Any time you connect to the Internet, you’re running the risk of staying safe. The Internet world is full of hackers, malware, viruses, and other nasty harmful processes that can hurt you and your family. Hackers can steal your identity. Malware and viruses are hidden, undetectable to the naked eye. And downloads are scary.
Especially if you’re downloading on a torrent network.
A torrent network is a file-sharing service where anyone can use the service for free. This peer-to-peer downloading service, or P2P, is great for those wanting faster and easier downloads. Yet, there’s zero anonymity involved. All users can see your IP address, which is like your Social Security number of your Internet connection. That IP address is your unique online identifier, letting others know that you’re online and downloading off the torrent network.
So how do you stay safe when downloading? What are the steps you should take before you download malicious content?
History of bitTorrent Downloading
Back in the 1970s, the Bulletin Board System started the contemporary digital filesharing movement. The BBS had users dial-in with their modems to share files, and the system’s popularity was spread by word-of-mouth.
Later in the ‘70s, Usenet expanded on the BBS system. Once Usenet received the files, the server re-distributed the files among other Usenet servers. This created multiple copies of files across hundreds and thousands of projects.
Fun Fact: Usenet was the medium used to start the World Wide Web and Linux.
Once the 1990s hit, Topsites became more prevalent. If someone wanted to release their product online, they would upload their new media to release servers and create announcements surrounding the release. Couriers, connected to other servers, spread the new releases. Topsites were a reward system, as users who uploaded content would earn credits for their hard work.
Napster, Gnutella, and Kazaa each used the file-sharing process and brought it to the masses. All three failed to sustain their early success because they had a centrally located database or their protocols were rooted in the corporate interest.
That’s when Bram Cohen changed history with his invention of BitTorrent.
What is BitTorrent Downloading?
Taking the best properties from the inventions before him, Cohen packed his idea into a reliable and easy-to-use file-sharing platform. He broke files into multiple chunks like Usenet and Topsites did. He also made sure to decentralize the peer-to-peer distribution model so he didn’t end up like Napster.
Before BitTorrent, there was the File Transfer Protocol, or FTP. In some instances, if a server had too many requests to process or didn’t have enough bandwidth, the server would lose its power quickly. Normal FTP protocols don’t let users use their upload capacity when downloading a file. Cohen wanted to use this upload capacity to the user’s advantage. When users upload bits of data to each other, this leads to a wider distribution that is scalable and manages costs effectively.
Do your research to stay safe.
Over the years, BitTorrent downloading has created a safe environment for all users to enjoy. Recently, there is a growing concern for privacy on the torrent network. Logs of downloaded files are published in huge databases or indexes. In each log is the IP address of each user who downloaded that file.
This has brought awareness to safer torrent downloading methods for you and your family. For instance, preparation is key to staying safe on a torrent network. Take your time to research the different torrent networks.
Avoid popular torrent networks like The Pirate Bay. Popular torrent networks have faster downloads because there are more people who upload content on these networks. At the same time, there are certain groups of people who will watch you download, and the more popular sites are being watched every day. For instance, media companies are looking for their own content to see if it’s being pirated. Even if you’re downloading legal files, the media companies could sue you since you were “guilty by association.”
During your research, you should read everything and anything that has small letters. Those small Terms and Conditions pages that no one ever reads has valuable information, if you’re not careful. Think about Apple’s Terms and Conditions page. If Apple wanted to, they could rule the world. Since the majority of the population skips over that page, Apple could write that, by signing the Terms and Conditions page, you can only buy Apple products for the rest of your life.
To make sure you’re not controlled by torrent networks, read through all the legal jargon.
But no matter how much you research or prepare, there is always a risk to download with torrents. No matter if you’re legally downloading a Linux file from work or illegally downloading the new Maroon 5 album, you won’t ever be 100% safe. Strict laws and regulations are there to help you, but as with all laws, there are ways to go around the laws and regulations.
On top of that, your Internet Service Provider, or ISP, could shut down your BitTorrent operation. If you’re downloading a lot of content through a torrent network, your ISP doesn’t want you taking away the speed of the Internet from everyone else on the network. Once notified, the ISP can shut you down and kick you off their network.
The best way for safe downloading – anonymously
The best way to safely download on a torrent network is anonymous. Anonymous downloads are the best because:
- No one knows you’re there
- No one can find you, even if you’re downloading legal content, and
- Your privacy is protected
How to download anonymously
Take a look at the few tools you need to download anonymously:
- VPN – A virtual private network, or VPN, is the number one tool in your toolbox. These machines hide your IP address from anyone downloading on the torrent network. That way, if databases or indexes log your IP address on the torrent network, it won’t necessarily be your true IP address, helping you protect your privacy. Also, if your neighbor is downloading on the same torrent network as you, she can’t see your IP address either. And you don’t want your neighbor snooping around your personal downloading history. She already snoops around your personal business too much.
- Proxy servers – Proxy servers are different than VPNs (VPNs vs Proxy). These servers act as the middleman between your computer and the Internet. They process all your online activity through a masked IP address. In addition to masking your own IP address, if the proxy server is based in a different country, your IP address would come from that country. For instance, let’s say your proxy server is based in England, but you’re browsing in Australia. Every time you browse from all over the world, your IP address would tell the websites and trackers you’re downloading from England. To learn more about proxies (specially the popular SOCKS5), check our blog post: SOCKS5 Proxy Guide
- IP Address Protection Tool – Even if you have a VPN or proxy server, you can add more protection to your IP address with a tool like PeerBlock. It’s like firewall software, but they block certain IP addresses that are trying to take your IP address and put it in a blacklist.
- Tor – This network is also a must for anonymous torrent users. The Tor network takes you to a hidden web deep in their anonymous network. Because each user on the network is focused on anonymity, the Tor browser makes life difficult for trackers and websites who are trying to track your online activity. Contrary to the popular belief that Tor is unsafe, Tor Browser is completely safe.
- Seedbox – A seedbox is a dedicated server for uploading and downloading torrents. You can have the server dedicated only to you, or you can share your server with other trusted clients. The files you download are also stored in a different location, further protecting your privacy.
Stay consistent in all torrent activities.
The above tools are only used for torrent downloading. Most people set them and forget to take necessary precautions besides the standard installation of VPNs and proxy servers. For instance, before you download a file, you wanted to browse Google for the best torrent network. That search is now “stamped” with your true IP address for any snoops (like your neighbor) to use. Take the necessary precautions and hide your IP address in any torrent-related activity. To go one step further, stay anonymous in every area of your life.
Below are the best ways to stay anonymous in your everyday life:
- Ad-blocker – Use your web browser extensions on Google Chrome or Safari to block every advertisement. You don’t want to accidentally click on a malicious virus that is disguising itself as an ad.
- Stay away from social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat should never be downloaded as an app on your phone or on your computer screen. Each site is great for sharing weddings and births of baby boys and girls, but social media is terrible if you want to stay anonymous. Social media sites take your information, like what you tweeted on October 17 or the exact times you logged into Twitter, and places that information in a log for later use.
- Word of Caution: Don’t deactivate your account – delete it. Deactivation is like hibernation, where your information is still stored on Facebook and Instagram in case you start having second thoughts. Instead, delete to wipe out your existence on those social media sites.
- Use HTTPS everywhere – There’s a HTTP protocol for every website, but a HTTPS is a secure protocol, where the “S” stands for “secure.” Not only does the HTTPS determine how messages are sent and received, they do so in an encrypted version of HTTP. In the address bar, you will see a green lock if the website is using the HTTPS protocol. An extension called HTTPS Everywhere takes every website and forces them to use HTTPS, rather than their original HTTP protocol.
- Change passwords – Change your passwords on a regular basis, no matter where you’re at or what you’re doing. Take the time to manually change your password once a month (or more) to stay anonymous and safe. If you’re on multiple sites, and you have a unique password for every site, you might forget which password goes to which website. A password manager can help you with storing all your passwords in one central location. You only have to remember one master password, and the password manager then saves all your passwords for other websites. One good password manager is LastPass.
- Change your security answers – The security questions are for back-up, correct? Not necessarily. Some hackers can still hack your system by knowing your security answers. If you take your time with passwords, take your time with security questions. The best part about answering security questions is that there’s no right or wrong answer. For your favorite pet, you can answer “kwwe983.” You can deliberately misspell certain words (unless the hacker is also bad at spelling). No matter which method you use, never provide real answers to the security questions.
- Clear those cookies – Your browser stores your information into tiny, bite-sized text files called cookies. They help with your online experience, but they also store private details. These details could be sold to advertisers to store these third-party cookies on your computer. Take the time to clear your cookies after every session on your web browser.
- Secret emails – Having a secret email address is another great idea for staying anonymous. Give your email address to only a few trusted individuals, and you’re all set. You can also set up a dummy email address where you can forward spam and junk email.