Torrenting on Android: How to Stay Safe

Protecting Your p2p Torrenting on Android means using a VPN, period. 

How to Stay Safe When Torrenting on Android Devices

That Android phone sitting in your pocket is a remarkably powerful, Internet-connected computer. It can do things that just a few short years ago required a full desktop PC.

And unlike Apple with its closed eco-system, its even possible to download torrents on your Android phone. But torrenting on Android isn't without its risks. 

Keep reading to find out how to stay safe.

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So How Do I Torrent Using Android?

If you don’t know how to torrent (especially using Android), here is a quick guide to get you started.

1. Download and install a BitTorrent app. Although the desktop version is somewhat bloated, the Android Vuze Torrent Downloader app is lightweight and ad free (something that cannot be said for the ÂµTorrent app!).

2. Visit your favorite torrent indexing website using your mobile browser. Find content you like, and select its .torrent or magnet link.

3. Your BitTorrent app should automatically open and start downloading your content. Enjoy! Note that for watching video content, VLC for Android and BSPlayer will play just about anything you might throw at them.

Torrents are Easy to Share but That also Creates a Privacy Problem

The BitTorrent peer-to-peer protocol is a fantastically efficient way of sharing files with others users – be they music files, movies files, or program files. And because file-sharing occurs over a decentralized distributed network, it's extremely difficult for anyone to put a stop to it.

But the way BitTorrent works also makes it very easy for online snoops to track down individuals downloading torrents. That's because those "peers" that are "sharing" the file are all connected. And if the wrong person becomes a peer, they can see what you're sharing and even identifying information about you, like your IP address. 

So What Can Happen?

In most places (but not all), downloading certain content is regarded as a civil rather than a criminal offense. This does not, however, mean that you can’t get in trouble:

  • In the US, the “Six Strikes” Copyright Alert System (CAS) is a graduated response system agreed to by many ISPs. Repeated offences can lead to bandwidth throttling and, ultimately, cancellation of your contract. Similar schemes (either voluntary on the part of ISPs, or legally mandated) exist elsewhere.
  • Some parties can try suing you for damages. In theory, this can result in financial penalties that amount to tens of thousands of dollars per file downloaded or shared. 
  • In practice, the difficulty of winning such cases has led these parties to try more underhanded tactics. “Speculative invoicing” is an attempt to strong-arm intimidated victims into paying a cash settlement in order to avoid being taken to court for damages.

Speculative invoicing is now by far the most common response, and is often carried out by specialized legal firms known as “copyright trolls.” If you are ever targeted in this way, check out the Speculative Invoicing Handbook (PDF download), and the British government’s official guidance. Although both documents are aimed at a UK audience, the advice they contain should also be useful to residents of North America and Europe.

How to Protect your Torrenting on Android

Experienced desktop downloaders should already be aware that the best way to protect yourself while downloading is to use a VPN. The great news for anyone wishing to torrent on the move, is that the same advice holds true on your Android device. Almost every popular VPN provider supports the Android OS.

A VPN will protect you when torrenting because:

  • It hides your real IP address behind that of a VPN server. This means that snoops watching online will see the VPN's IP address and not yours. 
  • It hides your internet traffic from your ISP, because all traffic between your Android device and the VPN server is securely encrypted.

Using a VPN is even useful for connecting to torrent sites, which are blocked in many countries. To access blocked torrent sites, simply connect to a VPN server located in a country where they're not blocked. This can be especially useful in many European countries.

If torrent websites are blocked in your country, then the Netherlands, Switzerland, Romania, and Bulgaria are all great choices when choosing a server to connect to.

Please be aware, however, that not all VPN providers permit torrenting. If you torrent using a VPN that doesn't allow torrenting, then you're at risk of having your VPN account terminated without notice, and may even find that your details have been forwarded to snoops in response to complaints or requests for information. So check first!

The good news is that any VPN provider that permits P2P torrent file-sharing is basically agreeing to shield you from snoops. However, they can't all be trusted, so it's important to choose a VPN with a strict no-logs policy

Support for Torrenting on Android

VPN providers support Android devices in a couple different ways: 

1. Custom Apps for Commercial VPNs

These days, most popular VPN providers have their own apps for Android. 

The main advantage of custom apps is that they require almost zero configuration. Download the app, sign-in, select a VPN server, and you're good to go.

An example of these powerful Android VPN apps is the one offered by Private Internet Access (shown at right). It has many of the same features as their desktop app, including a kill switch, advanced encryption options, and other cool stuff.

It's really the way to go, for both convenience and security. But it does require a paid subscription, which can be had for just a few dollars per month. 

Figure: PIA’s Android app settings


2. Apps for Specific VPN Protocols

If you don't want to pay for a VPN and possess a bit of tech savvy, you can also use a specific VPN protocol. 

Android natively supports the PPTP and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols. These are fairly easy to configure, and require no additional software to be installed on your device. Unfortunately, PPTP isn't secure enough for torrenting, and even L2TP/IPSec has its weaknesses.

OpenVPN is an even better option, and there are two excellent free and open source (FOSS) OpenVPN apps available for Android: 

Then there's the new kid on the block, Wireguard, which features advanced encryption and faster download speeds. 

That being said, there are some drawbacks to these options. Yes, they're free, but they're not as foolproof as the apps provided by specific VPN providers. They even lag behind in security and functionality, since most commercial VPNs allows you to use all of these protocols (Wireguard, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec) in the same app, and give you access to tons of servers and other features. 

Kill Switches Help Protect Your Torrenting on Android Too

A VPN will protect you when torrenting, but what happens when the VPN goes down?

This is an even bigger problem on mobile devices than desktop computers, since you're regularly switching between networks, whether it's your mobile network and WiFi or even between different WiFi connections. There are also times when, especially on the move, you lose your connection completely for a few moments. 

Why is this bad? Because if your VPN connection goes down but your torrent app continues to download, your IP address will be exposed for all the world to see. 

VPN apps for Android (and PC) solve this problem with something called a "kill switch", which will stop your internet traffic if the VPN disconnects. It's an absolutely essential feature for torrenting on Android. 

Fortunately, it comes built-in to many commercial VPN apps, like the one offered by PIA VPN. However, it is possible to setup the OpenVPN for Android app to use a kill switch. But we'd recommend you only use this method if you know what you're doing! 

How to Configure a Kill Switch for Any OpenVPN Supported VPN on Android (Advanced Users)

1. In the OpenVPN for Android app, go you your VPN server settings page (pencil icon).

kill-switch-1
2. Go to the “Routing” tab and ensure that “Use default Route” is selected for both IPv4 and IPv6. This ensures that all internet traffic only passes through the VPN when the VPN is running.

kill-switch-2
3. Go to the “Advanced” tab, the check “Persistent Tun”, and set “Connection retries” to Unlimited.

kill-switch-3

You now have a kill switch for Android! 🙂

Safe Torrenting on Android Wrap-Up

Torrenting on your Android device has never been easier or more rewarding. But it still comes with the same risks and dangers as torrenting on your PC or Mac. 

To stay safe, it's vital to use a trusted torrenting VPN on Android at all times.

Happy (safe) downloading!

March 28, 2023

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