Myth Buster: Is it OK to Torrent without a VPN?

Despite what you may hear or even read, it is not OK to torrent without a VPN. 

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To torrent without a VPN is asking for trouble. Keep your torrenting safe with NordVPN

Who doesn’t love torrenting? Its popularity may be giving some ground to online streaming lately, but it still remains one of the best ways to get downloads.

Whether you’re in the mood for movies, TV shows, games, or applications, torrents provide a cheap (free), fast, and relatively easy way to get ‘em.

But torrenting isn’t without its risks. Here's what we cover in this post:

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Why Downloading Torrents without a VPN is Risky

Since it relies on peer-to-peer (p2p) sharing, your info – particularly your IP address – can be easily found out by anyone in the “swarm” of users sharing the same torrent.

This means that snoops can also easily find out your IP address (and trace it back to you) simply be joining swarms and harvesting the IP addresses of everyone else in the same swarm.

Aside from snoops, there’s your Internet service provider (ISP) who might be tempted to throttle or shape your Internet connection – which slows you down – or even ban you if they detect you are torrenting.

Even government agencies can pose a surveillance problem, but we don’t think they are that interested in your torrent downloading habits. But you never know. Plus, your activities may be collected now and used against you later.

And you are more vulnerable to these risks if you generously seed torrents (no one likes a leech!).  For more information, see our materials on torrent monitoring to see why you need a VPN for torrenting. 

There are so Many People Torrenting that I’m Safe in the Crowd. Not!

Of course, what are the chances that you actually run into trouble from torrenting, whether it’s a nasty letter, getting fired by your ISP or worse?

Many people would say the risk is pretty small. And that’s exactly the myth we’re going to address and bust today.

So, is it okay to torrent without a VPN? It’s definitely not. Here’s why.

Your IP Address is Being Monitored

Did you know that people (other downloaders, your ISP, and more) can see the IP address of every peer in a torrent swarm?

That’s right. If you’re downloading a torrent, it’s not just some super-secret agency that can see it – Bob from New Jersey can, too. And Cindy from London and Timo from Helsinki. And… okay, you get the point.

And if you’re not using a VPN to hide it, that IP address can be easily traced back to your computer, tablet or smartphone, and then to you.

Think of your IP address like a digital social security number. Meaning that every movie, show, or, ahem, adult film you download is likely in a database somewhere associated with the IP address your device was using at the time.

Using the connection logs from your ISP, this activity can then be pinpointed to you.

And don’t think that some long, tangled legal process is always involved before these ISP logs are shared or disclosed.

Much of this information is already systematically being shared or sold by ISPs. Probably yours too. They will pass on this information to their partners or whoever is willing to pay! Usually, it’s just a few cents per piece of data.

What’s the Worst Thing that Can Happen?

Not only is this a massive breach of your privacy, it can also lead to even more trouble down the road.

Your ISP is probably keeping tabs on your online activities and can use your downloading of torrents as an excuse to so-called throttle or shape your Internet connection speeds. But throttling and shaping are the least of your worries.

You never know when you’re going to get a nasty letter in the mail. For instance, trolls might use the information about your IP address to complain or otherwise request that your ISP reveal for your personal information.

Once they have your name and address (from your billing information the ISP has on file) they may subject you to “speculative invoicing” and demand huge sums of money or threaten legal action. In fact, some of these trolls make money solely from pursuing people who download torrents. 

And that’s not the only way your IP address and downloading habits can be used against you. We sometimes forget, but the Internet is still pretty much the Wild West when it comes to hackers, viruses, malware and the like.

But the Chances of Being Caught are Low. Wrong!

Of course, the chances of action being taken against an individual torrent user like you among millions aren’t particularly high. We’re not trying to freak you out here.

But the truth is, when action does take place and you get tangled up in it … it’s quite scary and can be very costly.

We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars, whether in paying off trolls' demands for speculative invoices and settlements, or just your legal fees even if you are successful in defending yourself. Doesn’t sound like much fun, eh?

In the UK, they have even started sending torrenters to prison. Gulp! And that trend may spread elsewhere.

Even if you manage to completely avoid nasty notices, there’s still the matter of your downloading habits being monitored, tracked and saved, harming you in ways you can’t even predict and may never find out about. For instance, research groups make it a point to collect this data for a variety of reasons, as does your ISP. 

Do you really want people knowing everything you do or download online? This data is stored FOREVER, so who knows how that information could be used against you years down the road. You might get the James Gunn treatment in the future.

Or maybe your partner or friends (or enemies!) are secretly keeping tabs on your torrent downloading habits. There are now do-it-yourself torrent monitoring tools like IKnowWhatYouDownload that let people do this. image

Torrent without a VPN and this is what can happen ...

All of this Risk can Be Avoided Easily

Fortunately, all of these nasty scenarios can be avoided with a few easy precautions, starting with a VPN service (or even a high-quality Bittorrent proxy).

A good VPN will protect your torrenting in two key ways:

1) VPN Hides your IP Address

First of all, using a VPN will mask your IP address. Plus, most VPNs use shared IPs, meaning there are hundreds or even thousands of users sharing a pool of IP addresses at any given time. In short, these features make you very hard to track down.

And when these features are combined with choosing a VPN provider that doesn’t keep any logs, you become pretty much impossible to track.

Think about it: if your VPN doesn’t store any records of when its users are connecting to the VPN let alone what they are doing when connected to the VPN, they have no information to give to snoops even if they are forced to do so.

So, even if your logless VPN gets a request from a troll, speculative invoice firm or super-secret government agency, they will have nothing to give them. You’re safe.

Try it 30 days risk-free. 

2) VPN Hides your Downloading and Activities inside an Encrypted Connection

On top of keeping your IP address hidden, a VPN encrypts all the data that you download and upload when connected to it.

When your VPN is enabled, all of your Internet activities are shrouded inside an impenetrable tunnel (strong so-called “military grade” encryption) which connects you directly to the VPN’s servers. All data is sent to/from the VPN in this way.

This means not even your own ISP will be able to see what you’re doing.

And because the encrypted data will be traveling via the VPN’s servers and is fully encrypted throughout its journey, snoops trying to conduct surveillance on your connection will also not be able to see where it’s going and what you are doing.

But keep in mind that not all VPNs are created equal. You will see plenty of “free VPN” offerings, but they simply don’t offer the features you need to torrent safely and anonymously. A free VPN may be OK if you are in a pinch needing some quick protection on a public Wi-Fi hotspot, but that’s about all we would ever recommend them for. Never for torrenting!

Not only is a free VPN usually full of ads (or quietly sharing your activities with third parties), but they usually have poor speeds and even worse support. You get what you pay for.

Plus and more importantly for torrenters, a free VPN will not keep you safe. If they ever get a request from a troll or worse, you can be certain the free VPN provider will hand over your information in a heartbeat.

That is why you need a premium (paid) logless VPN provider. I mean c’mon with a time-tested logless torrent VPN like Private Internet Access we are barely talking a few bucks a month!

By now you should no longer be asking, "do you really need a VPN for torrenting?"  Of course you do. 

Hey, What about Bittorrent Proxies!?

This post initially mentioned Bittorrent proxies as well as VPNs. Make no mistake, a Bittorrent proxy will hide your IP address just as well as a VPN, but it does not encrypt your connection like a VPN does.

If you just want to hide your IP address, a Bittorrent proxy such as the well-known TorGuard will do the job perfectly well. Note: TorGuard now blocks Bittorrent traffic on its US servers. Read our full TorGuard Review for Torrenters.

But because a Bittorrent proxy uses an unencrypted connection, your data will not be hidden. This means your ISP and any snoop tapping into your connection (however unlikely that may be) will be able to see that you are downloading torrents.

It’s for this reason we always recommend that torrenters use a VPN over a Bittorrent proxy.

But some people are happy just hiding their IP address. Plus, a Bittorrent proxy is usually cheaper and a little faster than a VPN. But to us, these advantages do not outweigh the many benefits of using a VPN.

Truth: Torrenting Without a VPN is a Mistake

Sure, we probably all know someone who’s been torrenting without a VPN for years and hasn’t gotten a nasty letter in yet. 

But his or her IP address is probably in dozens of databases, along with the files they downloaded. Your friend's luck will probably run out eventually.

And when it does, it could cost a fortune, maybe enough to completely wipe them out.

Top Tip – Using free tools you may have heard about may offer a little bit of protection from the risks described in this post, but nowhere near the rock solid protection offered by a no-logs torrent VPN. See our complete guide on how to torrent with a VPN.

With the right VPN, you can protect yourself for as little as a few dollars a month. You’ll maintain your privacy, your safety, and overall peace of mind.

As a bonus, your VPN will come in handy for a number of other cool uses such as accessing sites with region blocks, avoiding malware attacks, and even saving you money on your online purchases.

Think of a VPN like your Internet insurance policy. You hope disaster never strikes and that you don’t need it – but you don’t ever want to be caught without it either, especially given they are so affordable.

So, in the end, is it OK to torrent without a VPN? We answer with a resounding ‘NO’. Myth busted.

July 10, 2023

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