How to torrent safely – My top tips for staying secure when torrenting content

person touching a screen with a download icon on it

Have you noticed the ridiculous number of streaming services popping up left and right lately? It’s like someone accidentally fed a cute little furry streaming service after midnight and all these other streaming sites started spawning across the web like gremlins. 

Nowadays, if you want to stream a certain show or movie online, you may or may not have a subscription to the streaming service on which it is available. And you definitely don’t want to pay for seventeen different online streaming platforms every month just so you can watch whatever it is you want to watch whenever you want. That would be absurd; you’ve got far more worthy places to spend your cash when you’re an expat. 

A lot of people (expats included) are sidestepping this issue by torrenting the movies and shows they want to watch for free. But I’m here to tell you that you’ll need to be careful if you choose to go down that route, and use a VPN while torrenting to protect your privacy. Using a VPN is absolutely essential if you want to torrent copyrighted material, because if you don’t, you could end up in trouble. Read on to see how a VPN can help protect your privacy while torrenting and why you should never torrent without one.       

Wait, isn’t torrenting illegal?

Torrenting itself is not illegal… torrenting copyrighted material is illegal. 

People share files all the time online perfectly legally through the BitTorrent protocol. And people share copyrighted material like movies, tv shows, music, and software all the time, too – yes, illegally. 

So, it’s when you share and download copyrighted material over the BitTorrent protocol that you can get yourself into trouble. Even though the severity of that trouble can vary greatly – from the proverbial slap on the wrist to massive fines and even jail time – depending on what country you’re in, you’ll need to be careful and protect yourself appropriately if you’re engaging in torrenting of the illegal variety.

I presume most of you reading this post will be interested in illegal torrenting anyway – that is, you want to download movies, shows, music, and software for free. Now, please keep in mind that I do not, in any shape or form, condone the illegal downloading of copyrighted material. But, at the same time, I won’t pretend to believe that will stop you or anyone else from doing it. I just want you to be aware of the risks and know what you can do to protect yourself, should you yourself choose to torrent copyrighted material illegally.       

What happens if I get caught?

As I touched on above, that depends on where you are. In some countries, illegally downloading copyrighted material is a civil offense, while in other countries it’s a criminal offense. Obviously, if you’re looking down the barrel of a criminal offense, you’re looking at a potentially much more severe penalty than with a civil offense. 

If you’re downloading copyrighted material for just your own personal use and not looking to profit off what you download, most countries will consider it a civil offense. This means that if you’re caught, the worst thing that can happen is you get fined for your copyright infringement.

Now, that fine could be upwards of $100,000…per violation…so don’t go around thinking that a civil offense is no big deal. 

If you’re slapped with a criminal offense, you’re facing a hefty fine and prison time – which can be up to 10 years if you’re in the UK, for example. In countries like Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and the UK, you’d be facing a criminal offense for copyright infringement. So don’t get caught torrenting copyrighted material, especially if you happen to be an expat living in any of those countries. 

Ok, now I don’t want to scare the pants off of you; if you get caught, it’s not super likely the authorities will throw the book at you right off the bat, especially if you’re just downloading here and there for your own personal use. 

Initially, you’ll likely just get an unpleasant letter from your ISP telling you to stop doing what you’re doing. If you continue, your ISP may cut off your internet connection. Your ISP may also turn your information over to the copyright holder directly, who may then pursue legal action against you in an attempt to collect damages.

And, even if you’re in a country where copyright infringement is technically considered a criminal offense, the likelihood isn’t that great that you’ll be prosecuted criminally – as long as you’re not downloading tons of content and selling it on to further your own commercial interests. 

Even so, the law is the law, and you do still risk being made an example of by the authorities whenever you do anything illegal, including torrenting copyrighted material. So you’ll need to be careful and protect yourself no matter what.     

How do they know it’s me?

That’s a legitimate question. How the hell do the authorities, copyright holders, and your ISP know that it’s you downloading the pirated content? Well, because your IP address gives you away. Whenever you connect to the internet, your device is assigned an IP address which is broadcast to the sites you visit online. Even though your IP address may change from time to time, your ISP has a record and timestamp of who was using which IP address at any given time. 

You’ll need to keep in mind that copyright holders monitor torrent sites all the time, and since they can plainly see the IP addresses that are downloading and transferring a given file, the activity can easily be traced right back to you. This is why you need a VPN while torrenting.  

Make sure to always use a VPN while torrenting

You never, ever, want your true IP address exposed when you’re torrenting copyrighted material. As I mentioned earlier, your IP address will be visible on the torrent sites you use, so it can be incredibly simple to connect the dots and figure out who’s downloading what. 

The beauty of a VPN is that it will conceal your true IP address and replace it with the IP address of the VPN server you’re connecting to the internet through. You see, when you fire up your VPN connection, your internet traffic is sent through an encrypted tunnel to a secure server in a remote location. This means that not only is your internet traffic encrypted and fully hidden from anyone looking to snoop on what you’re up to online, but your true IP address is completely hidden as well since you’re effectively using the VPN server’s IP address to connect to the internet. 

So, when you go to a torrent site and start downloading files, the IP address that others see will be the VPN’s IP address and not yours. And since you’re typically sharing that same IP address with other VPN users and because any proper VPN service will never log its users’ activity, it becomes virtually impossible to trace any of that torrenting activity back to you. Basically, you’ll be able to torrent in complete safety with total peace of mind when you connect to a VPN.

What VPN should I use for torrenting?

It can be tough to pick the right VPN for torrenting. Wanna know why? Because the vast majority of VPNs are, bluntly, garbage. Most of them won’t provide you anywhere near the level of protection you need to keep you safe and out of trouble while torrenting. 

Not just any VPN will do – and not all VPNs permit torrenting anyway!

First of all, you’ll need a VPN that allows P2P torrenting, to begin with. Then, you’ll need that VPN to offer military-grade encryption standards and security features like a kill switch and DNS leak protection, along with a strict no-logs policy. You’ll need all of this, and you’ll want your VPN to be fast, on top of that. That’s a tall order, and most VPNs simply aren’t worth the time or effort it takes to download them. But there are a few that are indeed up to the task and can legitimately protect you while torrenting.

Perhaps the best VPN for the job, the one that ticks all the appropriate boxes, and the one I’d recommend to any torrenter, is PIA (or Private Internet Access, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). PIA’s security is unmatched and it has proven its no-logs claim in court on multiple occasions, so you know you’re in safe hands with this VPN. PIA’s kill switch is airtight and will kill your internet connection if the VPN drops out for any reason, ensuring you never leak your true IP address or torrenting activity in the event your VPN disconnects. Similarly, its DNS leak protection will ensure your activity or true identity is never leaked and traced back to you personally. 

If you’re looking for other VPNs that go the distance to protect your privacy while torrenting, then I can with full confidence recommend ExpressVPN as well as NordVPN. Both are top-of-the-line providers that do just about everything right. They’re super-secure, super-fast, and offer everything you need to protect your privacy while you’re downloading torrents.   

How do I know my VPN is working?

One of the first things you can do to test and see if your VPN is working is to connect to a VPN and then check a site like whatismyipaddress.com. If you’ve successfully connected to a VPN server, the website should display the IP address and country of the VPN server you’re connecting through, rather than your actual IP address and location.

If you want to take it a step further and make sure your VPN is not only connected but protecting your privacy as it should, check out ProPrivacy’s handy VPN Leak Testing Tool. The leak testing tool will automatically test for leaks in your VPN connection and alert you to leaks that could compromise your privacy while torrenting. I’d strongly recommend that you take the leak testing tool for a spin to test your VPN prior to downloading torrents to ensure it properly protected your privacy when doing so.  

Other ways to stay safe while torrenting

Using a VPN is, by far, the best way to stay safe while torrenting – there’s really no doubt about that. Alongside using a VPN, however, there are a couple of other things you can do to stay safe:

Use a trusted antivirus
Whenever you’re downloading torrents, you always run the risk of inadvertently downloading malware to your device. Using a trusted antivirus is your first line of defense in protecting yourself from infecting your device with malware when torrenting.

Check the comment section 

The comment section of a particular torrent will give you a lot of information related to its overall quality and trustworthiness. If the comments are generally positive in nature, you can probably feel safe going ahead with the download. If the comments are more negative or warn of viruses, then it’s best to look elsewhere. Just use your best judgment. 

Check the seed count

Torrents will typically display a seed count, denoting the number of other ‘seeders’ sharing the torrent. Generally, a high seed count will indicate that the torrent is safe to download since so many others are also downloading and sharing it. This isn’t always totally foolproof, though, so make sure to poke around and make sure everything else with torrent seems legit also before you click the download button. Again, use your best judgment. 

Check the uploader 

A lot of torrent sites will have some sort of tag to verify trusted users. You should be fine downloading torrents from users with a ‘verified’ tag. But again, check the comments and seed count too just to make sure you minimize your risk.

Avoid downloading executable files (.exe or .bat)

Executable files are risky because they are commonly used to transmit malware via torrent downloads. If you must download an executable file, do so with extreme caution and make sure your antivirus is up to date. 

Final thoughts

Torrenting is a risky pastime, one that can get you in a lot of trouble if you’re not careful. You’ll need to take appropriate precautions to protect yourself. 

It’s important to understand, though, that no method to protect your privacy and avoid malware can be perfectly 100% foolproof. But if you use a VPN like PIA, ExpressVPN, or NordVPN and take care to avoid inadvertently infecting your computer with malware, you’ll be doing yourself a major service in mitigating the serious risks associated with torrenting. 

There are a lot of things in this world you shouldn’t be doing without protection, torrenting is definitely one of them. So use a VPN.

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