Can you use Tor for Torrenting and skip the VPN? This is a common (and logical) question, considering Tor is similar to a VPN in a lot of ways.
Like a VPN, Tor offers a secure, encrypted connection with an anonymized public IP address and real privacy.
But how can you get Tor’s proxy network to work with your favorite torrent client? And a better question is, should you?
We’ll answer all these questions (and more) in this Tor Torrenting guide.
At first glance, this sounds like a great option. Tor has alot of advantages.
First, it’s free (which people love). And second, it uses multiple layers of encrypted proxies, so it should be highly anonymous.
All these things are true, and Tor can be used as a torrent proxy. But it shouldn’t be, and I’m hoping to convince you why…
But don’t worry, there’s a much better alternative for anonymous torrents. Tor’s only advantage is it’s cost (free). But Tor is not the best tool for the job. Not even close.
What is Tor?
Tor is a free anti-censorship tool, designed to help people around the world communicate safely and access content without restrictions.
Tor’s core feature is a network of encrypted proxies, which are routed randomly and layered like an onion. The theory beyond Tor’s onion routing is that if you tunnel your internet traffic through three or more encrypted proxies, the 1st layer will know your identity, the last layer will know your destination, but no one will be able to connect the two.
Tor’s benefits are not just theoretical. It has provided free, meaningful privacy for millions of users in countries around the world.
All Tor proxy nodes are run by volunteers, and the entire network is based on a theory that all Tor node operators are trustworthy (which is unlikely). Even so, Tor is still highly secure, and anonymous.
Most users access Tor through the Tor Browser Bundle. This is an official release by the Tor Project. Tor Browser is a modified version of Firefox and is pre-configured to work with the Tor Network right out of the box.
Of course private browsing is only a small part of secure torrenting. What we really want is to use Tor’s encrypted proxy for tracker and peer communications.
Can you use Tor to Download Torrents?
The tor network uses layered SOCKS proxies, so technically any app or software that can connect to a socks proxy can use Tor. This includes things like Skype, Android, and most desktop torrent clients.
But just because you can use Tor doesn’t mean you should. There are several significant reasons not to use Tor.
1. The Tor Project Doesn’t Want you To
This assessment may seem harsh, but let’s be honest – the volunteers that pledge their time, money, and bandwidth to Tor are doing it in an effort to make the world a better, safer place. Not to help you use uTorrent anonymously.
Tor’s bandwidth is severely limited, so from a human perspective, it’s important to save that limited bandwidth for those that really need it. People use Tor every day to speak freely against authoritarian, violent governments, or to publish sensitive articles/blogs anonymously. Tor enables people to expose corruption, abuse, and oppression in relative safety.
This is incredibly important, and we shouldn’t clog the Tor network with high-bandwidth torrent traffic, which would could literally overwhelm and break the entire system.
2. Tor isn’t actually secure when Torrenting
Researchers in France were able to de-anonymize over 10,000 bittorrent users attempting to hide their torrents via TOR. They were surprised at how easy it was, and in over 2/3 of the cases, they didn’t actually have to do anything to trace a torrent users’ real IP address.
The reason? Tor was only being used to connect to the tracker. Peer connections were routed outside Tor.
Note, this isn’t Tor’s fault, rather a simple fact that most users configure Tor incorrectly when attempting manual setup for torrenting purposes. But this is only the first strike.
Later, researchers developed a validated attack that allows malicious peers to deanonymize anyone torrenting through Tor even when properly configured.
3. UDP Connections aren’t anonymous
The problem? Tor doesn’t support UDP, only TCP connections.
Some torrent clients might just disable non-supported functions. But many will simply ignore your proxy settings for UDP, and route them outside the Tor tunnel (and leak your real IP address to all DHT peers). This means that your real IP address will be visible to peers, even with Tor enabled.
4. Tor is slow
Have you ever tried to stream HD video over Tor? It’s not pretty. You’ll be lucky to get 480p resolution (non-HD). Connection speeds under 5mbps are pretty common, due to crowded servers and multi-hop connections.
Isn’t the whole point of torrenting to get content quickly and conveniently? Downloads that take all day should be a thing of the past. If you have a fast connection, Tor is going to cut your speeds by 90% or more.
Is that really worth saving $3/month on a VPN when you’re already paying much more than that for fast internet?
Better Alternatives to Tor
Given its flaws (for BitTorrent specifically) Tor is clearly not the best tool for the job. It’s too slow and has exploitable privacy vulnerabilities when used for p2p or torrenting.
So what should you be using instead? The too best tools for torrent privacy are:
- VPN – Easy, secure, encrypted and anonymous. Choose from hundreds of IP addresses using a zero-log VPN service. Encrypts your entire internet connection.
- SOCKS Proxy – Manual configuration required inside your (supported) torrent client. One-time setup, but offers no built-in encryption.
For most users, a VPN is going to be the best (and easiest) option. It offers all the benefits of a proxy with secure encryption added on top. Torrent-friendly VPN services are widely available, fast, reliable and basically idiot-proof to use.
Tor vs. VPN
A VPN Service (Virtual Private Network) will route all of your internet traffic through a 3rd-party server owned by your VPN service (changes your public IP address). All traffic will also be encrypted with extremely strong 128-bit or 256-bit encryption (depending on your settings).
This provides protection from the two main ways torrents are monitored:
- By your public IP address in torrent swarms (they will see your VPN service’s IP instead)
- Your ISP monitoring your traffic directly (the encryption prevents your internet provider from reading your traffic.)
It’s important that you choose a non-logging VPN. If the VPN provider keeps connecition or activity logs, they could voluntarily share your previous connection history (what IP addresses you used). If the VPN keeps no logs, this is impossible.
Here’s how a high-quality VPN compares to Tor:
|Encrypts all your internet traffic (including p2p)
|Encrypt one app at a time (such as a Torrent Client)
|Server/Exit Node Location
|Fast (up to 95% of your normal internet speed)
|Slow. Usually 1-5mbps
|Can leak IP address if the VPN fails (use a kill-switch to fix).
|Can route peer, tracker connections outside the proxy
And most importantly: a VPN service isn’t vulnerable to the same ‘Bad Apple’ attacks the researchers used on Tor users to deanonymize 10,000 bittorrent file-sharers. As long as you choose a non-logging VPN provider (and you trust them), your torrent activity should be nearly 100% untraceable.
Which VPNs are best?
#1 NordVPN (VPN + Proxy + VPN-Over-Tor)
- No Logs.
- Works w/ Netflix
- Proxy Included
- $2.99/month (special offer)
NordVPN is an excellent choice for Torrent-fanatics, and they’re surging in popularity thanks to their unbeatable combination of features and price. NordVPN is a true zero-log VPN provider based in Panama (privacy haven) with some pretty unique features built into their software:
- SmartDNS/Netflix Support: Unblock Netflix, Hulu, and 50 other services automatically. Netflix blocks most VPNs. NordVPN works flawlessly.
- P2P-optimized servers: Fastest speeds and unrestricted peer availability in torrent-safe locations. 10 of these server locations have SOCKS5 proxy servers too.
- VPN-Over-Tor: That’s right. You can choose to run your VPN connection inside the Tor network with a single click. Maximum privacy.
- 30 day, 100% Refund: Try NordVPN risk-free for an entire month!
We’ve also written a complete NordVPN setup guide to show you step-by-step how to use their service to download torrents anonymously with any torrent client. It’s also a full review and overview of their service.
#2 Private Internet Access
So far, Private Internet Access is the only VPN who’s non-logging claims have been tested in court (they passed). PIA refused to hand over IP evidence to the FBI, stating that they didn’t have any records or logs to hand over.
That’s the closest thing to a 100% no-log guarantee we’ve found, and just 1 of many reasons why PIA topped our list of the best bittorrent VPNs for different 3 years.
If you wanted a shorter-term plan (1 year or less) then PIA will be cheaper than NordVPN, and still has all the essential features:
- No Logs. Verified in court.
- Socks5 proxy server included (Netherlands)
- Adjustable VPN encryption strength (optimize your speed)
- Works with uTorrent, Vuze, Deluge, QBittorrent, and every major torrent client. We’ve even got a setup guide.
- No Logs.
- Proxy Included
- 7-day refund policy
HOW DO YOU USE A VPN FOR TORRENTS?
There is no complicated setup required to torrent anonymously with a VPN. Simply download your VPN providers’ software on your device (most have a custom app for Windows/Mac/iOS/Android). Then just choose a server location (we recommend the Netherlands.
Click ‘Connect’ and you’re good to go!
Socks5 Proxy vs. Tor
On this site, we also recommend using a zero-log Socks5 proxy as a way to anonymize your torrents. It will change your torrent IP address and give you nearly 100% of your normal ISP-assigned speeds. The downside is using a proxy to anonymize your torrents requires manual setup in your torrent client of choice. Also, some torrent clients will route peer connections outside the proxy tunnel (bad).
But how does Tor compare to Socks5 proxies?
Well, Tor is actually a network of layered Socks5 proxies. So instead of using a single proxy server, Tor will route your traffic through 3 proxies, with 128-bit encryption on each layer. It’s far more anonymous than 1 Socks proxy, much MUCH slower.
The main advantage of Tor vs. a Socks5 torrent proxy is the added encryption. Most Socks5 proxy services offer no encryption whatsoever. Encryption prevents torrent throttling. It also stops your Internet Provider from monitoring your torrent traffic.
But Tor still has all the insecurities of any Socks5 proxy setup for torrents (some peer connections may be routed outside the proxy tunnel, exposing your real IP address).
That’s why the best setup is to run a Socks5 proxy inside a Zero-Log VPN tunnel. The proxy will allow your torrent client and web browser to use a separate IP address (Torrent client will have the proxy’s IP address, all other Apps wil use the VPN’s IP).
Under this dual layer setup, if a peer connection is routed outside the proxy tunnel, it will only expose the VPN’s IP address (still anonymous). And this setup offers much stronger encryption than Tor and is much faster than Tor.
And best of all, you don’t need to buy VPN service and proxy service separately. Several VPNs include both in a single unlimited subscription.
Proxy Setup Guides
We have Socks5 proxy setup guides for most major torrent clients. This can be used with a Paid Socks5 torrent proxy service, or even used with Tor (not recommended).
- Vuze setup guide
- uTorrent setup guide
- QBittorrent setup guide
- Deluge setup Guide
- Tixati Setup Guide
- Android torrent proxy setup instructions (Flud or tTorrent)
CAN A ‘FREE’ VPN BE USED INSTEAD OF TOR?
Our guide to ‘Free VPNs for Torrenting’ concluded that their aren’t any reputable free VPN services that allow torrenting (without restrictions). They will either actively block all p2p connections, or cancel your account if you try.
‘Free’ services also have other issues: Most importantly, they tend to keep extensive logs of your connection history and online activity (in other words, you’re not anonymous).
Also, Free VPNs are slow (because bandwidth is the largest expense for a VPN service). These free services tend to make money in other ways, like injecting ads into your web-browsing or selling your online activity/demographic information to advertisers.
Do yourself a favor, get a ‘Real, Torrent-Friendly’ VPN service. You’ll thank us later.
TOR STILL HAS A GOOD USE FOR P2P/TORRENTS
The Tor browser can still be useful, just not for the actual torrent downloads.
Many people use Tor to access their favorite torrent sites. This creates an additional layer of security, between you and your torrent downloads. With Tor, even your VPN provider couldn’t figure out what sites you were visiting (not that they care).
Tor also allows you to have a separate IP address for downloading of the ‘.torrent’ file, vs the actual p2p sharing of the file being torrented.
Using Tor will also make it nearly impossible for a school or public wifi firewall to block your torrent searches.
The Tor browser is available for Windows/Mac machines.