You can torrent files without using a VPN, but we strongly recommend you don’t.
A good VPN will encrypt your P2P traffic, disguise your IP address, and protect your identity while torrenting. This prevents your internet service provider (ISP), government, and any other third party from spying on your activity, and allows you to access content that’s restricted to certain locations.
BitTorrent is a P2P or ‘peer-to-peer’ protocol. This means that every other user downloading the same file is connected in a group called a ‘swarm’. Many BitTorrent clients allow you to view a list of other devices you’re connected to when leeching or seeding files on the network.
Without a VPN, your IP address and identity will be visible to everyone in the torrenting swarm including other users, content owners, and copyright trolls. Your ISP can monitor your traffic and work with authorities to issue legal notices for copyright infringement.
If you’re caught downloading copyrighted material you could face financial penalties or even imprisonment.
DMCA notices will normally come directly from your ISP
Many countries are ramping up copyright violation laws and enforcement actions, particularly in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. This trend is happening throughout Europe as well, specifically in countries like Germany, Denmark, and Austria.
The US is home to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which can penalize repeat copyright violations with fines of up to $1,000,000. The UK has similar legislation called the Digital Economy Act, which raised the maximum sentence for copyright infringement to up to 10 years.
Large media companies also monitor torrent traffic and collect IP addresses from torrent swarms. Copyright holders often outsource their litigation to law companies called ‘copyright trolls’. These third parties monitor popular torrents for the IP addresses of users that are uploading or downloading files. They then match those IP addresses to the ISP that assigned them, and use ISP to send a request for settlement or copyright violation notice to the user.
While we do not condone copyright violations, we do want to make sure that users stay safe.
To summarize, a VPN will protect you against the following threats:
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
ISPs use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to analyze your internet traffic. If you don’t encrypt your traffic, your ISP will monitor and record all the files you upload or download through torrenting.
It may use this information against you by blocking your P2P traffic or restricting the file-sharing websites you’ve visited. If you’ve broken the law, your ISP could send you a DMCA notice, a warning about downloading copyrighted material, or even pass your information to third-parties like content owners and copyright enforcement agencies.
Other Peers in the Torrent Swarm
All of the devices downloading a torrent file are known as peers, while those uploading are called seeders. Together, all of these devices make up the ‘torrent swarm’.
In every torrent swarm, the IP addresses of all participants are visible. This means everybody can see your personally identifying information. It’s possible that someone could relate your true IP address to your real life identity and use this information for other scams or harassment.
Third-Parties Monitoring Downloads
Copyright enforcement organizations infiltrate and monitor torrent swarms to catch torrenters out. Research by the University of Birmingham discovered extensive monitoring of the most popular content available on torrent sites.
Copyright trolls – who seek violations in order to profit from damages or litigation – have been known to harass even users who do not breach copyright laws with DMCA requests. It’s best to keep your IP address out of public torrents to avoid these.
In addition, all of your P2P activity is being recorded and published online. Third parties are creating huge databases of torrenting activity – including IP addresses – available for anyone to see. Thanks to websites such as these, it is easier than ever for attorneys and media companies to target users.
If you’ve been torrenting without a VPN and you don’t believe that third parties can see what you’ve downloaded, take a look at this tool for a snapshot of the latest torrents matched to your public IP address.
It’s clear that masking your IP address is vital for bittorrent users. No matter where you are located, using a good VPN for torrenting and P2P downloading is essential.
You also need to trust the file you’re downloading. A VPN won’t stop you from downloading malicious content – the best way to make sure you get a safe file is to only download torrents from trusted sources with plenty of active peers and seeders. It’s also good practice to scan new files with security software like Windows Defender.