The world of torrenting is a lot like the Wild West. Or maybe the high seas?
Most torrenters are decent people. All they want is to download and share content, just like you. But there are others who want to steal your booty and make you walk the plank.
By that, we mean they want to infect your computer with harmful viruses, from spyware to ransomware.
Fortunately, these people prey on the ignorant. With a little know-how, you can drastically reduce your odds of getting a torrent virus.
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How to Avoid Getting a Virus from a Torrent
Here are some of the best ways to keep a torrent virus off your hard drive.
Use Legit Torrent Sites
The internet is filled with sketchy torrent sites, including mirrors of once-popular trackers that were shutdown. Needless to say, it’s not a good idea to download from them, especially if you want to avoid viruses.
So, stick with well-known torrent sites or private trackers.
Download from Reputable Uploaders
Of course, we’re not saying that every file posted on big name trackers is safe. In fact, these sites’ popularity can make them a target for hackers and other shady characters who want to spread their malware to lots of people.
With that in mind, you should also pay attention to who uploaded the file. Are they a trusted user? Sites like The Pirate Bay make it easy to tell by placing a green or pink skull next to the usernames of trusted uploaders. But there are other established uploaders out there, depending on the site and type of content.
Read the Comments
Another way to tell if a file is sketchy or not is by reading the comments.
Do they seem spammy? Do they criticize the torrent’s contents? If not, that’s a good sign.
On the other hand, if a file is either popular or older and does NOT have comments, that can also be a good sign. Because that means a lot of people have already downloaded it without complaint.
Check the File Type
Different types of files use different file extensions. For example, movies often use .mp4, .mkv, and .avi. Music can be .mp3, .m4a, .wav, .flac, or a bunch of others.
If the movie or music you’re downloading uses some weird file type, especially if it’s an .exe, that should be a big red flag.
Of course, video games and other computer programs do use .exe. For that reason, they require even more caution.
Install an Antivirus
An antivirus program is pretty much always a good idea. It’s one of those things that’s better to have and not need it than to need it and not have it. And no, Windows Defender doesn’t count.
If you’re an avid downloader, an antivirus is especially helpful for providing both safety and peace of mind. It allows you to scan your computer and individual files (like that freshly downloaded torrent), plus it’ll often notify you of risky files or sites automatically.
Just keep in mind that cracked video games (and some other torrented programs) will often be marked as a threat by your antivirus, even if they don’t actually contain malware.
Don’t Download Directly to Your Computer
There’s a major drawback to antivirus programs: you’re only able to scan the torrent files once it (and any potential viruses) are already on your computer.
However, there are ways to place a buffer between the file and your hard drive, giving you a chance to detect a torrent virus before it's on your device. The options include:
- Cloud torrent service: These will handle the p2p download and host it on their servers. You then download or stream from them directly. Most of the top cloud torrent providers will also scan the file for viruses.
- Seedbox: A seedbox is very similar to a cloud torrent service, the main difference being that they’ll also seed your torrents for you. You can also use the dedicated storage to turn it into your own personal media streaming service, so the files never have to touch your computer.
- Virtual machine: A virtual machine is sort of like running a computer through your computer. You can download the file there, scan it for viruses, and then send it to your main storage once it’s safe.
Use a Secure Operating System
Most viruses target the Windows operating system, because almost everyone uses it. For that reason, Linux and even macOS tend to be less virus-prone.
Is it worth installing and learning a new operating system just to avoid viruses? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your personal needs. But Linux in particular does have a lot of privacy and security benefits that you won’t get from Windows.
Do VPNs Protect Against Torrent Viruses?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you should always use a VPN when torrenting.
Our favorite is PIA VPN, for its combination of great features and affordable pricing.
But not because it protects against viruses. It doesn’t. VPNs provide security and safety by encrypting your connection; they won’t do anything to stop you from being infected with a torrent virus.
How to Check a Torrent for a Virus
Perhaps you’re only reading this article because you’ve already downloaded a torrent – and now you want to make sure it’s safe before opening it.
In that case, it’s possible to apply many of the tips above retroactively. For instance, what site did you download from? Who was the file uploader? Were there any comments on the upload? Does it have an appropriate file type?
If they seem sus in hindsight, it may be worth deleting the file and re-downloading it from somewhere else.
However, since the file’s already on your computer, you can:
- Scan it with an antivirus program
- Open it in a virtual machine or sandbox
...to know for sure whether it contains a virus.
How to Avoid Getting a Virus from a Torrent: Wrap-Up
By now, you’ve got plenty of tools for avoiding viruses, from downloading from trusted sources to using an antivirus.
Most people get viruses because they don’t know what they’re doing and start clicking on shady links or downloading from random scam sites. If you apply a little discernment – and the tips we provided in this article – you can reduce your virus risks to almost zero.