Step-by-step Details for Completely Anonymous Torrenting
It’s Hard to Achieve Anonymous Torrent File-sharing
Torrents can be downloaded in a few easy steps, but doing so anonymously means taking a few extra steps in the process. However, the extra steps are not difficult and are well worth the effort.
The most important step is to use a reliable torrent VPN that does not keep any logs.
Any kind of interaction on the Internet, including torrent file-sharing and downloading, means sharing your device’s IP address, your unique online digital fingerprint. If you do not take steps to hide your IP address, your torrent downloading activities can be easily found out.
If snoops want to detect your IP address and track you down, they just need to share the same torrent as you and then monitor the activities of the torrent's swarm. This means that to download torrents anonymously you need, at a minimum, to hide your IP address so that outside parties cannot detect, snoop on or monitor your torrent activities.
Using a reliable and trustworthy torrent VPN will 1) hide your true IP address, 2) use strong encryption to scramble your torrent traffic and 3) keep no logs of your activities.
A reliable VPN acts as a shield and protects your torrent activities from being snooped on whether by your ISP wanting to throttle and shape your bandwidth or by outside parties eavesdropping on your connection to monitor your downloads. While nothing can ever fully 100% guarantee complete anonymity, this combination of features makes it all but impossible for snoops to detect your true IP address, monitor your activities and track you down.
The sections below explain in detail the steps to download torrents anonymously. We recommend that you use both an anonymizing torrent VPN service (step 1) and an IP address protection tool (step 2) when downloading and sharing torrents.
However, if you make the informed choice not to use one or both of them, you can skip the relevant step(s) and still enjoy torrents. But please understand that you will be compromising your privacy and will not be anonymous (your IP address could be easily detected and monitored by snoops). That may be fine for some people provided that they understand the trade-offs they are making.
The screenshots below were taken on a Windows desktop using the torrent app µTorrent. If you use a different computer or device, operating system, torrent app or VPN (or proxy), your screens may look different, perhaps substantially different, but the same general concepts will apply almost universally.
Step 1: Start your Anonymous Torrent VPN (or Proxy)
The best way to hide your IP address is to use a specialized torrent anonymizing service. Generally speaking, this means either a torrent-friendly VPN or a BitTorrent proxy. The rest of this step will focus on torrent VPNs as they are more versatile and offer better value for money.
With a torrent VPN enabled,
- your ISP will only see encrypted (scrambled) traffic. Your ISP will still be able to see how much data you are downloading, but not what it is or even that it is torrent traffic (though it may not be that hard for them to guess if you are downloading high volumes of data).
- outside snoops will not be able to eavesdrop on or monitor your torrent activities as they will be unable to attribute the torrent activities to your true IP address. Every time you connect to the torrent VPN your p2p torrent file-sharing traffic will be tunneled through a different IP address and seem to be coming from a different location. Choose a torrent VPN that lets you select the country in which the intermediary connection is made. We like selecting non-US and non-EU countries when connecting to a proxy server for torrent file-sharing (for example, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Netherlands, Turkey and Russia are good choices depending on where you live).
Using a VPN to download torrents anonymously may sound intimidating, but many of these services are now easy to use. After paying for an account with the service provider and receiving a welcome email, it is usually as simple as downloading and installing a small app for your computer or device and then entering the username and password you were provided with in the welcome email.
Top Tip – You can even pay anonymously for a torrent VPN by using Bitcoin or redeeming gift cards and not reveal any personal information even to the VPN provider. Read more about anonymous payment methods in general.
Whichever anonymizing torrent VPN you decide to use, Connect it before you start downloading or sharing any torrents.
Optionally, consider enabling any advanced settings supported by your torrent VPN provider. Some advanced settings are pictured here.
These advanced protections can include features such as a Kill Switch, DNS Leak Protection, IPv6 Leak Protection and the type or strength of encryption to use from AES-256, AES-128, Blowfish or even None (for when you want the fastest download speeds possible). If you are not technically-inclined, don't worry, just stick with our recommended torrent VPN's default settings and you will be fine.
Whenever you want to disconnect from the VPN, this is easily done usually by selecting Disconnect.
Once connected, take note of your masked IP address as you will need it for step 3. By masked IP address we mean the IP address assigned to you by the torrent VPN provider for this session. It should be easy for you to determine. Any good torrent VPN will display the IP address assigned to you at any given time either right in the VPN app itself or by hovering your mouse over the VPN's icon in your system tray.
If your VPN provider doesn’t display your masked IP address, consider changing VPN providers. Seriously. You can also visit a ‘What’s My IP’ page like those found on dozens of websites including Cogipas.com at http://www.cogipas.com/whats-my-ip/.
PLEASE NOTE however that these pages display your IP address for web browsing (the HTTP protocol). Your web browser might transmit a masked IP address but if your VPN or proxy doesn't fully support torrent file-sharing (the P2P protocol) your torrent app will transmit your true IP address, exposing you! That's why you need to be certain about what IP address you transmit while torrenting. There are special tests for this which we cover in detail later in Step 3.
Step 2: Start your IP Address Protection Tool (such as PeerBlock)
Although it is not mandatory that you use an IP address protection tool to download torrents anonymously, these tools help prevent “unfriendly” IP addresses from connecting with your computer or device. An IP protection tool is an additional layer of armor in protecting your privacy, whether or not you use an anonymizing torrent VPN (as discussed in Step 1). For Windows we recommend PeerBlock (free).
These tools act similar to firewall software, but go one step further as they filter the IP addresses trying to connect to you against specialized blacklists compiled by passionate torrent enthusiasts.
The blacklists PeerBlock lets you choose from include those protecting you from IP addresses associated with snoops, spammers, spyware, educational institutions, governments and, of course, anti-torrent elements (called P2P in the lists). The first time you run PeerBlock you will be taken through a setup wizard. In addition to the P2P list, select any other lists of interest to you such as Spyware, Education or Advertising.
The P2P lists are especially handy as they block the IP addresses of some organizations believed to be monitoring torrent downloads. In addition, you can easily add even more custom blacklists (many are free and some are premium) from resources such as I-Blocklist.
Step 3: Confirm what IP Address your Torrent App is Transmitting
Now you can start your torrent app. But before you start enthusiastically downloading and sharing torrents, you should first check what IP address your torrent app is transmitting (this is important as you'll remember that it’s possible for your web browser to transmit a masked IP address but for your torrent app to leak your true IP address when your VPN or proxy doesn't fully support the torrent file-sharing p2p protocol).
Top Tip – Make your life easy and eliminate this risk by getting the best VPN for torrenting available. Always reliable, fast, inexpensive and anyway with a money-back guarantee so what are you waiting for, check them out.
The best way to check what IP address your torrent app is transmitting is to undergo a check especially developed for torrents. We recommend three sites where you can undergo such a test. As the instructions are rather detailed (and to keep this article a reasonable length) we present them in detail together with screenshots in Is My VPN Working?
By making sure that your torrent VPN (or proxy) is functioning and masking your true IP address you can be assured that snoops will not be able to detect your true IP address while monitoring torrent activities.
Whichever of our recommended torrent VPN tests you performed (or maybe you performed all of them), once you confirm your torrent anonymizing service is working and transmitting a masked IP address and not your true one, you can confidently go about downloading and sharing torrents (you can also now safely un-pause any torrents that were already loaded).
Step 4: Make Sure to Stay Anonymous When Visiting Torrent Indexes and Other Web Sites related to Torrents
We know you are keen to start finding torrents and download them, but there is an often overlooked tip that we need to tell you about. As a further precaution, you should ensure that you visit any websites related to your torrent activities while hiding your true IP address. This includes websites such as torrent indexing sites, torrent-related forums, movie subtitle archives, etc.
Many people fail to think about this and only focus on hiding their IP address when actually downloading torrents. But there is little sense taking the precautions outlined here to download torrents anonymously only to inadvertently reveal your true IP address while conducting activities related to your torrent downloading. This is especially true when you are undertaking these related activities at a different time. For example, maybe last night you downloaded a torrent with your VPN enabled, but today you looked for its subtitle file without using your VPN.
Avoiding Traffic Analysis
With this in mind, you should also protect your torrent-related web browsing either by using the same VPN you use for torrents or using Tor (The Onion Router) which lets you browse the web anonymously for free (note that it does not support torrent file-sharing).
Let's make the point with another example. You search for a certain torrent on the web (perhaps using a major search engine) without anonymizing your web browsing. Those web searches are now “stamped” with your true IP address for any snoops to obtain and use. Maybe the snoops are monitoring and logging the IP address information to eavesdrop on you in real-time or maybe they are collecting this information to use it later, maybe even much later, in time.
Whether thirty seconds or 2 days after you performed those web searches, someone with a different IP address and who seemingly lives half-way across the globe starts downloading one or more of these torrents. Of course, that person is you but now you are downloading the torrents with your VPN enabled and using an entirely different IP address. Depending on how popular those torrents are, snoops can cross reference these two separate activities – the web searches and the torrent downloads – and still pinpoint or deduce that you are the same person.
It is very simple: X searched for Y, then Z started downloading Y, therefore X must be Z.
Even for popular torrents that are being searched for and downloaded by thousands of people, don’t think that you can hide in the crowd and avoid these cross-referencing techniques (called traffic analysis). In these more complicated cases, the conclusion to the formula above simply becomes: therefore X is more likely to be Z. But with enough cross references, this can be determined very accurately and the probability that X must be Z can become almost a certainty.
Hopefully we have convinced you that it's also important to stay anonymous when engaging in any web browsing related to your torrent downloading activities. You don’t want to make it any easier for the snoops by taking steps to download torrents anonymously only to then give yourself away when performing related web browsing unprotected.
Final Step: Start to Download Torrents Anonymously!
Of all the steps, this is the easiest and most fun. Of course, the difference now being that your torrent VPN will be encrypting your connection and masking your true IP address and your IP address protection tool will be shielding you from unfriendly elements.
Top Tip – As you have gone to some trouble to protect yourself from online snoops, you should also strive to keep your torrents and downloads safe from the prying eyes of offline snoops. Not to sound alarmist, but it can be counterproductive to take precautions to download torrents anonymously while leaving obvious traces of them on your computer or devices. To best protect yourself 1) hide your downloaded torrents and payloads with strong encryption to keep them safe from snoops and 2) clean traces of any torrent activities from your computer and devices.
Happy (safe) torrenting!