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Torrents are still a popular and easy way to download files, whether movies, videos, music, images or software applications. But the privacy risks of downloading torrents are more important than ever. Learn about torrenting and how to stay protected.
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Downloading and sharing torrents can feel anonymous, but this is deceptive. Like all Internet communications, torrent activities inevitably involve the interaction of IP addresses. In order for everyone in a swarm to be able to connect to one another, this involves everyone’s devices needing to share IP addresses to exchange the torrent-related data. This means your IP address is also stamped on all your torrent downloading and sharing activities.
Torrent Monitoring by Snoops
If you do not take steps to hide your IP address, your torrent downloading activities can be easily found out. If a snoop wants to determine your IP address, they just need to share a torrent to join its swarm and then monitor the activities. To see examples of how torrent downloaders can be monitored, see Torrent Monitoring.
However, if you use an anonymous torrent VPN service the peers with whom you connect in the swarm will only see data transfers to and from a masked IP address assigned by your anonymizing service rather than your true IP address. This way, the anonymizing service acts as an intermediary standing between you and the prying eyes of any snoops, in the same way as web anonymizing services such as web proxies, Tor and VPNs.
In addition, some people may be downloading torrents about subjects that they would rather keep private, such as relating to health or medical conditions, financial matters, erotica or other private information that is nobody else’s business. Yet other people may want to keep their online activities private purely out of principle, for example, in reaction to increasing intrusion and overreach on the part of businesses or governments (Big Brother type surveillance considerations).
Throttling by your ISP
In addition, many Internet service providers (ISPs) frown on their customers torrenting because of the potentially large amounts of data involved. If your ISP detects that you are downloading torrents, they may throttle (slow down) your connection. There are also aggressive firms monitoring torrent activities and in some cases threatening users with payment demands or legal action (see next section).
As you can see, wanting to keep your torrent downloading habits private does not mean that you have something to hide. Not at all. You may have a number of reasons for wanting to keep your torrent activities private and anonymous. Other than privacy, there are some other risks facing torrent downloaders.
Speaking of risks, let's just come right out and say it. A lot of torrents are pirated. That's a pity. Piracy undercuts the efforts of those producing the very content we all enjoy. P2P technology is itself legal, but some or even many of the payloads being shared on the Internet are pirated copyright material. Downloading pirated copyright material, even by accident, can get you in trouble.
While it may not always be easy to tell which torrents are associated with pirated copyright materials, you usually know them when you see them. As with email spam and scams, the more you use torrents, the better you will be at spotting the torrents to avoid.
Torrents do not have to be synonymous with copyright infringement, so use the technology responsibly and legally. You should respect copyright and by doing so support content producers. Instead, if we all supported pirated materials – by not paying for them or otherwise failing to honor the copyright owner’s terms – the materials could stop being produced.
Following this advice will also help you stay out of potential trouble with those elements that are tirelessly trying to make copyright offenders pay. Breaching copyright, whether intentionally or accidentally (hey, it can happen to anyone), can have consequences. These consequences can include your ISP cutting off your service, industry associations dragging you into lawsuits, or lawyers sending letters on behalf of copyright owners demanding monetary compensation from you.
While it is true that following the techniques on this website will maximize the anonymity of your torrent activities and make it difficult for anyone to discover your torrent habits, it is safest to steer clear of the pirated stuff and respect copyright. Please use torrent file-sharing for legitimate, non-copyright infringing uses.
Malware-Infected and Fake Torrents
While some torrents infringe copyright, others are infected with malware, so caution is warranted. Unfortunately, torrents are a fertile ground for the circulation of viruses, worms, Trojans, rootkits and other malware that may do damage to your devices. Some mischief-makers will circulate malware under the guise of torrents with pleasing filenames in an effort to trick you into downloading and opening them. You should use an anti-malware app to rigorously scan torrent payloads before handling them.
In addition, some torrents are fake. When you download a fake torrent, the payload does not turn out to be what you expected. Fake torrents can occur by accident (when the torrent was being created) but usually fake torrents are created intentionally as a form of mischief. While fake torrents do not pose the same kind of danger as the malware-infected ones, they result in you wasting time, effort and bandwidth.