It’s a scary world out there.
The Internet, for all its glory, has some drawbacks. Attaining optimal privacy is a lost cause. Someone somewhere will find you, no matter how hard you try to protect and secure your online identity. This is especially true for those downloading on torrents.
So, who’s watching you download?
The short answer? Everyone.
The long answer? Some people you don’t want obtaining your private information.
If hackers work hard, they can see what you downloaded and when. This is worse than your mom finding out about your downloads because hackers could steal your identity.
How do we deal with snoopy individuals and/or companies who are watching us download? What are some tips to stay anonymous while downloading?
Before we answer these questions, let’s first ask the obvious:
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I DOWNLOAD SOMETHING?
As a computer user, you’ve probably downloaded something off the Internet by now. The click of a button gave you the information you needed. But what exactly happens during a download?Every download from the Internet
Every download from the Internet goes through the same process. You, the user, requests a file from a server. It’s like you’re asking the server “Hey, could you download that PDF for me, please? Thanks!” A server (Google’s server or other servers) sends you a copy of that file you requested. There are two different types of servers who will give you the information. If you asked for a file from a file server, the download process uses the FTP protocol, which uses the client-server architecture. In this case, you are the client, and the server is a computer and/or multiple processes dedicated to managing disk drives. If you asked for a file from a web server, your computer will use the HTTP protocol, which links your computer directly to the file that’s available for the world to access on the World Wide Web.
WHAT IS TORRENT DOWNLOADING?
Besides downloading straight from the Internet, there’s something called BitTorrent downloading, or torrent downloading. This way of downloading consists of many, many users who upload to a central location. At that location, anyone can download those files. This is called a peer-to-peer file sharing service, or P2P.
Any user can download using a torrent. Like the downloading process from the above example, a computer user asks for a file. Instead of receiving the entire file at that specific moment, the user downloads small bits of that file from many different web sources at the same time. Because users are downloading from multiple sources at the same time, this type of downloading is faster than the FTP protocol.
Using the BitTorrent network is free for anyone to use. There are some pros and cons for downloading on a torrent network.
WHAT ARE THE PROS OF TORRENT NETWORKING?
- True P2P Networking
Torrent networks have all users upload and download files, which lets all users take part in the file serving process.
- Running on Software
Instead of finding files on a web browser, you’re finding files on a software program. When looking for a file, the software program asks the other computers connected to the network (aka the other users) to find your specific file.
- No Dummies Allowed
Torrents filter out all the fake and dummy files on the network. Some corrupted files could fall through the cracks, but torrent networks are like household cleaners; they block 99% of the bad files (or bacteria).
- Sharing is Caring
Torrent networks encourage their users to share information with the rest of the world. In technical terms, this is called ‘seeding.’ But, like with corrupted files filtering through the network, there are those who only download files and never seed their own information. These ‘leeches’ are penalized by torrents to make sure every user has the best experience.
- No One Profits from Torrents
The code for the torrent network is open-source, free from advertising, and free from adware and spyware. This means no one is getting paid from ads, and no one is making money on the software because it’s an open source code for anyone to use.
WHO SEES ME DOWNLOADING?
In a perfect world, we would want no one to see our downloads – ever. Since our world is not perfect, someone is going to see our downloads.
Today, we’re just going to talk about downloads from a torrent network. So who sees you download on a torrent network? There are four main groups of people who can see you download from a torrent network:
- Internet Service Provider (ISP)
Your Internet Service Provider, or ISP, connects you to the Internet in your home. Even though you’re hooked up to their network, you’re not the only one on-the-grid. There are potentially thousands of other people connected on your same network.When it comes to downloading files, your ISP won’t necessarily care about what you download. All they care about is how much Internet you’re sucking up. If you want to know how fast your Internet is, you have to know your bandwidth, or the amount of data that’s transferred in a certain amount of time. Most torrent downloads require a lot of bandwidth, which frustrates the ISP. If you’re downloading a big file, the Internet will slow down for the rest of the Internet users. And if you’re downloading from a BitTorrent, your ISP will slow you down – even if you’re downloading legal files.Even though the ISP doesn’t see what you download, they could see you downloaded something, which destroys your ability to stay anonymous.
- Media companies
Another threat to torrent downloading are media companies. Most users, especially college students, use torrents to download movies, music, TV shows, or anything creative content. Because the torrent network is free to use, anyone can download a movie for free. Media companies, the ones who aren’t getting paid for the free downloads, will come after you. To them, you’re stealing their work because you didn’t pay for their song, movie, or awesome TV show.Media companies are a sneaky bunch. They hire people to find their own TV shows or music on torrent networks. Once found, they download their own product through the torrent. As the file is downloading, the media companies can see which users are connected to the same file, and they will contact the user’s ISP. The user’s ISP will then send an email to the user. For first-time offenses, it’s a simple slap on the wrist, like “please don’t download this again.”
- Monitoring Agencies
Groups of companies come together and use your information for profit. This poses the greatest security risk to BitTorrent users. Multiple downloads go into a database within 60 seconds of the initial download. Once in the database, the IP information is sold to interested parties, who then do whatever they want with that information.But wait, you ask. How can these media companies and monitoring agencies see what I’m downloading on a torrent network?
- Everyone On Torrent Can See You
Any time you download off a torrent, your IP address is shown for the world to see. At least your IP address doesn’t publish your first and last name. But that IP address is all the information anyone needs to see who you are. Not only can ISP’s and media companies see you download, but your neighbor across the street knows if you’re downloading on the same network. All IP addresses of every person who is downloading or uploading content is shown on the torrent network.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
If you’re looking for complete anonymity when downloading from a torrent network, don’t worry. There are ways to stay anonymous on torrent networks.
The ones who should be scared are those who are downloading illegally.
If you’re downloading illegal files and know the risks, it’s like riding your bike without a helmet. Sure, you’re going slow and taking extra care while riding, but it only takes one crash that will change your life – for the worse.
Those who are downloading legal files shouldn’t worry about their safety. Even though everyone can see you download on the torrent network, most users don’t try to abuse the system and use your IP address against you. They focus on their own downloads and uploads.
WAYS TO STAY ANONYMOUS ON TORRENT NETWORKS
But, like with all services that use the Internet, there is a chance your identity can be stolen. Staying anonymous on torrent networks can help protect your identity and keep your files secure. Here are some ways to stay anonymous on torrent networks:
- Have a VPN
One of your first applications for anonymity should be a virtual private network, or a VPN. These networks hide your IP addresses from your ISP and your torrent network. Also, they will keep your IP address in a different country than where you’re downloading from. For instance, your VPN shows your IP address is downloading from Vermont, but you’re really in Illinois.
- Look into Proxy Servers
Another way to hide your IP address is through a proxy server. These proxy servers lets you use their IP address, rather than their unique IP address given to you by your ISP. One proxy server is BTGuard, which funnels all your BitTorrent traffic through their server, keeping your IP address hidden from everyone else on the torrent network.
- Combine both VPN and Proxy Server
The best way to stay secure is to have both a VPN and a proxy server. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the better your privacy is protected.
A seedbox is like a proxy server, but dedicated only for uploading and downloading digital files. These seedboxes also increase your privacy and keep your online presence anonymous to the rest of the world.
- Don’t Click on Ad Banners
You know the ads, the ones with the “You’ve Won $1,000,000! Claim Your Prize Here!!”
Don’t click on them. At all. Most contain malicious viruses.
Enable an ad-blocker so you’re not tempted to click on random advertisements.
- Don’t Run in Administrator Mode
Dangerous software, like trojans and rootkits, use your Administrator Mode to make changes in your system settings. Create a separate ‘low-level’ account instead. This forces your computer to ask if you can switch to administrator mode for installing trusted software.
- Use Tor and Anonymous Search Engines
The Tor browser is great for anonymously browsing the Internet, and DuckDuckGo makes sure your browser doesn’t store any cookies.
No matter how you protect your identity, you will never be completely 100% anonymous. These are steps to stay anonymous as best you can with the resources you have. Safety and privacy are your major concerns. We get that. But no matter how much you protect yourself, anyone can see you download files on torrent networks.