transferring.
- SOCKS5 compatibility – Some VPNs cater for what are known as SOCKS5 proxies. This gives you the option of torrenting at high speeds, with full IP anonymization. But it does away with encryption, so there’s a security trade-off.
Introducing ProtonVPN: a good torrenting solution?
Now that we know a bit more about what makes a good VPN for torrenting, let’s find out how the ProtonVPN torrenting experience measures up.
First off, some introductions are in order. ProtonVPN is a Swiss-based VPN that is offered by the same company behind Protonmail – one of the most popular encrypted email services.
Launched in 2017, ProtonVPN doesn’t have the high profile of the email service but has been attracting positive feedback from users and reviewers for its convenience and value for money.
Does ProtonVPN allow torrenting?
Yes, ProtonVPN does allow torrenting, although not without a sense of hostility. For instance, its help page about torrenting states firmly that “ProtonVPN does not condone the use of BitTorrent to share copyrighted material illegally.”
This doesn’t immediately make torrenters feel at home.
ProtonVPN offers three torrent-friendly plans: Basic, Plus, and Visionary. It also maintains a few servers expressly for torrenting. When you load up the client, these servers will be identified by a double-arrow icon.
But is it worth paying for a subscription at all? It’s time to dig deeper.
Is ProtonVPN fast enough for torrenting to make sense?
From a torrenting perspective, speed is (almost) everything. So how does ProtonVPN compare when it comes to raw velocity?
Sadly, a lot of feedback from experts and users about speed isn’t encouraging. This particularly applies to the company’s American servers, which routinely register as 75% slower than normal speeds.
That’s nowhere near what torrenters require. European servers are faster, but the UK and Asian servers are also a let-down. So if you are based in the EU, speed may not be an issue. But for everyone else, we would advise that you try before you buy.
However, don’t assume that the ProtonVPN free trial version gives an accurate impression of its download speeds. The free trial is separate from the main client (and is also ad-supported). It’s also designed to be slower than the commercial version. Moreover, it explicitly rules out torrenting, so you won’t even be able to test P2P speeds with it.
Can I trust ProtonVPN to safeguard my torrenting activity?
Let’s assume you’ve tried ProtonVPN and found that the speeds are acceptable. Now, we need to know whether this is a VPN provider that torrenters can trust.
To start with, there are several security features which torrenters will appreciate:
- Double-hop VPN – ProtonVPN routes all traffic through a number of intermediary nodes before it reaches its servers. This makes its anonymization systems more secure while helping to ward off cyber-attacks as well.
- Reliable encryption – On the encryption side, ProtonVPN is at the top of its class, offering 256-bit AES encryption, with a 2048-bit RSA to authenticate data, and perfect forward secrecy as standard.
- Secure protocols – Customers can choose either OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPSec protocols. ProtonVPN doesn’t support older protocols like L2TP/IPSec for security reasons – a reassuring aspect of their package.
Those features add up to a good start on the security front. But they are essentially just features you would expect to find in an elite torrenting VPN. Still, on the face of things, ProtonVPN seems to be fairly secure. But looks can be deceiving.
According to ProtonVPN, Swiss law means that they don’t have to keep logs, so they don’t do it.
Some users have expressed concerns that ProtonVPN logs IP addresses as well. When they return to the service via a different email, the ProtonVPN system appears to recognize them as an existing user via IP information – delivering “bonus” deals as a result.
If that’s true, it’s a massive black mark against the company’s reputation.
Is Switzerland a torrent-friendly jurisdiction?
We stated earlier that Switzerland is outside the 5/9/14 Eyes, and that’s true. It’s also true that Swiss law is comparatively tolerant towards individual privacy. And that includes torrenting.
As Torrentfreak reported in 2017, Switzerland places the responsibility on website hosts and ISPs to remove torrent trackers or other sources of copyrighted material. Targeting individuals is not a political aim, and it doesn’t happen within Swiss borders.
So that’s encouraging. ProtonVPN should be insulated from information requests originating abroad, such as those from copyright holders in the USA.
However, there could be a catch here. Users should know that ProtonVPN has received state funds from the Swiss government. That’s pretty unusual for VPNs and a potential red flag for torrenters.
After all, VPNs are supposed to put a barrier between individuals and governments. Can you trust ProtonVPN torrenting protections given their close relationship with the Swiss authorities?
What have customers said about ProtonVPN torrenting?
Before we finish, let’s give a platform to some ProtonVPN customers. After all, they are people who have actually tried to use the VPN for torrenting. And their experiences haven’t always been great.
Some users commented on IP leaks and failed connections, while some go so far as to label ProtonVPN a “scam.” But it’s worth noting that ProtonVPN has its defenders and fans.
The verdict: Is ProtonVPN torrenting a good idea or a huge mistake?
Be aware that opinions about ProtonVPN are mixed, and that there’s room for doubt about its privacy practices. It may have links to the Swiss state, and speeds aren’t always optimal.
All of that counts against it as a torrenting VPN. But don’t be so quick to write it off. ProtonVPN is trying to offer a P2P-friendly service, with dedicated servers, strong encryption, and advanced protocols.
If you’ve tried other elite providers and haven’t found a torrenting VPN that works, it may well be worthing giving ProtonVPN a try.
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Mikaela is an investigative journalist that likes to cover the ever-changing world of technology. She tries to keep her finger on the pulse of digital trends and share her insights on the most relevant topics, including big tech, security, privacy, and data breaches.