Is Bittorrent Safe?

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New BitTorrent users often ask the question “Is Bittorrent Safe?” This is a complicated question of course, and it depends a great deal on what sort of material you’re dowloading via torrent, but the answer is that it’s not as safe as it may first appear.

What is Bittorrent?

For those that aren’t completely familiar with the term, BitTorrent is the name of a filesharing technology that was developed to rapidly disseminate information in a ‘decentralized manner’. That is to say, there is no central server distributing all parts of the file.

A BitTorrent ‘Swarm’ is a group of people sharing a specific file. Participants in the swarm are known as peers. Peers download and upload individual parts of the file simultaneously, so as soon as you have downloaded the first part of the file, you instantly and automatically begin sharing it with the entire swarm, thus increasing the bandwidth available as well as the availability of that piece of the file.

Because of this structure, a swarm can collectively distribute a given file much quicker than a single server, because the growth is exponential instead of linear. That is, the larger the swarm grows, the faster the file gets shared, whereas a single server has fixed bandwidth, and the the overall rate of sharing cannot increase beyond that limit. Here’s a bit more information if you’re interested.

The risks of BitTorrent

The very nature of the technology means that every downloader is an uploader, and every uploader is a downloader. As such, there can be some blurred lines when it comes to deciding who exactly is distributing the file and who is receiving it. The answer, to a certain extent, is everyone.

In recent years, however, BitTorrent has come under fire from multiple directions, not the least of which is from Internet Service Providers like Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner. The primary reasons for this pressure are twofold:

1) File sharing technologies such as bittorrent can take up tremendous amounts of bandwidth on their network.

2) ISP’s can face legal pressure if some of the people sharing files on their networks do not own the right to the materials being shared.

What actions are Internet Providers Taking against Torrent Down-loaders?

Internet providers have started taking a couple courses of action. The two most prominent are two attempt to block, or at the very least throttle the speeds of BitTorrent users. This entails identifying the virtual ports over which the torrent data is being transmitted, and then deliberately limiting the available bandwidth, so there is more speed available for the network as a whole.

ISP’s are also in some cases (though certainly not all) releasing subscriber information to companies who have identified the ip addresses of users connected to a bittorrent swarm. This information has often been used in very negative ways, detrimental to the alleged file sharer.

So how can I increase my safety while using bittorrent?

The Bittorrent VPN Guide at http://www.best-bittorrent-vpn.com recommends always using a VPN when downloading torrents. The advantages of this are twofold: First, your true IP address will never be exposed to the swarm (a huge security vulnerability) and 2nd, you internet traffic will all be wrapped in an encrypted tunnel, so even your ISP can’t identify specific data packets or ports the information is being transmitted on. As a result, your ISP can’t throttle your torrent traffic, and you will get maximum download speeds.

Which VPN’s are the safest for torrents?

Not all VPN’s are created equal and we certainly recommend doing your own research. Here’s a couple good VPN Reviews to get you started:

When it comes to torrents, we certainly recommend choosing a VPN that doesn’t keep logs. None of the above listed VPN’s keep logs, and all 3 allow torrents on their network. Another VPN that’s definitely worth checking out (also no logs) is Private Internet Access.

How-to Guide for Anonymous Bittorrent

Disclaimer: Let me get this out of the way right off the bat… Neither I, nor isbittorrentsafe.com condone copyright infringement of any kind. Please make sure the torrents you download are legal and authorized.

Why should you keep Bittorrent Use Anonymous?

There are several reasons all Torrent users should seek to remain anonymous when using Bittorrent:

  • Most ISP’s throttle/block Torrent Use: By using an encrypted/anonymous Bittorrent connection, your ISP even know that you are using Bittorrent, thus allowing you to take advantage of your maximum connection speed.
  • ISP’s keep records of Internet Usage: Some Internet Service Providers keep logs of your internet usage for up to 2 years. These logs can even include records of websites you’ve visited and protocols you’ve used (such as Bittorrent). We firmly believe in a personal right to privacy online.
  • The Copyright Alert System: There have already been multiple cases of false-positives and bogus notices to users who were either downloading legal torrents or not using BitTorrent at all. Even worse, it costs $35 just to contest an alert. Incidentally, that’s basically the same price as 1 year of Torrent VPN Service. The CAS assumes guilt and forces users to pay to prove their innocence. With an anonymous VPN, any alerts will be sent to the VPN server and untraceable back to you.

Anonymous Torrent VPN

How to use Bittorrent Anonymously

The two most popular (and affordable) methods for anonymous bittorrent are: an Anonymous Proxy Service or an Anonymous VPN. While mostly similar in their benefits an anonymity, there is 1 primary difference. A VPN Protects your entire internet connection while a Proxy protects 1 program or protocol (In this case, your bittorrent client.)

Without a VPN or Proxy:

If you don’t use a vpn or proxy with Bittorrent, your true IP address will be clearly visible to any and all users in the same bittorrent swarm (which can be 10′s of thousands of peers). An IP address is a unique number that can identify a single computer or internet connection (your router).

Without a VPN/Proxy your ISP (Time Warner, Comcast, etc) can see that you are using Bittorrent, can see what websites you are visiting, and can throttle (slow down) or record anything they don’t like

With an Anonymous VPN or Proxy

An IP address still shows up in the Bittorrent swarm, but it won’t be yours. The IP address will belong to the VPN/Proxy server that you are connected to. The best VPN providers do not keep connection logs or destroy them frequently so the VPN IP address cannot be traced to your connection.

Because the VPN connection is encrypted, your ISP cannot read your traffic or see the websites you are visiting. They can see that you are connected to a remote server, but that is it. All communication between that server and your computer will be protected by heavy encryption. As a result, your ISP cannot throttle your torrent speed because it cannot tell whether you are using bittorrent.

What is the best Anonymous VPN for Bittorrent?

There are a number of VPN’s that we have found to be excellent solutions. They are all priced under $10/month, offer 256-Bit encryption, allow bittorrent, and are totally anonymous.

1: IBVPN (Invisible Browsing VPN)

IBVPN is an extremely popular choice for several reasons:

  • The Torrent VPN Package starts around $3/month
  • IBVPN does not keep logs
  • IBVPN has easy to use software
  • IBVPN features 256-Bit Encryption

IBVPN also offers a 6-hour free trial of their ultimate vpn package. IBVPN also has a terrific 15 day 100% money back guarantee policy.

2: Torguard

As you may guess from the name, Torguard specializes in anonymous VPN and Proxy service for Bittorrent, and a large percentage of their customers are Bittorrent users. They are able to deliver the anonymity and security solutions you need at an excellent price.

Torguard Anonymous Torrent Proxy is an extremely affordable option. If you buy a year of service, the torrent proxy costs less than $4/month. The proxy creates an encrypted tunnel for your Bittorrent client. They even offer a pre-configured version of Deluge for super easy setup, but you can configure Torguard to work with any Bittorrent client you like.

Torguard torrent proxy lets you choose from over 15 different proxy servers and locations (you can switch any time you like). It’s also quite fast, and we were able to max out our 15 Mbps connection in testing.

Torguard Anonymous VPN

Torguard also offers VPN service (you can get a substantial discount if you purchase VPN and proxy service together. Torguard has their own desktop VPN client software for easy setup (or you can choose from manual options). Torguard also has their own beta VPN app for Android, with a new version coming soon.

Torguard has a portable version of their desktop software which does not require installation. This means you could put it on a flash drive and take it anywhere, to encrypt your browsing on any computer. Torguard’s software also has built in DNS Leak Protection. Torguard allows up to 5 simultaneous VPN connections most VPN’s offer only 1.

Torguard has an industry leading 30 Day Money-Back Guarantee. They also have a Free 24-hour trial of their VPN. Torguard keeps no logs.

3: Private Internet Access VPN

PIA is among the most popular VPN’s, due largely to their incredibly low pricing. You can have their top-of-the-line vpn package for a crazy $3.33/month ($40/year).

Private Internet Access keeps no logs, has excellent software, and has servers in 9 countries. They allow Bittorrent on non US/UK servers.

4: BTguard

BTGuard is one of the original pioneers of anonymous bittorrent, and still one of the most popular. They offer have no logs, competitive prices, and offer both VPN and Proxy service options.

BTGuard Proxy is a great option for users that just need simple, anonymous bittorrent. You can manually set it up with any client, but the easiest (and best option IMO) is their easy install which is a custom version of the Utorrent client with all the correct settings already installed. It takes about 2 minutes from signup to getting online.

BTGuard VPN offers PPTP, L2TP, and OpenVPN connectivity. They don’t currently have their own software, but they do have easy setup guides for users. In our opinion, BTGuard’s proxy service is a better option and better value.

Is Your Bittorrent Activity Being Monitored?

Most people who have used Bittorrent technology have wondered this at one time or another. In this age of increasing digital restriction, you may wonder “am I being watched?” The answer to this question is definite “Yes!” but this monitoring is exclusive to Bittorrent. Nearly all aspects of our online lives are being tracked an recorded, though Bittorrent and other p2p file sharing technologies have attracted greater interest recently.

Who is Monitoring Bittorrent Activity?

There are a number of groups that track and monitor torrent downloads, and for a large variety of reasons. These groups include: The government, Internet Providers, Copyright owners, and researchers. Let’s look at each group individually…

Internet Providers (ISP’s)

Whether you realize it or not, your internet provider tracks your activity online. This monitoring can include everything from: connection logs and lists of web browsing activity, to comprehensive records of files downloaded and ports and protocols used (p2p software, video streaming, etc). Many ISP’s save this data in logfiles for up to 2 years! I guess your internet activity is less private than you thought.

Researchers

Academic researchers have taken a great interest in Bittorrent lately. One of the questions they studied was: “Can bittorrent usage be tracked to individual users? And how easy is it to do so?” The conclusions reached were simple: 1)Yes and 2) Very.

A 3 year study by the University of Birmingham in the UK tackled this very issue, and the findings were startling. They not only found that bittorrent users are easy to track (your IP address is on full display for anyone connected to your torrent swarm), but they also concluded that copyright enforcers were “Monitoring Bittorrent usage on a massive scale.” If you downloaded a popular torrent file from one of the largest bittorrent trackers (such as ThePirateBay or KickassTorrents) you’re IP address was likely tracked and logged “within a matter of hours.”

This monitoring is accomplished easily with automated software that connects to various swarms, logs the IP addresses of all connected users, and then moves on to another swarm. There are a number of third-party services that conduct this monitoring on behalf of copyright owners, or even do it on their own with the hopes of selling the results.

Companies such as Scaneye are starting to pop up everywhere. You can even search their database to see if your IP address is associated with any Bittorrent activity. This company usually monitors the most popular torrents, so just because you don’t show up in their DB doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. There are literally dozens of these agencies, all tracking different torrents.

For more information on ScanEye and other monitoring agencies, check out this awesome article at TorrentFreak

Copyright Owners

In addition to hiring third-parties to do the monitoring for them, organizations such as the MPAA and RIAA are doing some monitoring on their own. Individual record labels and movie studios also track Bittorrent usage, usually for the purpose of initiating lawsuits. Famously, Voltage Pictures (the studio behind “The Hurt Locker) has sued over 85,000 people for illegally downloading The Hurt Locker using Bittorrent. This CNN Article from 2011 estimates that the lawsuits by Voltage Pictures could actually net the company more cash than the movie even earned at the box office in its theatrical release.

With a huge percentage of people targeted in the lawsuit choosing to settle for a few thousand dollars rather than risk a trial and potentially huge damages along with paying the other teams legal fees (and you know those won’t be cheap). The result is a predictable secondary revenue stream, and other movie studios are taking note. If the economy and box office revenues take a hit in the near future, expect to see a spike in copyright lawsuits against individuals as well.

The Government

While the white house and congress have taken little in the way of direct action regarding the future of digital piracy, there position is clear. Intellectual property rights must be protected. This is an absolute requirement for a capitalist society to function, and you have no argument from me. Without trademark protection, there would be no rewards for innovation and the imitators would prosper even more than the innovators.

This is more true for industries and businesses, however, than it is for individuals. The record companies would disagree, but I would bet that more than 80% of content illegally downloaded using Bittorrent would never be purchased otherwise, so digital piracy is not costing the music and movie industries nearly as much as they claim. In certain cases, file-sharing has probably helped further some artists careers and made them more successful than they would have been otherwise, putting more money both in the artists’ pockets and those of their management.

While the government decides on what official actions they will take to curb piracy (and they will take action at some point) you can bet that they are watching closely, and most likely monitoring torrent activity directly. This monitoring may be purely to assess the scope of bittorrent usage, or it may have more far reaching implications.

The bottom line is: If you’ve downloaded more than 1 torrent file a week for the past year (illegally or not) your IP address is almost certainly in a database some where, possibly even matched to your exact name, address, or social security number.

How to protect your Bittorrent Privacy and avoid monitoring:

There is no certain way to avoid monitoring, but there are few easy steps you can take to dramatically reduce your exposure and visibility online.

#1) Get a VPN

I cannot emphasize this one enough. Every american that uses the internet on a regular basis should have a VPN, if only to help secure personal financial information and make identity theft harder. A VPN also has several features that are extremely useful for Bittorrent users or those who want to dramatically improve their privacy online:

An Anonymous IP Address

When you connect to your VPN server, you will be assigned a different IP address each time, one that is completely different than the static, permanent IP address that your ISP has probably assigned to you. The result is, then any people or websites that log your IP address online will be logging the address of your vpn, not your personal internet connection.

Because you likely share this vpn with hundreds or thousands of other users, you true identity remains anonymous.

Several VPN providers go even further to guarantee your anonymity by keeping minimal connection logs, no usage statistics, or even allowing you to pay for your VPN service though 100% anonymous means by using BitCoin. The Best Bittorrent VPN guide has lists and reviews of the best vpn services for bittorrent.

Data Encryption

Nearly all VPN’s provide integrated data encryption. This means that all information going to and from your computer will be fully encrypted, making it virtually impossible for anyone to intercept and decipher your data. This is even true for your ISP. No longer will they be able to keep logs of your web browsing history and downloads. All they will see is encrypted traffic coming from your VPN with no idea what it contains.

This encryption also means that your sensitive information will be safe even when you use unsecure wireless networks like public hotspots. Most people don’t even realize the security risk you run by connecting your computer to public wifi. With a VPN you will always be safe and secure.

The best part is VPN service is extremely affordable, and nearly as fast as your regular internet connection. You can find bargain VPN service as low as $3.33 per month, and nearly all consumer-grade VPN’s offer unlimted service for under $12 a month.

Visit VPNTestdrive.com for In-Depth VPN Reviews to help you make the best choice.

#2) Use Private Bittorrent Trackers

The vast majority of torrent monitoring occurs on publicly accessible torrents from public trackers. If you can manage to get an invite to a private tracker, you’ll be much less vulnerable.

Virus protection for Bittorrent: Free solutions to keep those trojans away

One of the greatest risks of using BitTorrent is the risk of infecting your computer with spyware, adware, or malware. Many of the programs that are widely distributed on Bittorrent tracker websites are of unknown or unverified authorship. The programmers who wrote them could easily slip in extra code to install unwanted programs on your computer, or open a virtual backdoor to your machine, making you extremely vulnerable to identity theft and other types of cyber attacks.

Even seemingly safe programs such as popular freeware programs that are distributed using bittorrent may be re-engineered by hackers to include a Trojan or other virus in the installation. Here are some easy, free steps you can take to keep yourself safe:

Always read the comments before you download a file

Most Bittorrent trackers have a comment section for each file. Nearly all reasonably popular torrents will have at least one comment. If someone downloads a file and discovers that it contains a trojan, virus, or other malware, they will usually post that information in the comments on at least one tracker webiste, to warn other potential victims. Learn from the mistakes of others, and avoid problems in the first place.

The fewer seeds a torrent has, or the newer the torrent file is, the fewer comments you will find. For maximum safety, try to stick with tried-and-true torrents that have been around for at least a month or two. Somebody has to be the 1st leacher of a torrent, but it doesn’t have to be you.

Get Free Anti-virus protection

Perhaps you’ve had your computer for a year or two, and the antivirus subscription that your manufacturer included has expired. Perhaps you thought: “I’ve been fine thus far, I’ll just be careful.” Bad Idea! While most viruses aren’t true threats to your personal security (just the proper functioning of your computer) some of them can lead to identity theft and irreparable financial harm. Many of these types of trojans are distributed using Bittorrent because it’s one of the easiest ways to get someone to install a file, by hiding it inside another file.

The good news is: there are several excellent, free antivirus programs that will keep your system safe.

1) Avast! Antivirus

Avast has been on the scene for a while, and there free Anti-Virus protection is even better than many of the paid antiviruses out there. It doesn’t even include ads. It doesn’t include an integrated firewall iike their paid “internet security suite” does, but you get the same live virus scanning, and same virus definitions as the paid software, updated daily, and completely free.

2) AVG Antivirus

If Avast isn’t quite your cup of tea, then take a look at AVG antivirus. Like Avast! they offer both a paid and free antivirus solution, but the free version is excellent for virus protection. If you want the integrated firewall, you’ll have to buy their paid version, but you can use any firewall you want, and there are some great free firewalls out there too.

Get a Solid Firewall to go with your antivirus software

A firewall is the perfect complement to solid antivirus software and an integral component of your network security. A firewall is a software barrier that controls which programs, and processes can access the internet from your computer, and even more importantly, what and who can access your computer from the outside. It also warns you of any possible cyber attacks or unusual activity

The best Firewall’s will also include a “sandbox”¬†which is essentially a safe virtual environment in which to run executable software files if you’re not sure whether they present a threat to your computer. The firewall will alert you if the program is trying to gain access to system files or processes and give you the option whether you wish to allow it to do so.

There are a number of free firewalls available, but the best free firewall for bittorrent is definitely:

Comodo Firewall

Comodo is a full-featured firewall that includes a process monitor, in/out port control, and a sandbox. The reason we love Comodo for bittorrent specifically, is that unlike some other firewall software, Comodo by default assumes that everything is a threat. No processes are allowed until you specifically give approval. This can be a bit tedious when you first install the software, but once grant access to a specific program, Comodo will remember it, and never ask you again. The result is a secure computer, where you are aware of everything that is going on. Comodo includes all their best features in the free version of the firewall. They do also offer a paid security suite that includes integrated antivirus software as well, for a comprehensive all-in-one package.

Use your head, and protect your computer, and your experience using Bittorrent should be a pleasant one.