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How to Torrent Safely and Anonymously

JP Jones - CTO @ Top10VPN

JP Jones is our CTO. He has over 25 years of software engineering and networking experience, and oversees all technical aspects of our VPN testing process. Read full bio

Our Verdict

Torrenting comes with risks, but you can avoid them by taking appropriate security measures. The best way to torrent safely is to use a secure VPN to hide your IP address, a trusted torrent client, and effective antivirus software. Also, make sure you only download and open torrent files you trust.

Torrenting is a great way to share and download movies, music, software and other large files. However, downloading torrents comes with a number of risks.

If you don’t take appropriate safety measures, you could accidentally download files containing viruses, as well as copyrighted material. Also, anyone in the ‘torrent swarm’ can see your IP address and identity.

In this guide we’ll explain exactly how to torrent safely and anonymously, largely eliminating the risks associated with Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file-sharing.

The best way to torrent safely is to use a secure VPN. A safe VPN hides your IP address and doesn’t keep logs of your file-sharing activity.

We’ll also highlight the risks of torrenting without protection, and how to adjust your VPN settings and torrent client configurations for safe P2P downloads.

EXPERT ADVICE: A great VPN for fast, secure, and anonymous torrenting is ExpressVPN. In our ExpressVPN P2P tests, the VPN’s high-speed and IP leak-proof servers always masked our identity. Use its 100% refund guarantee and try ExpressVPN risk-free.

How to Torrent Safely: Five Essential Tips

1. Use a VPN to Hide Your Torrent IP Address

The best way to torrent safely and anonymously is to use a virtual private network (VPN).

A good VPN hides your true IP address, which stops copyright trolls from identifying you.

VPN software also hides the fact you’re torrenting from your internet service provider (ISP) and network administrator (at school or work).

You must only use a VPN optimized for secure and private downloads, though. We recommend secure VPNs for torrenting later in this guide.

ExpressVPN running at the same time as qBittorrent

ExpressVPN being used with qBittorent.

A P2P-specialized VPN service, like ExpressVPN, records fast download speeds, doesn’t keep internet logs and never leaks your IP address.

Another reason for using a VPN is to bypass internet blocks imposed by ISPs and school/workplace network administrators on file-sharing websites and trackers for torrents.

A VPN bypasses content filters by routing your connection via a secure server, assigning you a new IP address. You’ll have to connect to a different country to bypass geo-blocks.

how a virtual private network (VPN) works

VPN software connects your device to a remote server through an encrypted tunnel.

Always Have Your VPN Running

Many people get caught out when torrenting by not keeping their VPN running when the torrent client is active.

Torrent clients can start seeding as soon as you launch them. Unless your VPN is already on, your real IP address is exposed when this happens.

For this reason, you must have your VPN on before you launch torrent client and after you close the program.

When you exit from within the client’s menu, make sure the program isn’t still running in your device’s systems tray.

Only disconnect from your VPN when you are absolutely certain that the torrent client has stopped.

It’s essential you configure your VPN correctly, too. For example, ensure your VPN’s kill switch function is enabled to prevent unexpected IP exposures.

What About Using Proxy Services for Torrenting?

Some torrenters choose to use proxy services when torrenting, such as the Shadowsocks SOCKS5 proxy.

A proxy is similar to a VPN in that it changes your IP address, but it doesn’t encrypt your torrenting traffic.

In other words, your ISP can still see you’re torrenting, and can throttle your connection.

We strongly recommend you use a secure torrenting VPN rather than a proxy.

2. Use a Safe Torrent Client

There are many popular torrent clients available, but not all of them are equally secure and private.

It’s important to use a torrent client that is not only easy to use but, crucially, doesn’t contain viruses and protects your privacy.

For instance, the popular uTorrent is full of invasive adverts. The software also contains bloatware.

We’ve tested qBittorrent, uTorrent, Deluge, BitTorrent, Transmission and Vuze. Based on our analysis, qBittorent is the safest torrent client.

uTorrent and qBittorrent side by side

uTorrent and qBittorrent side by side.

Configure Your Torrent Client Properly

A properly configured torrent client can maximize your security and privacy while leeching and seeding files.

In your torrent client, look for an ‘IP binding’ setting. It lets you whitelist IP addresses to torrent from, and blocks any other connections.

In practice, whitelisting works like a VPN kill switch. Be aware, that it will block your connection if your VPN IP address changes.

See detailed instructions for configuring your torrent client later in this article.

3. Only Visit Safe Torrent Websites

There a thousands of websites hosting torrent links around the world. You must be careful which one you use, though.

Sadly, many file-sharing websites host fake links and sometimes links to virus-ridden files.

It’s always best to stick to trusted sources, like the Internet Archive, to avoid nasty surprises. Even then, read through comments to make sure nobody has had a bad experience with a file.

Make sure you have your antivirus is always running, with real-time monitoring enabled, to avoid visiting dangerous websites.

Malwarebytes blocked a malicious website

Our Malwarebytes software blocked a malicious website.

4. Only Download Torrents You Trust

Torrents can contain dangerous contents such as malware, spyware, and ransomware. It’s really important you only download torrents you trust.

Some torrent sites have trusted user icons to mark regular contributors who only post safe torrent and magnet links. This is useful tool to find virus-free torrents.

Look for files with a good number of seeders and leechers, too. Having said that, we generally advise on avoiding the most popular torrents, since these attract copyright trolls.

Always double-check the contents of a downloaded file. If you expected a video file and you get a .exe program, do not open it.

In fact, be wary of file extensions you don’t recognize. If you see an unfamiliar file type, look it up on a search engine before opening it.

4. Install antivirus software on your device

Following from the above advice, you must scan every single file you download using effective antivirus software.

There are several good free antivirus applications, however at Top10VPN.com we primarily use Malwarebytes.

The premium version of Malwarebytes features real-time monitoring and protection.

malwarebytes-virus-scan

Antivirus software (free or premium) is vital for torrenters.

We recommend you do three things with your antivirus software:

  • Scan any torrent file you download
  • Set up regular (daily) device scans
  • Enable real-time website monitoring to block access to dangerous torrent websites

The Best VPNs for Safe Torrenting

Torrenting with a VPN is essential for secure torrenting. However, not all VPNs are suitable for anonymous file-sharing.

A safe torrenting VPN must have the following features:

  • High-speed P2P-friendly VPN servers
  • A no-personal-logs privacy policy
  • A fully functioning kill switch

These features are the bare minimum a safe torrenting VPN must include. If a VPN doesn’t cover all three requirements, do not use it.

For instance, we don’t recommend Hotspot Shield for torrenting, even if it’s a good VPN for other purposes.

Some VPNs include port forwarding, which speeds up P2P connections. This setting is sometimes necessary to seed torrents effectively. We tested Windscribe for torrenting and found that its download bitrates were still average, though.

As for free torrenting VPNs, a large monthly data allowance or, better, unlimited bandwidth are necessary to download larger files.

Comparison of the Best Torrenting VPNs

The table below compares the three best VPNs for torrenting we’ve selected from thousands of P2P-specific tests.

Based on these tests, the top P2P VPN right now is Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN.

Category PIA VPN ExpressVPN Astrill
Torrenting Speed* 9.6MiB/s 9.4MiB/s 10.0MiB/s
Kill Switch Yes Yes Yes
Logging Policy No Logs Anonymous Usage Data Some User Logs
Jurisdiction United States British Virgin Islands Seychelles
Port Forwarding Yes Yes (router app only) Yes
Official Website piavpn.com expressvpn.com astrill.com

How to Configure Your VPN for Safe Torrenting

Installing a secure torrenting VPN isn’t enough to maximize the protection it offers. You must also adjust its settings accordingly.

Here’s how to configure your VPN for safe torrenting:

  1. Connect to a P2P server. Some VPNs optimize all their servers for P2P traffic. In that case you can connect to any nearby server.
  2. Enable kill switch and leak protection. Double-check in your VPN’s settings that any special settings to prevent IP leaks are active, especially the VPN kill switch.
  3. Make sure you’re using a secure protocol. e.g. Wireguard, OpenVPN, or IKEv2. Weak protocols like PPTP aren’t secure and leave you vulnerable.
  4. Check for leaks. With your VPN running make sure your true IP address isn’t publicly visible. You can use our VPN leak tool for this.
  5. Select a nearby server in a safe jurisdiction for torrenting. Avoid connecting to the US, UK, Germany or Australia for torrenting, especially if you live in one of these jurisdictions.

How to Configure Your Torrent Client

Along with your VPN, you need to configure your torrent client to further safeguard your security and anonymity.

Here’s how to configure your torrent client for safe downloads:

  1. Install a trustworthy torrent client. There are several good options to choose from: we recommend qBittorrent.
  2. Make sure “Check for program updates” is enabled. It’s generally best to make sure your client is as up to date as possible to avoid bugs or leaks.
  3. Make sure “Start qBittorent on Windows start up” is not enabled. You can find this option under Tools > Options > Behavior. This prevents the torrent client from starting automatically and seeding torrents while your VPN is down.
  4. If your client includes IP binding, enable it. Especially if you are just running a proxy, a VPN without a kill switch, or an unreliable, leaky VPN. It will pause your downloads if the VPN/proxy connection drops.

The above instructions are written for qBittorent, but you can follow them for other torrent clients, too.

How to Safely Open .torrent Files

A .torrent file doesn’t actually contain the files you want to download. It is used as a guide by your torrent client to connect to other users who are uploading (or ‘seeding’) whatever it is you want to download.

downloading a torrent file

.torrent files will open in your default torrent client

In order to open a .torrent file you need to download a torrent client, such as qBittorrent or uTorrent. When this is installed you just have to double click or open the .torrent file for your client to begin torrenting.

There are two risks when you do this, though:

  1. Your IP address will be visible to anyone else with the .torrent file
  2. The contents of the torrent could be harmful

To be as safe as possible, we recommend always using a VPN when you torrent and following the rest of the advice on this page.

The Dangers of Torrenting

Torrenting isn’t always safe. We’ve listed the main risks of torrenting below, which you can mostly eliminate by following our safe torrenting advice.

1. Malware and Viruses

Torrent files and magnet links themselves aren’t dangerous, they just configure your torrent client to upload and download whatever it is you’re torrenting.

The risk is that the actual files you download might contain malware. This could be spyware or ransomware, or any other kind of virus.

It’s therefore extremely important you trust the source of files you torrent. Equally, you must use a good antivirus program.

The risk of downloading dangerous files is always there when torrenting, but being cautious and running virus scans greatly reduces risks.

2. Legal Risks and Copyright Trolls

Torrenting copyrighted content is illegal. The biggest risk associated with torrenting is the legal consequences you may face if you do so.

Because torrenting is peer-to-peer, it involves both downloading and uploading the file, which is a more serious offence than downloading a file alone.

In the US, the punishment for breaking copyright laws can be up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. In the UK, ISPs can throttle and even disconnect internet connections.

Some companies (copyright trolls) know about these penalties, and use the threat of legal action to get paid – even against users that haven’t even shared copyrighted material.

Copyright trolls watch public torrents and collect lists of IP addresses. Then, they send legal letters to the ISPs those IP addresses belong to. ISPs can then forward the legal threats to their customers. You can find out who your ISP is using our ISP checking tool.

sky-dmca

DMCA notices will normally come directly from your ISP.

This practice tends to target vulnerable or less tech-savvy people. Copyright trolls are looking for an easy payday, not to protect their intellectual property, so they only target people that don’t know any better.

Using a no-logs VPN that doesn’t leak your true IP address virtually eliminates the legal risk of torrenting.

EXPERT ADVICE: The best way to avoid legal trouble when torrenting is to never download an illegal torrent or visit an illegal torrenting site.

3. Hackers

Being targeted by hackers while torrenting is very unlikely, but still a possibility.

A hacker could use your publicly visible information (e.g. your IP address) to impersonate you, target you in scams or DDoS attacks.

Again, using a VPN virtually eliminates the risk of this, since it masks your true IP address in the torrent swarm.

Hackers can also use malware and ransomware to target you, which is why you must also have malware protection (antivirus) running on your device.

4. ISP Throttling

ISP throttling is less serious than the risks above, but it’s very frustrating when it happens.

If your ISP can see you’re torrenting a lot, it may decide to throttle your entire internet connection.

ISP throttling is more common in some countries than in others. It is especially an issue in South East Asian countries, like South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan.

A VPN prevents your ISP from monitoring your internet activity, and reduces the risk of them throttling your connection.

Safe Torrenting FAQs

Is Torrenting Legal?

Yes, torrenting itself is legal. However, torrenting is a way to share files, and any laws that apply to sharing material in general also apply to torrenting. For example, sharing copyrighted material without permission is illegal in many countries and these laws still apply if you are torrenting.

Because torrenting is peer to peer (P2P), when you download a torrent you are also sharing that torrent with other users (peers) in the torrent swarm. From a legal perspective this means that torrenting isn’t just downloading, but also distributing.

What Is IP Binding?

IP Binding is a feature of some torrenting clients which allows you to specify one IP address to torrent from. If you try to torrent from another IP address it will block your connection.

It works similarly to a VPN kill switch, although it requires more setup.

If you enable IP Binding and your VPN or proxy disconnects, the torrent client will block the connection from your true IP address. This stops the torrent and prevents your IP address from being exposed to the swarm.

In qBittorrent this feature is called IP Filtering and is found under Options > Connection.

Torrenting Glossary

There is lots of jargon around torrenting, which can be difficult to understand.

Here are the definitions to the most frequently used torrenting terms:

  • Peer – one user in a P2P network structure. Peers upload and download data from/ to others peers.
  • P2P – stands for peer-to-peer. This is an alternative to the client-server network structure where individual users download files from a central server. Instead, all users in the P2P network share files with each other.
  • Swarm – the word used to describe a group of peers uploading/ downloading from each other.
  • Seed – uploading a torrent to other users. This is necessary to keep a torrent going.
  • Leech – downloading from other users, also used to describe someone who only downloads and doesn’t help maintain the torrent by seeding.
  • Magnet link – an alternative to downloading a .torrent file. A magnet link is a link that connects your torrent client to a particular torrent.
  • Bitrate – the speed at which a torrent downloads, generally measured in mebibytes per second (MiB/s).

About the Author


  • JP Jones - CTO @ Top10VPN

    JP Jones

    JP Jones is our CTO. He has over 25 years of software engineering and networking experience, and oversees all technical aspects of our VPN testing process. Read full bio