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. It also allows you to access content that’s geo-restricted.
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 let you view a list of 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. This includes 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, especially in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. This trend is happening throughout Europe as well, 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’.
Copyright trolls monitor popular torrents looking for the IP addresses of users uploading or downloading files. They then contact the ISP that assigned those IP addresses, and instruct it to send the user a copyright violation notice. In more serious cases, ISPs can also send requests for settlement.
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 see and record all the files you torrent.
An ISP can use this information to block or throttle your P2P traffic. It can also prevent you from accessing file-sharing websites. If you’ve broken the law, your ISP could send you a DMCA notice. It can even pass your information to third-parties, like content owners and copyright enforcement agencies.
Other Peers in the Torrent Swarm
All 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 this personal identifier. It’s possible that someone could link your real IP address to your true identity and use this information for 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 have been known to harass even users who haven’t breached copyright laws with DMCA requests. That’s because they profit from damages or litigation. It’s best to mask your IP address in public torrents to avoid these.
In addition, we’re seeing websites publish records of P2P activity and related IP addresses. These databases of torrenting activity are available for anyone to see. This makes it easier than ever for attorneys and media companies to target users.
If you’re torrenting without a VPN, and you don’t believe third parties can see what you download, this tool gives you 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’re located, using a safe VPN for torrenting and P2P file-sharing is key.