Torrents have forever changed the landscape of online file-sharing. Facebook, Twitter, along with a host of other companies (and even the UK government) have or currently use torrents to share large files because it’s just that fast and convenient. It also saves on bandwidth costs, so that’s a big plus.
Independent artists and video makers also use torrents to make their creations available online for promotional purposes. It makes sense, as not everybody has the luxury of getting signed to a publisher. Or maybe they just do it out of principle.
Of course, torrenting and other peer-to-peer (P2P) technology have also been used for illegal file-sharing. As a disclaimer, we do not condone this practice. Yet it’s still an unfortunate fact of life that areas with less powerful economies need to resort to illegal torrenting just to gain access to software, learning materials, entertainment, and other media.
Even if you don’t use shady torrent trackers, there are still a number of dangers when it comes to torrenting. Here’s how to avoid them for a safer experience.
Choose Your Torrent Client Carefully
You haven’t even begun torrenting yet, and your torrent client has turned your PC into a cryptocurrency miner. That’s what happened with popular torrent software uTorrent back in 2015. uTorrent forum users accused the providers of bundling the Litecoin miner “Epic Scale” in a silent install (i.e. without an obvious note saying that it will be installed.)
Epic Scale would slow down the system as it used up valuable CPU power in the process. The fact that it was installed without user notice was later proven false. Still, you should never be careless when installing any new software – especially torrent clients. They are regularly bundled with other software with questionable use to the average person (also called bloatware).
It’s also good to be wary of ad-supported software (adware) like uTorrent, as the code behind the ads could be exploited to remotely install malware – putting your system at risk. Microsoft and other anti-malware providers even flagged uTorrent as malware for a while. Try using free open-source software (FOSS), like qBittorrent or Deluge, instead.
Not only do they not have ads, but since they’re open-source anybody can inspect the code to make sure any security holes are patched in a timely manner.
Install Decent Anti-Malware
Malicious software could be hiding in the files you download, especially if you use illegal torrent sites. Game of Thrones, one of the most pirated shows in recent history, was the reason for 17% of all piracy-related infections in 2018.
It’s a good idea to have anti-malware installed on your system, regardless of whether you practice piracy or not. Torrent poisoning is a thing, and you never know when it might happen with one of those self-released music albums. Here are some great anti-malware options just in case.
Use Legal Torrents
Illegal this, illegal that – but where are all those legal torrent sites? No need to go too far, here are a few decent choices:
- BitTorrent Now that offers free music, news, and other media. Just remember to click “I already have a torrent client” when downloading anything – that is, if you followed our advice and went with a FOSS alternative to uTorrent.
- Jamendo – offers streaming and torrent downloads as a way to discover independent artists. You will require a free account to use the download feature, by the way.
- The Internet Archive – one of the largest Internet archiving projects are also decent legal torrent providers. The site contains a myriad of audiobooks, e-books, old movies and TV shows, and other media that has entered the public domain.
- Public Domain Torrents – mainly for movie buffs looking for old B-movies and other public domain stuff.
Torrent with a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are an all-inclusive security measure for both torrenting and regular browsing. For one, your true IP address is replaced with the one used by the server when you connect to a VPN.
You might know that torrent clients let you see the IP address of everybody currently downloading or seeding the torrent. Well, online strangers can use your IP to find out your location – and while it may be a rare occurrence, why take the risk?
The biggest danger can actually come from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Without a VPN, an ISP can read your network traffic like an open book, including any torrents you download. It’s already well known that ISPs sell your browsing data (which VPN encryption helps you hide completely, by the way).
But getting back to torrenting: if they notice any suspicious downloads from your IP, you might risk:
- Getting your Internet service terminated for breaching your ISP’s Terms of Service.
- Depending on how strict your country’s copyright laws are – being reported to copyright agencies and the potential legal actions that could follow.
So you can see how using a VPN while torrenting is critical to your safety.
Will Any VPN Do?
In a perfect world, all VPN providers would care about their users’ privacy and safety over profits. Unfortunately, that can’t be said of most “free” VPNs out there who have been known to:
- Sell your data to third parties (as opposed to your ISP doing the same). As an important side note, make sure the VPN provider you choose has a “no-logs policy” if you don’t want them to keep tabs on your browsing habits.
- Contain aggressive advertising (pop-ups and similar distracting ads). One provider (HotSpot Shield) was even hit with an FTC complaint over it.
- Outright contain malware or not use encryption at all, the latter of which is an absolutely essential VPN feature.
The providers don’t even need to have malicious intentions, but maintaining a VPN service costs a lot. It just so happens that customer data is valuable to the right people, and ads are one of the only solutions to keep a product “free” and still make money.