How to Stay Anonymous While Torrenting

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Suing internet users has become a business model for aggressive copyright lawyers known as copyright trolls.  That’s why if you like to share and download torrent files, you definitely need some form of protection to keep out of harm’s way.

We switch on a Virtual Private Networking service called IPVanish every time we log on to the web.  In addition to improving performance, IPVanish also helps us remain safe and anonymous.  Click here to get a 25% discount on IPVanish or scroll down to see for yourself how a VPN service can protect your anonymity when you download torrents.

Please read our disclaimer first before you continue reading.

Additionally, none of the advice we provide should be interpreted as legal advice in any way, shape or form.

What exactly is a torrent, anyway?

Basically, a torrent is just a small file that contains information about publicly shared data on the web.  The info in the torrent allows your computer to instantly identify and connect to other computers that have the data you want.

File sharing isn’t new, but the innovative, decentralized nature of torrenting has revolutionized the way people download data on the internet.

How do torrents work?

As soon as you open a torrent file with a torrent program (uTorrent, Transmission, etc.) your computer starts scanning the web.  Once your computer locates another computer on the internet that’s running an identical torrent, it opens up a connection.

Once the link is forged, your computer begins downloading tiny fragments of whatever file is associated with the torrent.

If the person controlling the computer you connected to decides to close the connection before you’re finished downloading 100% of the file associated with the torrent, your computer will just look for another partner that has the missing pieces.

Unlike the technologies that came before torrenting, a large crowd of downloaders works for rather than against the file sharing process.  The more popular the torrent, the better.  More open connections means faster download speeds.

By the same token, if few people on the web have your torrent open speed will slow to a crawl until more computers join the torrent “swarm.”

Why should torrenters care about anonymity?

Without the protective buffer provided by a VPN service, you could end up in court– or maybe even in behind bars.  According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright infringement can result in criminal punishment, including imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 per offense.  And every individual illegally downloaded file counts as an different copyright offense.

Are all torrents illegal?

No.  If the torrent doesn’t contain copyrighted data, it’s totally legit.

Torrent technology has many useful and totally legal uses.  For example, the best way to download or share an open source operating system like Linux is via a torrent.  Operating system files are huge.  But the nature of torrent technology eliminates the problems that you normally run into when attempting to download and share large files.

Didn’t the recording industry stop suing internet users years ago?

Today, it’s not the original copyright owners that torrenters are worried about.  The Recording Industry Association of America stopped going after individuals back in 2009.  It’s small groups of lawyers that specialize in copyright law that are the problem.

How do copyright trolls make money?

First, a copyright troll buys the rights to content that someone else has created.  Then, they identify an easy target– usually someone that’s likely to ignore a court summons, like a college student.  Next, they request that their victim’s ISP hand over all applicable data logs.  Finally, after they collect enough evidence, they move in for the kill.

Some copyright lawyers begin by sending a threatening email.  If the target pays a “small” out of court fee– usually $200 to $400 USD– the troll will drop the charges.  If they refuse the settlement, they sometimes get slapped with a lawsuit.  Others just go straight for the jugular and have the ISP serve the offending party a subpoena.

What will happen if I ignore a copyright lawsuit?

If you ignore a copyright troll’s threatening letter, there is a chance that they will drop the case and decide to not pursue the lawsuit.  But if the court sends you a subpoena to appear in front of a judge and you ignore that as well, you automatically lose.

Here are some consequences of losing a copyright infringement lawsuit, according to the United States Copyright Office:

  • Monetary penalties ($200 – $150,000 for each work infringed)
  • Court costs
  • Injunctions
  • Jail time

Fortunately, it’s hard to prove anything with an IP address alone.  That’s why the defendants usually win if they lawyer up.  However, sometimes the copyright trolls do manage to convince the judge to rule in their favor.

How can a VPN protect my identity?

Basically, a VPN service works like a pair of mirrored sunglasses.  You can see out, but nobody can see what you’re looking at.

mirror

There’s no way to trace your digital footprint when you’re connected to a VPN.  From the perspective of anyone monitoring the network (hackers, lawyers, governments, etc.) you’ll seem to be invisible.

VPN servers use highly advanced encryption algorithms to conceal your location and activities.  Once you connect to a VPN server, a virtual tunnel between your machine and the web is formed.

Ordinarily, whoever owns the network that you’re on can pull up your internet history.  Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and government authorities can quickly find out which websites you’ve viewed and which files you’ve downloaded.  With VPN encryption in place, however, your personal data is inaccessible.

IPVanish test part 1: does it really hide your location?

All of the above information sounds good in theory.  But how well does a VPN actually protect your location on the web?  To find out, I put IPVanish to the test.

With IPVanish off, the website infobyip.com reveals my IP address plus a map of my true location: Budapest, Hungary.  But when I turn it on, anyone monitoring my internet connection would think I’m in Florida.

Note: I’ve edited the first picture to conceal my info.

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When IPVanish client is off, anybody can see where I am and what I’m doing.
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With IPVanish on, my anonymity is safe.

Without a VPN, the simple tools available on infobyip.com can grab all kinds of data: your postal code, a list of all your browser plugins, the size of your computer screen and all kinds of other stats that could be used to identify your specific computer.  But with a VPN shield in place, there’s no way anyone can trace your digital footprints back to their source.

IPVanish test part 2: can you still download torrents when it’s on?

The answer to the above question is a resounding yes.  With IPVanish on, I was still able to connect to other computers on the web and download a xubuntu linux ISO at 8.6 Mbps.

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How to download torrents anonymously on mobile

To download torrents directly to your mobile device, just install the IPVanish app, turn it on and then use a mobile torrent app like uTorrent to download files directly to your device.  Read on for detailed instructions and screenshots.

  1.  Before you begin, you’ll need mobile VPN software.  In my opinion, IPVanish has the best VPN app out there now, so that’s what I use.  The IPVanish mobile app is available on both iOS and Android.

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2.  On the top of your screen, the IPVanish icon on the left indicates that IPVanish is running in the background.  Once you’re logged in to a VPN server, the small key icon on the top right part of the screen lets you know that you’re anonymous.

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3.  Once you’ve got IPVanish on, download a torrent app.  uTorrent is a free torrent client that’s available on both Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

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4.  Once you’ve got IPVanish on and uTorrent installed, you can anonymously download any torrent on the web.

To make sure that uTorrent is fully compatible with IPVanish, I downloaded a free torrent file from now.bit.co.

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5.  When you open the torrent file on your phone, uTorrent automatically pops up.  Choose a location to start the download.

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6.  The screenshot below indicates that uTorrent is downloading the file at 236 kB/s, which is not bad considering that I’m connected to a slow coffee shop WiFi connection.

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7.  After the torrent is finished downloading, you can open it up with uTorrent and view the files inside.

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8.  Conveniently, you can watch videos without leaving the uTorrent app.

In conclusion…

The two tests above prove that IPVanish really does a good job of protecting your anonymity online on both desktop and mobile devices when torrenting.  If you want to check it out for yourself, start your free 7 day trial today.

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  • BJohnT87

    Is it not better to use some dedicated encrypted torrent downloader, like Bitport.io? It seem to give you more utility. I have some bad experiences with the constant “Are you a robot? pop ups using VPN…

    • Great suggestion! We’ll add it in our next round of updates to this article!