Torrents have been around since Bram Cohen created BitTorrent in 2011, enabling users to share files using a decentralized, peer-to-peer platform. It’s grown exponentially since, outlasting nearly every form of digital piracy, sans warez forums.
Although torrents are admittedly used to share illegal files, blaming the technology for the crime would be foolish. Email, social media, text, and even regular phones have been used to commit crimes, but we don’t point the finger at them.
Regardless of the files you’re transferring through torrents, it’s important to run a VPN and proxy server to ensure you’re kept safe while doing it.
History of File-Sharing
One of the most popular reasons to use the Internet is for file-sharing. Usenet, FTP sites, and IRC were popular filesharing platforms that still work today (although are not as widely used in popular society). It wasn’t until the proliferation of Napster and the Gnutella protocol in the late 90s and early 2000s that file sharing really took off.
Email servers can only accommodate small file sizes, and it was worse before Google hit the scene with Gmail in 2004. Sharing text and smaller pics was possible, but hi-rez photos, applications, and video content couldn’t be shared this way. Filesharing apps like Napster created an easy and accessible platform, and it wasn’t long before people started sharing copyrighted music and movies, leading to the servers shut down.
Gnutella decentralized filesharing, making it harder to shut down, but the files still had to be stored at an IP address that could be inevitably traced. BitTorrent fixed this issue with a much better system, but IPs are still shared and often stored in databases.
How Torrents Work
As of 2012, BitTorrent consumed 12 percent of total Internet traffic in North America and 36 percent of total traffic in Asia. Instead of downloading directly from a server to your computer (as a webpage like this one does when it loads on your screen), torrents are swarm-downloaded from a variety of direct peer-to-peer connections.
People who have the file (even partial) and wish to upload chunks are called seeders, while those who are downloading are leechers. Most torrent programs and servers require a certain ratio of seeding to leeching to maintain speeds and connections. In fact, the more you upload, the more bandwidth you’re likely to get for downloads.
Torrents traditionally used trackers that required centralized servers, but that’s now also done on a P2P basis similar to bitcoin’s protocol. These trackers will get you caught if you’re pirating content, but BitTorrent isn’t about piracy – it’s a communication and file exchange protocol meant to secure the internet while easing traffic.
But freeways were meant to help ease traffic on roads, and it’s still necessary to be safe and secure while driving on it.
Why VPN and Proxy Is Necessary
A VPN and proxy server allow you to anonymize your torrent connection. This makes it so trackers are redirected to another IP address other than yours. This provides several layers of security as you’re not directly leaving ports on your own computer open to anybody, and you’re creating an encrypted tunnel to connect.
The P2P nature of torrenting means you can have hundreds to thousands of simultaneous connections open, and it wouldn’t take much work for a seasoned hacker to exploit this vulnerability.
Using a proxy, you can secure only your torrent or web traffic, which can be useful, but a VPN secures every connection on your network, letting you rest peacefully and secure. Tech-savvy users can use programs like Privoxy to manually configure their proxy servers and VPN, even hosting one locally for maximum security.
Newer users may prefer the simplicity of VPN programs like Private Tunnel that provide one-click protection while still offering customization options for power users and seasoned network administrators. Private Tunnel can even be integrated into Privoxy, which chains VPNs and proxies together for maximum security.
Either way, using torrents without these essential tools leaves you open to a lot of problems.
Stop the Torrent of Attacks
Staying safe online is nearly impossible – it takes constant due diligence to not click the wrong link, open the wrong program, and get infected with a world of trouble. Still, we need these connections to survive, and they provide a lot of convenience.
Torrenting is one of the easiest ways to quickly distribute files (especially to the public) over the Internet, and VPNs are essential to staying secure while doing so. With a few simple program installations now, you’ll be protected sustainably moving forward, so long as you stop sending money to Nigerian princes.