Torrenting can be risky business, especially if you’re newer to BitTorrent and haven’t learned the ropes yet.
Common BitTorrent risks include: Malware, malicious peers, ISP-monitoring, and the ever-present risk of accidentally downloading copyrighted content.
I’ve been using bittorrent for more than 12 years at this point, and this guide contains my collected wisdom from more than a decade of torrenting experience.
Here’s how to torrent safely in 2023.
How to Torrent Safely – detailed steps
Though there are no guarantees when it comes to torrent safety, following this best-practices will put you ahead of 99% of bittorrent users. These basic security practices can reduce your risk of throttling, malware, viruses, lawsuits and more.
1. Use a Torrent-ready VPN
The #1 rule of safe torrenting is simple. Always use a VPN.
And not just any VPN. You’ll want a zero-log VPN that explicitly allows torrenting, has fast speeds, supports magnet links, and has a proven track record of protecting its users.
Using a VPN while torrenting has a number of key advantages that you can’t easily achieve with other tools. For example, a VPN can hide your real IP address from torrent peers, encrypt your data so even your ISP can’t read it, bypass firewalls and even geo-locate you in torrent-friendly jurisdictions.
Benefits of using a VPN for torrenting
- Keep your real IP address private
- Strong encryption to defeat throttling & monitoring
- Choose and rotate 100’s VPN-owned IP addresses
- Geo-locate your connection in 50+ countries
- Potentially avoid manual port-forwarding setup
We’ve reviewed a number of torrent-friendly VPNs on this site, any of which would be suitable for safer torrenting. However our #1 pick in 2023 is NordVPN. They’ve proven the most capable, security-conscious and p2p-friendly provider for several years running.
2. Use reputable torrent sites
That’s why it’s incredibly important to only download torrents from reputable trackers.
Ideally, you’ll want to get into a good private tracker, which should reduce 99% of the headaches associated with publicly-sourced torrents.
Failing that, stick to the larger, trusted public trackers. Also, beware of mirror sites that claim to be a less-risky clone of well-known sites. Some are legit, but some are flat-out malicious or littered with ads (and it can be basically impossible to tell the difference).
Pro Tip: You can avoid ever browsing a torrent site directly by using qBittorrent’s built-in search feature. This lets you avoid all the ads and redirects and quickly find torrents to download without opening your web browser. It makes torrenting much more enjoyable.
3. Get a good ad-blocker (optional)
If you’re going to be using a lot of public torrent sites, you’ll definitely want a browser-based ad-blocker. Though they aren’t perfect, a good ad-blocker should dramatically reduce the number of popups, redirects, and generally weird ads that litter even reputable sites.
Good options include:
4. Choose the right BitTorrent Client
Your choice of torrent client makes a huge difference in your overall experience. Sure, they all can download torrents, seed, and provide basic queue management but that’s just table stakes.
My favorite torrent client is qBittorrent, which is fast, free, and completely ad-free as well. There’s no bundled software nonsense (looking at uTorrent) and the interface is clean and intuitive.
Also (as mentioned above) qBittorren’ts built-in torrent search feature is a gamechanger.
Torrent clients we recommend:
- qBittorrent – Easy to use, free, ad-free, VPN-binding and built-in torrent search. It’s by far the best option (in my opinion).
- Vuze/BiglyBT – Vuze was the power-user’s torrent client for years, but it’s no longer supported. BiglyBT is an open-source (and ad-free) fork of Vuze that is perfect if you want the most powerful torrenting experience (with built-in media management).
- Transmission – Transmission is especially popular for MacOS users who want a minimalist, clean torrent client that just works.
- Deluge – This open-source client is similar to qBittorrent in capabilities but is missing some of the best features like VPN-binding an torrent search. On the plus side, it can be installed to run on linux devices like NAS drives.
uTorrent, its BitTorrent skin, and any browser-based torrent app are definitely inferior options and should be avoided at all costs. None of these low-quality apps have any feature you can’t get from free, open-source clients listed above.
5. Choose torrent files carefully
BitTorrent is an open network. Anyone (including hackers) can post content to torrent trackers. In fact, an Ars-technica investigation found that BitTorrent was a common method for distributing remote-access trojan stalkerware that can hijack a victim’s computer and webcam.
Avoid Executable files
Executable files are especially dangerous on torrent sites, since you often have to grant them superuser/admin access during installation.
If at all possible, avoid executable files entirely on public torrent sites.
Be cautious with other file types, like PDF
Other file types (including video, audio and pdf) can still be malicious though it is less common.
How to avoid malicious torrents:
- No executables – Don’t download executable files or software. It’s like inviting a hacker into your computer.
- Read the comments – Most public trackers have a comment section for individual torrents. Check comments for reports of malware, honeypots or other unsavory activity.
- Avoid new / unpopular files – There’s safety in numbers. Stick to larger swarms with plenty of peers. This increases the likelihood someone would have already noticed any bundled malware in the torrent.
6. Use a Real-Time Antivirus
A good antivirus is an absolute must if you torrent frequently. This is doubly true if you download executable files like software or games.
And to be clear, you need a quality real-time antivirus that can detect threats immediately as they pop up. On-demand scanning of your downloaded files with Malwarebytes (free) or Avast (free) simply isn’t going to cut it.
Sophisticated malware can easily hide inside a binary file until the executable is actually run.
Solution: Use a real-time antivirus. Trust me, I learned the hard way.
7. Use the Kill-Switch
You’re already using a VPN when torrenting, right? Right?!
Good. Now make sure you’ve enabled the kill-switch feature in your VPN software (nearly all of them offer it).
This kill-switch will cut your internet connectivity in the event of a dropped VPN connection. This is a useful failsafe that can further reduce your risk of leaking your real IP address to torrent peers or alerting your ISP to your torrenting activity.
Learn more: Using a VPN kill-switch for torrenting
8. Bind your Torrent Client to you VPN (advanced)
If you want to ensure that your torrent client never transfers data without being connected to the VPN, you want to enable VPN-Binding.
In my experience, this advanced features works even more reliably than a kill switch. You can enable VPN-binding in compatible torrent clients, including qBitTorrent and Vuze.
Set up VPN/Interface binding:
9. Choose your (Virtual) location wisely
When using a VPN, you aren’t restricted to your home country. You can use an IP address geo-located in any of the dozens of countries your VPN service offers.
Certain countries are less tolerant of torrenting than others. Many countries allow (or force) internet providers to block popular torrents sites. Several even allow ISPs to cut of your internet access for torrenting.
As a separate risk, some countries have a higher rate of torrent demand letters and torrent trolling, which can create stress and significant financial expenses if you get targeted.
As a result, it makes sense to torrent from a virtual location where:
- p2p is allowed
- ISPs and the government are lenient on p2p activity
- Copyright laws are less restrictive
- Torrent trolling / lawsuits are rare
Through our extensive research, we’ve determined that these are the best countries for torrenting in 2023:
Risks of Torrenting
Though bittorrent itself is legal in most areas of the world, torrenting can carry significant risks depending on the type of content you download and the torrent sites you use.
For example, if you ever download copyrighted works illegally, you may have significant legal exposure. Even if you stick to 100% legal torrent sites, you can still face throttling and other penalties from your internet provider, who may target you based on the type of traffic, rather than the actual content.
Here are some common risks you may encounter when torrenting:
BitTorrent is extremely efficient from a network perspective, but as a result can use tons of bandwidth. As a result, many internet providers (ISPs) will actively throttle (slow down) bittorrent traffic using deep-packet-inspection.
In some countries, ISPs may even cap your overall bandwidth, not just torrents. In extreme cases, ISPs may entirely cut off internet access or cancel your account. This is typically reserved for repeat offenders who ignored multiple warnings.
2. Malware & Viruses
BitTorrent is an unregulated ecosystem where anyone can upload any file at any time. It should be no surprise, then, that you will eventually encounter malware and/or viruses if you download enough torrents.
Malware is especially common in executable files published to public trackers that index copyrighted content (like The Pirate Bay). Still, you can find malicious files on almost any tracker, and in multiple file types (even media).
3. Legal Risks & Lawsuits
If you seed (or even just download) copyrighted content over bittorrent, you could face significant legal risks.
In many western countries, this is often civil liability, meaning you could face financial penalties in the form of:
- Statutory fines (by law)
- Settlement demand letters
In other, less tolerant countries, you may even face jailtime for the simple act of digital piracy. Make sure you 100% know and accept the risks if you plan to stray from legal torrent sources.
Why use a VPN?
In my experience, a VPN is the absolute best tool for torrent privacy when it comes to simplicity, cost and ease of use.
These days more than 70% of all BitTorrent traffic is routed through a VPN, proxy, or other remote server. It’s what the smart users are doing, and we recommend you do the same.
Using a VPN has several key advantages:
1. Encrypted Connection
When using a VPN, all internet traffic gets routed through a secure VPN tunnel that uses industry-standard encryption protocols. For all intents and purposes, this is unbreakable encryption that will prevent middle-men (like your Internet Provider or network admin) from seeing your BitTorrent usage.
2. Bypass throttling
Torrent throttling is pretty common among larger internet providers that use Deep Packet Inspection. By routing your traffic through a VPN, most firewalls can’t tell that you’re torrenting and will live your data unthrottled.
3. Anonymized IP Address
In BitTorrent, all peers are publicly visible. That means every other member of a torrent swarm can see your public-facing IP address.
If you don’t use a VPN, this will be your real IP address. If you do use a VPN, peers will see one of the 1000+ rotating IP addresses owned by your VPN provider.
Using a 3rd-party IP (along with a zero-log provider) offers a layer of privacy that prevents your visible torrent activity from being directly traced back to you through a monitoring agency or site like I Know What You Download.
4. Unrestricted Access
Many ISPs or private networks will actively block public torrent sites. They’ll also log any attempts to visit these sites.
The VPN providers we recommend use their own private DNS servers and encrypt your web browsing, allowing you to bypass site-blocking firewalls an access the entire open web.
In the end, safer torrenting comes down to a few things:
- Choose your torrent sources wisely
- Know the risks
- Use a quality VPN
- Use safeguards (antivirus, adblocker)
That’s really all there is to it. Everything else is noise.
And just to repeat one final time, there is no such thing as perfect anonymity or a completely safe torrent to download. Make good choices, stick to well-known legal torrent sites and enjoy!