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:
- Review of IPVanish
- This BTGuard review: http://www.best-bittorrent-vpn.com/btguard-vpn-review.html
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.