Torrent Safely: Do You Really Need a VPN?

Whether it’s a movie, song or game, downloading a file from the Internet with a torrent client is simple – you can do it with just a few clicks. But it can be risky without the right precautions.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms can make it easier to keep trackers on you, with some storing your data online. In some cases, torrents can infect your computer with viruses and malware. And of course there are also the legal implications of their use.

This is why online anonymity and security are considered essential for safe torrenting – and why a VPN can really help. It doesn’t just protect your privacy by hiding your IP address and encrypting your data, the software can even improve your overall downloading experience.

Here, we take a closer look at the dangers and any legal caveats involved, as well as how a VPN for torrenting can be used to mitigate those risks.

Is torrenting illegal?

One of the fastest and easiest ways to share files on the Internet, torrenting is not illegal. However, this activity opens a gray area for users because downloading copyrighted material is illegal.

Sometimes it can also be difficult to determine the nature of a file. For this reason, some countries have decided to completely shut down torrent sharing platforms. These include the United States, Russia, China, Australia, Portugal and Italy.

And the consequences for users who download illegal content vary widely from country to country – from hefty fines to even jail time in some cases.

TechRadar certainly doesn’t condone any illicit activity you may engage in on torrent sites. But we also want you to enjoy legal torrenting in the safest way possible.

The dangers of torrenting

As previously mentioned, copyright violations are the biggest danger of torrenting. And no, you don’t have to be a hacker who downloads illicit material. In many cases, the legality of files is so difficult to verify that this crime simply happens by accident.

Countries around the world are vigorously combating piracy with fines and even jail time. In the UK, for example, the Digital Economy Act 2017 raised the maximum penalty for online copyright violations to 10 years in prison. Similarly, under the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violators can face five to 10 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.

Your online activity is constantly tracked by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), which will be equipped with specific tools to monitor torrent users. Moreover, torrent sites and database like I know what you download store users’ identifiable information – like your IP address – publicly online for anyone to access.

Illustration to represent the torrent

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

ISPs can also limit download speeds when he realizes that torrents are being shared. This is mainly because downloading large files uses a lot of bandwidth which costs your ISP more.

Additionally, the integrity of the material you download may be compromised. Torrents are a big target for hackers who can infect files with malware and viruses steal your data directly from your device. This is why using a good antivirus, combined with a VPN service, can further improve your security when torrenting.

How a VPN can protect you when torrenting

As we have seen before, torrenting can be a risky activity when done without the proper protection. By using a VPN service, you will be able to torrent anonymously while secure your sensitive data.

A virtual private network hides your true IP address and geographic location, making it impossible to track your activity. Moreover, it uses encryption protocols to anonymize your data through an encrypted tunnel.

Choosing one of the best VPNs for torrenting will prevent your ISP from spying on your online activity and sharing data with governments or other third parties. It also allows access to torrent sites in countries where these have been shut down.

On top of that, your torrenting experience may be improved in general through potentially faster connection speeds and, in most cases, unlimited bandwidth.

How to Choose the Safest VPN for Torrenting

Knowing that security software is essential to protect your data and privacy when torrenting, you also need to know how to choose the right VPN. There are several features worth considering.

Since your main goal is to torrent anonymously while keeping your data secure, you need to make sure that the service offers the the most secure encryption methods available. The “military-grade” Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), for example, is known as the global standard for strong cybersecurity and, thankfully, is used by most major vendors.

look for it best protocols right now, like OpenVPN or WireGuard – the latter combining a high level of security with fast connection speeds. Major providers – like ExpressVPN and NordVPN – have even developed their own protocols based on it.

torrent with ExpressVPN

Use a premium VPN like ExpressVPN is a much better option when torrenting (Image credit: ExpressVPN)

You also want to choose a VPN with a strong no logging policy. This way you can be sure that your data – in addition to some really essential details required by the provider – is not stored and therefore cannot be disclosed.

This means that even if ISPs or governments want to access your information – following criminal investigations, for example – it will not be possible because this data does not exist. ExpressVPN, NordVPN and TunnelBear are among the providers with the clearest and least invasive policies in this regard.

A integrated circuit breaker is a feature that further enhances your security as it protects you from any unexpected data leaks that may occur. Sometimes even the encrypted tunnel can be momentarily interrupted. A kill switch will simply cut the connection when this happens to prevent your data from being exposed to your ISP.

Also a fast and reliable connection is essential when uploading documents, especially large files. You also don’t want to have limits on the amount of content you can get. So, be sure to choose a VPN with no cap on bandwidth consumption – fortunately, most paid VPNs do this these days.

VPN encrypting a data stream

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Is a Free VPN Good Enough for Torrenting?

Looking at the prices of premium services, you might be tempted to opt for a free VPN to ensure your security while torrenting. But while a freebie can be a valuable solution for some needs, it’s not quite able to protect you from the risks of peer-to-peer torrenting hunting.

More often than not, free services (especially dubious proponents on the web) will collect your data and share this information with third parties, through advertisements for example. They can also leak your IP address – a study of 283 Android apps found that up to 84% of free VPN apps do.

Other free services also have strict bandwidth limitations that make it nearly impossible to download a full movie, game, or TV show. For example, the free version of TunnelBear offers excellent privacy protection, but its free plan has a bandwidth allowance of only 500 GB.

For these reasons, it’s not really worth getting a free VPN if your primary use is torrenting.

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