How Torrents are Monitored and How You Can Avoid it
There are two major categories of torrent monitoring risk:
- being monitored by your Internet service provider (ISP)
- being monitored by third party snoops (use your imagination)
Unless you take certain measures, your ISP can easily monitor your Internet traffic. This makes sense because all of your Internet data travels through your ISP’s equipment and infrastructure. If your ISP doesn’t like what it sees, it could “throttle” or “shape” your connection (slow it down), issue you a “strike” (a formal warning) or even terminate your account.
Top Tip – If you just want to know the bottom line solution, use a recommended torrent VPN such as Private Internet Access to protect your torrent traffic from monitoring.
Third Party Monitoring (“Snoops”)
If a third party snoop wants to monitor and record the IP addresses of people sharing a certain torrent, the snoop (or an orgaization hired by the snoop) needs only to share the same torrent, join its swarm (meaning all the people sharing that same torrent) and then monitor the activities. By definition, torrent file-sharing (and the peer-to-peer technology underpinning it) means sharing files or bits and pieces of them. This means sharing IP addresses.
If you are sharing the same torrent the third party snoop is monitoring, they will be able to see your IP address, record it, trace it back through your ISP to you personally and then take follow-up action.
You can see this for yourself. Select any active torrent in your torrent app and look for its ‘Peers'; in uTorrent, this is the third tab in the lower frame (see screenshot). There, along with some other details such as download and upload speeds, you will see the IP addresses for each of the other torrenters (peers) with whom you are sharing the torrent.
Figure: Monitoring torrent activities in utorrent's ‘Peers' tab
It is an easy task to automatically record these IP addresses. Once recorded, the IP addresses can be traced back to your ISP and, from there, to you. Yikes!
Example of Mass Torrent Monitoring in Action
To see a simplified example of how torrent downloaders can be mass monitored, see ScanEye‘s Global BitTorrent Monitor. The site automatically detects your IP address and then checks it against a database of torrent file-sharing activities.
If your IP address is clear, click on the DEMO button to see the kind of information that snoops can easily obtain about non-protected torrent activities.
And remember, just because your IP address is clear at ScanEye from torrent file-sharing activities, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been logged elsewhere by some other party.
By the same token, if the site is reporting that your IP address downloaded something that you didn't, this could be because many ISPs use shared IP addresses, meaning that an IP addresses is allocated among many users over time. This may lead you to think that you can hide in the crowd this way, but it is not so simple. The snoops could compel your ISP to disclose the logs and confirm which of its specific customers was using the shared IP address at a given time. This way snoops can trace back activities on shared IP addresses too.
Two similar, but now dead, examples also caused huge outcries. Both had a searchable database of torrent activities tracked by IP address.
And remember, all of the examples above are just simplistic ones: well-funded, potential adversaries have much more sophisticated means at their disposal for monitoring the activities of torrent file-sharing users.
What to do About Torrent Monitoring
The best techniques for avoiding torrent monitoring have been collected here, How to Download Torrents Anonymously. If you are anxious about the issue, the key to avoiding your torrents being monitored is to use a torrent-friendly VPN. This will counter both of the risks described above.
Using a reliable torrent VPN will:
- encrypt your Internet traffic (hiding your online activities from your ISP and any third party snoops) and
- mask your IP address (making it difficult to nearly impossible to trace activities back to you, depending on the VPN provider you choose as their logging policies vary).
If you make sure to choose a torrent VPN, such as Private Internet Access, that does not keep user logs of its customers' activities, your torrent file-sharing will be as safe and protected as possible.
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