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BitTorrent is an excellent way to transfer large files or download legal movies and TV shows from the public domain. When you download from a torrent network, though, you are trusting strangers on the internet. Needless to say, that raises lots of privacy and security concerns.
There are steps you can take to substantially decrease the risks involved with torrenting and other peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. Most critically, you should learn how to use a VPN for torrenting, which will shield you from the biggest privacy failure in the BitTorrent protocol.
Torrenting is a way of sharing files over a P2P network. When downloading files over the internet, you typically go to a website or app store, click a link, and receive the file from a web server. Instead of a web server, p2p file sharing allows you to download files from one or more peers — via computers just like yours or mine. There are several P2P protocols, but torrenting specifically uses BitTorrent.
Torrenting is not illegal, although its use in sharing copyrighted materials has led many people to think of torrenting itself as a criminal activity. There are several legal uses for BitTorrent, including spreading public-domain works, downloading Linux distributions, or sharing files that are too large for email.
Most of the time, you don’t know the computers on the other end of your torrent connection. There are bad actors on BitTorrent, just like anywhere else on the internet. Privacy and anonymity are pivotal aspects of internet security, and BitTorrent connections have a substantial privacy flaw. While they may not get your name or email address, every computer you connect to over BitTorrent has access to your IP address, a crucial piece of information that can be used to track your online activity, target you for hacking, and determine your location and internet service provider (ISP).
The BitTorrent protocol requires an IP address to establish a connection, but you don’t have to give them your personal IP. If you connect through a VPN service, other computers on the network will only see the VPN server IP. If you use a trustworthy VPN, this server IP cannot be used to find your IP or track your activity and it will be secured against most IP-based hacks.
Some ISPs don’t look particularly kindly on torrenting. You can blame the people that use BitTorrent for criminal activities, as they ruined it for the rest of us. Most ISPs won’t stop you as long as your torrenting activity is legal, but you may be opening yourself up to extra scrutiny or potentially throttling if you torrent too often. It’s just easier to bypass the whole thing by using a VPN to encrypt your connection, making it harder for your ISP to figure out that you are using BitTorrent at all.
A poor-quality VPN will only provide the illusion of protection. Two excellent torrenting VPNs are: CyberGhost and NordVPN. If you want to find your own provider instead of using one of these two, there are a few characteristics you’ll want to keep in mind when choosing a torrenting VPN.
Toggling Private Internet Access’ “kill switch” feature on MacOS
Once you have your VPN picked out, you’ll need to make an account, download the client, and configure and start your VPN. For the most part, you can use standard best practices for setting up your VPN, but there are a few torrent-specific aspects that you should keep in mind.
VyprVPN Encryption Protocol
After you turn on your VPN, you are going to want to verify that it is working before you open your favorite BitTorrent client. Some VPN providers offer a tool for verifying a VPN connection. Even if they have no such tool, you can check by going to a site like WhatIsMyIP.com which will show your public IP address. If your VPN is working properly, that site will show the VPN server’s IP instead of yours, and the location and ISP will also correspond to the VPN server instead of your home network.
With your VPN protecting you, you can torrent to your heart’s content. Just remember to always check the status of your VPN before you open your torrenting client. Unless your VPN has malware protection, you’ll also want to consider a malware blocker, just in case you accidentally download a malicious file.
If any public domain movies or other media are in your torrenting plans, now might be a good time to set up a media-center PC to host the content. Nothing screams “I am a cord-cutter” like showing old public-domain episodes of “Flash Gordon” on a modern media server.
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