Disclosure: Top10VPN is editorially independent. We may earn commissions if you buy a VPN through links on our site.

How to Download Torrents Safely

JP Jones - CTO @ Top10VPN

JP 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

Torrenting comes with some safety risks, but they can easily be avoided if you know what you're doing. If you want to torrent safely, it's important you use a VPN to hide your IP address and only ever download torrents you can trust.

Torrenting is a great way to share and download movies, music, and other large files, but downloading torrents comes with some safety risks, too.

Anyone can see that you’re downloading a public torrent, and the files themselves can sometimes be dangerous. Thankfully, these risks can be almost completely eliminated if you follow the right guidance.

The simplest thing you can do to protect yourself when torrenting is to get a trustworthy VPN that doesn’t leak your IP address and allows P2P traffic on its servers.

How to Torrent Safely: A Five Step Guide

Expert Tip
For Windows and MacOS stick to the qBittorrent torrent client. It’s secure, includes advanced features like IP binding and doesn’t include invasive adverts or bloatware. It’s also totally free and open-source.

1. Use a VPN (or proxy service) to hide your IP address

The best way to protect yourself while torrenting is to use a VPN. A good VPN hides your true IP address, which stops copyright trolls from identifying you. It will also hide the fact you are torrenting from your network administrator and internet service provider (ISP).

This only works with a safe, P2P-optimized VPN, though. We recommend some safe VPNs for torrenting later in this guide.

A screenshot of ExpressVPN running at the same time as qBittorrent

ExpressVPN being used with qBittorent.

A proxy is like a VPN, but it doesn’t encrypt your traffic.This means your ISP will still be able to see that you are torrenting, and could throttle your connection.

If you use a proxy on a school or university network where torrenting is not allowed, the network administrator will still be able to see that you are torrenting.

2. Always connect to your VPN before opening your torrent client

One of the most common ways people get caught out when torrenting is that they forget to always have their VPN on when the torrent client is active.

Torrent clients can start seeding as soon as you start them, which will expose your IP address unless you have a VPN active. This is why you should always start your VPN before your torrenting client.

Another way people get caught out is not closing their torrenting client properly. It isn’t enough to just close the window, you need to select exit from within the client’s menu.

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

3. Configure your VPN and torrenting clients

A properly configured VPN client can almost totally eliminate the risk of your IP being exposed while torrenting. The same is true of your torrenting client.

For your VPN client, make sure that you have a VPN kill switch which cuts out your internet connection if your VPN goes down.

In your torrent client look out for an IP binding setting. It allows you to whitelist IP addresses to torrent from, and blocks any other connections. In practice it works like a kill switch, but it will also cut your connection out if your VPN changes IP address.

There’s more to properly setting up your VPN and torrenting client, though. We have detailed instructions for configuring your torrent client and your VPN client further down the page.

4. Only download torrents you trust

Torrents can contain dangerous contents such as malware, spyware, ransomware, etc. Because of this, it’s really important you only download torrents you trust.

Some torrent sites have trusted user icons for regular posters who haven’t been caught posting malware, which can be a useful tool for finding safe torrents.

You’ll want to look for files with a good number of seeders and leechers, too. Surprisingly, though, it is generally best to avoid the very biggest torrents as these tend to attract copyright trolls.

You should always stick to trusted sources, like the Internet Archive. Even then, check the comments to make sure no one else has had a bad experience with the files.

Once the torrent has downloaded, double-check its contents. If you expected a video file and you get a .exe, do not open it. In general you should be cautious of file extensions you don’t recognise. If you see an unfamiliar filetype look it up before opening.

5. Install anti-virus software on your computer

If you want to be really careful, you can scan the contents of your torrent specifically once it has downloaded. If you’re downloading any files from the internet you need to have a regular virus scan at the very least.

There are several good free antivirus services available including Windows Defender, Malwarebytes, and Avira Antivirus.

malwarebytes-virus-scan

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

Why Is Torrenting Dangerous?

Torrenting isn’t always safe. The following risks can be minimized by following the advice on this page, but they can be dangerous if you aren’t aware of them.

1. Malware & 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.

This is why it’s so important to make sure you trust the source of files you torrent, and also why you should have a good antivirus program if you’re torrenting. The risk of dangerous files can never be totally eliminated when torrenting, but being aware of what you’re downloading can massively reduce it.

2. Legal Risk

The biggest risk of torrenting is that you could face legal consequences if you share copyrighted material.

Sharing copyrighted material without permission of the copyright holder can have serious consequences. 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 know about these penalties, and use the threat of legal action to get paid – even against users that haven’t even shared copyrighted material. These companies are called copyright trolls.

They watch public torrents and collect lists of IP addresses, then they send legal letters to the ISPs those IP addresses belong to. ISPs will then either ask users to stop torrenting or forward on the legal threats to their customers.

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.

As long as it doesn’t leak your true IP address, using a VPN – especially a no logs VPN – virtually eliminates the legal risk of torrenting.

EXPERT TIP: 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 much less likely than downloading malware or being targeted by copyright trolls, but it is still a possibility. They could use your publicly visible information to impersonate you, target you in scams or DDoS attacks.

Using a VPN virtually eliminates the risk of this, as it keeps your true IP address hidden. Malware can also be used by hackers to target you, though, and a VPN can’t stop you downloading dangerous files.

4. ISP Throttling

ISP throttling might be less serious than some of the other risks of torrenting, but it is still frustrating.

If your ISP can see you are torrenting a lot, it might throttle your connection. This will affect all activity on your local network, not just torrents, and can seriously affect your bandwidth during streaming and video calls.

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

A VPN prevents your ISP from seeing that you are torrenting, and reduces the risk of them throttling your connection. A proxy service won’t do this, as it doesn’t encrypt your traffic.

What Happens if You Get Caught Torrenting?

If you receive a letter from a copyright troll the best thing to do is to ignore it. Copyright trolls are opportunistic, and they will send out speculative letters to random torrent users in an attempt to intimidate them.

Often, these companies only bother pursuing users who respond to them, as it confirms that the user exists and that they might be an easy target to pressure into paying them.

sky-dmca

DMCA notices will normally come directly from your ISP.

How to Safely Configure Your Torrenting Client

There are a few steps you can take to maximize the security and anonymity of your torrent client. (These instructions are written for qBittorent, but can be transferred directly to other popular torrent clients).

To configure your torrenting client for safety:

  1. Install a trustworthy torrent client. There are several good options to choose from: popular clients include uTorrent, qBittorrent, Vuze and Deluge.
  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.

How to Configure Your VPN Client for Safe Torrenting

There are also a few simple steps you can take to maximise the protection offered by your VPN service.

To configure your VPN client 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.

Which VPNs Are Safe for Torrenting?

When you’re looking for a safe P2P VPN, there are a few things you need to consider. A safe torrenting VPN should always include:

  • P2P support
  • Minimal logging policy
  • Kill switch

These features are the bare minimum a torrenting VPN should include. It is not recommended to torrent with a VPN that doesn’t include all three of these features.

To get the most out of your P2P connection, port forwarding can also be a useful feature. It’s sometimes necessary to seed torrents effectively. For free torrenting VPNs, unlimited data is useful, because torrents can often include large files.

For detailed recommendations, read our dedicated list of the five best VPNs for torrenting. For now, here is a table comparing some VPNs that are safe for torrenting:

VPN Service Jurisdiction Logging Policy Kill Switch Port Forwarding Torrenting Speed*
Astrill Seychelles Some User Logs Yes Yes 16.7MiB/s
AirVPN Italy No Logs Yes Yes 12.9MiB/s
Avira Free VPN Germany Anonymous Usage Data Yes No 15.5MiB/s
ExpressVPN British Virgin Islands Anonymous Usage Data Yes No 13.2MiB/s
IPVanish US No Logs Yes No 15.6MiB/s
Mullvad Sweden Anonymous Usage Data Yes Yes 13.5MiB/s
NordVPN Panama No Logs Yes No 10.8MiB/s
ProtonVPN Switzerland Anonymous Usage Data Yes No 16MiB/s
Surfshark British Virgin Islands Anonymous Usage Data Yes No 14.4MiB/s
Windscribe Free Canada Anonymous Usage Data Yes No 4.7MiB/s

*Torrenting speeds are measured with our torrenting VPN testing methodology. With no VPN connected we measured a 16.8MiB/s download speed.

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.

Safe Torrenting FAQs

Is Torrenting Legal?

Yes. There is nowhere in the world where torrenting itself is illegal.

However, torrenting is a way to share files, and any laws 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’s lots of jargon around torrenting which can be tricky to understand. Here’s a quick guide:

  • 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).

Additional research by Liam Mullally

About the Author


  • JP Jones - CTO @ Top10VPN

    JP Jones

    JP 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