Over 300 Million people use Bit Torrent worldwide, but popularity should not be mistaken for safety. BitTorrent usage exposes users to risks they might not encounter otherwise. Some these risks can be greatly reduced by using a VPN provider, a few cannot. We will explore them in this article. To learn how to avoid the biggest risks/dangers of downloading torrents, don’t miss our ‘Safe Torrent Guide’
WHAT ARE THE RISK OF USING BITTORRENT?
The most common dangers of using Bittorrent and downloading torrents can be broken down into a few categories. We will list them here and then explore them in more detail below. The risks of BitTorrent include:
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- Cyber Attacks, Hacking
- Malware and Viruses
- Bandwidth Throttling and/or Monitoring by your ISP
- Legal Risk (only applies to specific users)
BITTORRENT RISK: CYBER-ATTACKS AND HACKING
Many people don’t realize this, but your IP address is on full display for the world to see when you use BitTorrent to download files. Every “Peer” you connect to in your BitTorrent “Swarm” can see your IP address. An IP address is a unique identifier that points to your computer’s virtual location and is usually all that is needed for a hacker to target someone specific. Even if you have anti-virus protection and a firewall, your odds of stopping even a moderately skilled hacker are virtually nil. At risk is your entire identity, your passwords, and your personal financial information. Can a VPN greatly reduce this risk? Yes! Read our ‘Safe Torrent Guide’ for step-by-step instructions.
How a VPN Can Help Reduce the Risk of Hacking and Identity Theft
In order to target your computer specifically, a Hacker requires only your IP address. When you use a secure VPN, however, you’re IP address is not your own, and is therefor virtually untraceable. Even if you connect through a VPN server in your own city or state, the computer that a hacker would be targeting if he pulled your IP address form his BitTorrent swarm would be the IP of your VPN’s server, not your own computer. Rest assured, the cyber defenses of a top quality VPN are 10-100 times as powerful as your home firewall, and are usually monitored live by network security experts. Any hacker trying to target you by going through your VPN has a much better chance of hearing approaching sirens than he does of actually stealing your data!
BITTORRENT RISK: MALWARE AND VIRUSES
One of the major security risks of using Bittorrent is that you often do not know the true source of the files you are downloading. If you’re just sharing files over a business or university network for work or research purposes, this should not be a problem. If however, you’re downloading software that has been distributed worldwide, by an author that you don’t know, the risk is much greater. Trojans and other viruses or malware can be embedded into the installation code of other software. Hackers might take a freeware program and modify it to include a virus or to cripple your firewall, and then distribute it via BitTorrent.
Unfortunately, using a VPN does little to protect you in this regard as most VPN providers pride themselves in not monitoring your traffic. The downside of this, of course, is that your VPN cannot detect and remove viruses in the files you download. The best defense against BitTorrent trojans and malware is to buy some high quality antivirus software, preferably one that includes an integrated firewall. You can also use the excellent free firewall software from Comodo. One of the most useful features of a high end antivirus or firewall is that most provide the option to run programs in “The Sandbox” which is essentially an isolated environment that doesn’t allow software to execute undesirable actions without your permission. It’s also important to do your best to personally verify the quality of the files you download. Most Bittorrent Trackers have a comment section for each torrent where people will comment if they find viruses in the torrent file. Make use of this feature, and protect your computer.
BITTORRENT RISK: ISP THROTTLING AND MONITORING
Most BitTorrent clients use the same TCP and UDP ports by default, and if you don’t change them, all your ISP (Internet Service Provider) has to do is block those ports and your speeds will be greatly reduced. Even when you change the ports to custom values, if your Torrent traffic isn’t encrypted with a VPN or Proxy, it’s quite a simple matter for your ISP to detect that your bandwidth usage is Bittorrent Related, and then apply throttling. “Throttling” is the name for the common practice that ISP’s use to limit or restrict the upload/download speeds of certain programs or protocols (such as Bittorrent) or your overall internet speed. ISP’s also throttle the usage of other high-bandwidth sites such as Netflix streaming and YouTube.
An even greater concern is internet usage “Monitoring” by your ISP. Many people don’t realize that most ISP’s record and save data relating to the files you download and the websites you visit, for up to 2 years! Bittorrent activity is no exception. And even if you use a proxy to change your torrent IP address for BitTorrent, your ISP can still see the actual .Torrent files you open in your BitTorrent client. There is good news, however: A top quality Encrypted VPN can virtually eliminate all of these risks!
How a VPN can Help Avoid Throttling and Monitoring by your ISP
A VPN works wonders when it comes to bypassing throttling and monitoring by your ISP. Because your VPN secures your entire internet connection and not just your BitTorrent client or your browser activity (like a proxy does) your ISP will have absolutely no idea what you’re doing online. Nearly all of the top quality VPN providers utilize military-grade 256-Bit Encryption (and sometimes even higher). The result is: your ISP cannot: View, Monitor, Track, or Throttle your Bittorrent Traffic. All your ISP can see is that you’re using a VPN. Everything else is encrypted!
BITTORRENT LEGAL RISKS
Bittorrent itself is a perfectly legal technology. It has come under fire because of it’s potential for distribution of copyrighted material, but is not specifically designed for that purpose. Please please do not use bittorrent to download or share such materials. The Bittorrent VPN guide endorses and values personal privacy, not the right to piracy. Innovation is only possible when property rights are protected. Technology is powerful and can be used for many purposes, both moral and immoral. Please use it responsibly.
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Ryan is the editor and head reviewer. He's been a tech geek and digital privacy enthusiast since the Y2k freakout in '99. When not writing BitTorrent tutorials, he can usually be found sipping a lager or playing pickup football (the real kind).