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6 tips on staying safe when Torrenting

Torrenting can be a risky business. Not only can you stumble across media and applications that turn out to be full of viruses and malware, but you could end up in legal trouble due to copyright restrictions. However, by following along with the six tips in this guide, you'll be able to torrent safely.

Warning:

ProPrivacy neither condones nor encourages the torrenting of any copyrighted material. Torrenting such materials is illegal in most, if not all, countries and could end in both criminal and civil prosecution.

 

How to stay safe when torrenting

The risks posed by torrenting are real and potentially serious, but there are ways to mitigate them. Below, we've listed our top tips for staying safe when torrenting, and you can navigate through them by clicking the links below:

Use a VPN for safer torrenting

Using a VPN for torrenting is a no-brainer. A VPN encrypts all of your incoming and outgoing data, which in turn prevents your ISP from tracking the websites you visit or seeing exactly what it is you're doing. This means you don't need to worry about bandwidth throttling or government agencies trying to snoop on what you're up to online.

VPNs also prevent the websites and services you visit from tracking your real IP address. As a result, anyone attempting to monitor folks online activities won't be able to get their hands on your IP address – they'll just see the IP address belonging to the VPN server, instead.

Admittedly, there is a targeted method that can be used to track down VPN users. This is known as a time correlation attack, which is fortunately easy to avoid if you stick to zero-log VPN providers. These providers are considered the cream of the crop within the privacy community, and they're why we recommend that avid torrenters stick with VPNs that offer this assurance.

Concealing your IP address also has security benefits. When torrenting via peer-to-peer, you are potentially advertising your home's IP address to everybody else who is connected to the peer. If someone on that peer is a hacker, they could probe your IP address for open ports or for IoT devices to add to a botnet. Using a VPN ensures that fellow torrenters on the peer can't single you out.

If you want to learn more about how a VPN can help, see our what is a VPN guide.

Can I use any VPN provider?

Not every VPN permits torrenting, seeing as it's resource-heavy and can massively impact the cost of running their VPN servers.

The more data that's downloaded, the more data must be processed, and the server farms that VPN providers rent from can end up charging them more for the pleasure.

In addition, torrent downloads use up a lot of bandwidth which can further slow down VPN servers. This ultimately reduces overall performance and puts a strain on the VPN network – which is bad news for other users, who might encounter lag and sluggish speeds when connecting to a server.

However, the VPNs that do permit torrenting typically keep zero logs. They'll also run their service on a huge network of Tier-1 servers capable of handling huge amounts of data at lightning-fast speeds.

And the very best VPNs set aside specific servers for torrenting! These use load balancing to ensure that users are automatically connected to less congested servers, which helps the VPN maintain a smooth service for all of its subscribers.

Which VPN should I use for torrenting?

There's a lot that needs to be considered when deciding which VPN to use when torrenting. To help, we have compiled a list of our favorite torrent-friendly VPNs, where we also cover the main considerations you need to make before committing to one.

The best torrenting VPNs

Check you're using the right seed

Avoiding malware and other exploits is a primary concern for most torrenters. The good news is that there are several ways of spotting and staying away from malicious seeds. 

Got seeds?

The easiest way to ensure you're actually downloading what you're looking for is to search for popular torrents. If a torrent has a lot of seeders, it's probably the real deal.

Check the comments

Torrent sites allow users to leave comments, and checking them is another quick way to figure out whether a seed is malevolent. Good-quality torrents are typically praised by other downloaders, too, so it quickly becomes clear which ones are worth your time.

To find the comments, start by searching for the content you're after. Next, click on the torrent seed that takes your fancy, and scroll down to read what people are saying! 

Finally, always remember to be on the lookout for trolls, who may either overly praise a rubbish seed or criticize a legitimate seed without a genuine reason.

Install a good antivirus

Having reliable antivirus software is just good practice when surfing the web. Hackers like to hide malware inside of torrent downloads, easily infecting the users who download them. Cybercriminals understand that hiding malware in a torrent file can allow them to infect huge numbers of people, and this is just about the easiest way to force exploits onto victims.

Ransomware, Trojans and other nasties

Being caught by an exploit can allow hackers to take control of your device. Ransomware infections enable the attacker to take your system hostage, encrypting it until you pay them in Bitcoin. 

Trojans, on the other hand, let the hacker commandeer your device's microphone or camera to snoop on you, steal the data in your phone, install keyloggers to steal your passwords and financial information, and steal all your files, photos, and contacts.

Trojans are often downloaded by unwitting people torrenting computer programs, as the user is attempting to download an executable (.exe) file. In this format, it's easy to swap out the expected program with a virus, making the potential ramifications of downloading from torrent sites quite scary.

Does my file size look big in this?

Avoiding .exe and .bat files entirely is difficult, even if it is recommended to steer clear from them where possible. Fortunately, you can usually spot fake installers by checking the size of the download against the size of the genuine installer. Preferably it should be identical, but there can be some variances depending on the version or upload. If the difference is noticeable, however, this is a sign that the file is probably not what you wanted.

Be aware

Checking file sizes is not a foolproof method of spotting an infected torrent file. Hackers are getting smarter by the day. For total protection, you need a reliable and up to date antivirus and anti-malware program. To help, we have listed some recommended antivirus programmes that you can use when torrenting.

Find the best antivirus

Download to a sandbox environment

This is an elevated security precaution that most people will probably not need to take. However, if you often download executable files (computer programs) from torrent repositories, then it's a good idea to protect yourself in this way.

Your sandbox, your rules!

Downloading files to a sandbox environment ensures that malicious files will not infect your entire machine if you accidentally download a virus or malware. You can then check the file is legit before installing it onto your main machine. Sandboxie is a great tool that allows you to create a sandboxed environment on your PC. 

cartoon of laptop in sandbox

Alternatively, you may prefer to install a full Virtual Machine (using Parallels or VirtualBox, for example) and check the file there first. To do so, simply download the torrent onto your VM, use VirusTotal to scan the file, and if VirusTotal gives it the all-clear, then run the file in the VM to make sure it is ok. If the file is clean, and the installer works fine in the VM, you are fine to move the program over onto your real operating system.

Join a torrent community

Private trackers are closed-door torrenting communities designed to preserve the quality of torrents. When you join one of these communities, you'll be amazed at the quality of torrents seeing as each is carefully hand-picked using a strict moderation process.

Private trackers are typically invitation-only – and things get even more frustrating when you consider that these communities are also often one-in-one-out. As a result, existing members guard their spot jealously and rarely quit the community. 

If you do manage to get an invitation to one of these clubs, you'll be in an environment where you can trust the quality of the torrents. This will make you far less likely to come across malicious files, viruses, malware, spam, and Trojans. 

How do you get into one of these sought-after torrenting clubs?

One option is to hang out on popular torrent boards like /r/torrent on Reddit. Spending time on this kind of board and making friends with other users could eventually get you an invitation. However, you will need to be an active member of the community and build trust over time, rather than simply turn up and start demanding an invitation. 

It's all about that ratio

It is worth bearing in mind that once you do manage to join a closed-door community, there will be certain rules. Most of them require you to maintain an up/down ratio, so you will need to upload data as well as download it, helping other members of the community by seeding the downloads they want.

Most communities demand that you maintain at least a 1:1 ratio, which is where you download the same amount as you upload. Admittedly, when you join a new community, it can be hard to manage this instantly. The good news is that all new users are given a grace period to achieve this equilibrium. 

When you do sort out your ratio, you will be far less likely to get booted from the community. So, if you are failing to sort out your ratio, you may want to consider giving a donation to the community (for the cost of servers, etc). However, maintaining a good ratio is better, and will even gain you perks such as VIP status and an upgraded account on the tracker with faster download speeds. 

How to improve your ratio

To make sure you achieve the golden ratio, start out by downloading some smaller files that you believe may be popular. Once you have these files, other people who want to download them will require you to upload it to them – which will set you on your way! 

To the same ends, it is a good idea to download newly released torrents quickly; if you are one of the first to download, you are more likely to have success in seeding them back to other community members. Also, be sure to steer away from zero leech torrents, you want popular files that other people want to download; as this will help you to achieve your 1:1 ratio.

Conclusion

Torrenting can be a risky business, but there are ways to minimize those risks. Seek out active (and reputable) torrenting communities, make sure you're downloading the right seeds, and invest in a VPN if you're serious about safeguarding your security.

And, if you need a final reminder of the VPNs we recommend for torrenting, then check out the table below:

From $2.19/month

The best VPN for torrenting. An open source service with a proven no-logs policy, and tons of security features. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.

ProPrivacy TrustScore:
10 out of 10
Server locations
84
Simultaneous connections
10
Free trial
No

From $3.69/month

The best midrange VPN for torrenting. Users get apps for all platforms and robust encryption for a price that won't break the bank – and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

ProPrivacy TrustScore:
9.9 out of 10
Server locations
60
Simultaneous connections
6
Free trial
No

From $10.99/month

The best user-friendly VPN for torrenting. It has easy-to-use apps with a built-in kill-switch and leak protection, as well as a 30-day money-back guarantee.

ProPrivacy TrustScore:
9.8 out of 10
Server locations
75
Simultaneous connections
Unlimited
Free trial
No

From $6.67/month

The best feature-rich VPN for torrenting. A premium service with robust encryption and an audited zero-logs policy, and a full raft of features. Includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.

ProPrivacy TrustScore:
9.7 out of 10
Simultaneous connections
5
Free trial
No
Server locations
160

From $2.30/month

The best value VPN for torrenting. Users get unlimited simultaneous connections and apps for all platforms, allowing versatile torrenting. Also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

ProPrivacy TrustScore:
9.6 out of 10
Simultaneous connections
Unlimited
Free trial
Yes
Server locations
108

Written by: Ray Walsh

Digital privacy expert with 5 years experience testing and reviewing VPNs. He's been quoted in The Express, The Times, The Washington Post, The Register, CNET & many more. 

1 Comment

gaurav chaudhary
on November 19, 2020
Reply
interesting article. I hope the sandboxie is not a tool for hackers to infect. thank yo so much for sharing information.
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