Torrenting and VPN

Torrenting

Torrenting is slang referring to the downloading of files using the Bit Torrent protocol (Gregersen, 2013), a popular Peer to Peer (P2P) file-sharing network (Pouwelse et al., 2005; Parker, 2004; CacheLogic, 2005).

Torrenting is a popular file sharing protocol based on peer-to-peer (P2P) technology. It allows the users to connect and share content from multiple downloading sources. Torrenting is a new world of downloads to browse and enjoy without relying on a single downloading source.

Torrenting works differently from conventional downloading. Rather than taking a file from a single server and downloading it one whole go, a torrent will break up the big file and chop it up into little pieces, called “packets.”

These packets are on a server in their entirety called the “seeder”, but are also shared throughout a network of computers also downloading the same file. These “peers” have slightly different parts of the same file. The torrent file one downloads keeps track of who has which packet and alternates where one is downloading from.

Torrenting depends on users, not servers. When one gets a file from a website or hosting service, chances are one is downloading the content from a single computer. This host-client relationship is pretty straightforward, but the downsides include things like limited bandwidth, slow speeds, and even censorship. After all, if a file only exists in one place, all the host has to do is remove it and no one can use it.

Torrenting neatly sidesteps the problems of availability and slow speeds. One don’t download files from one source, it is downloaded from dozens. Each user who downloads is then turned into an up-loader (seeders), which in turn provides more sources for other users to download from.

Torrenting has gotten popular in recent years. When torrenting, one should bear in mind that he/she is a part of a community. One should Seed as much he/she, keep a good ratio, and help the fellow torrenters participate in file sharing. SandVine (2013) found that Bit Torrent was the most popular P2P protocol in Europe, second only to YouTube in overall Internet traffic (Graph 1). Moving from the growth phase to the maturity stage of the product lifecycle, access to Bit Torrent is becoming easier due to enhanced torrent clients, better understanding, and easy to follow tutorials. It is at the early majority stage in the technology adoption lifecycle with conservative users beginning to use the network.

YouTube-Bit Torrent internet Traffic in Europe. Source: Data adapted from SandVine (2013)

VPN

Torrent is a fast, secure, and reliable protocol that helps users download and share data. It works best with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure tunnel between user’s device and the internet. VPNs are used to protect user’s online traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship. A Virtual Private Network is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like Wi-Fi Hotspots and the Internet. Virtual Private Networks are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data. However, using a personal VPN is increasingly becoming more popular as more interactions that were previously face-to-face transition to the Internet. Privacy is increased with a Virtual Private Network because the user’s initial IP address is replaced with one from the Virtual Private Network provider. Subscribers can obtain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, user may live in San Francisco, but with a Virtual Private Network, he/she can appear to live in Amsterdam, New York, or any number of gateway cities.

VPN extends a private network across a public network, and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running on a computing device, e.g. a laptop, desktop, Smartphone, across a VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network. Encryption is a common though not an inherent part of a VPN connection (Mason, Andrew G. 2002).

Can torrenting get you arrested?

Legitimacy of torrenting is a huge debate in itself. The question of is torrenting legal or Can torrenting get you arrested is often asked. Legality of torrenting may vary from region to region. In some countries it is legal to download some specific files using Torrent Clients while, it is not in others.

Generally, torrenting is not considered as illegal until or unless one is downloading and copyrighted or pirated file from the web. Sharing of pirated and copyrighted content/file is prohibited and illegal either done via torrents or by some other means. Since torrenting is considered illegal in some countries, therefore, most of the commercially-produced software, movies, music, and TV shows are secured by copyright law and sharing of such files can often lead to penalties and if caught so, even lead to imprisonment.

 Most countries have basic common laws against intellectual property theft. If a piece of music is copyrighted, one cannot download it legally. The same goes for a movie, a game, or any other content/file. A copyright is registered to an individual or organization that creates something. This copyright has a time limit, usually equivalent to the lifetime of the creator and a set amount of additional years. These laws may vary with respect to the country, as some things may not be protected by the law in some countries, or copyright law may not be enforced at all.

The copyrighted trolls or their representatives can easily catch people torrenting. The copyrighted trolls or their representatives will visit the same sharing sites which other users have used, download some material from there, check from where the IP address is coming from, looks for the internet service provider who provides that IP address, and contact them by saying some IP address are sharing illegal materials and we actually want to warn them for doing so.

The service providers will then look for the IPs and check the accounts. They will first send warning letters to the account holders. But if this sharing activity continues then, the copyright trolls will seek a court order to force user’s service providers to provide his/her account details. They will also comply with their lawyers to send a legal notice. But if that is ignored then the user would be dragged to legal court for further proceedings and action. So, the answer to the question: Can torrenting get you arrested? Is both yes and no, torrenting is safe and legal as long as you are not downloading copyrighted material. Downloading copyright material can also result in penalties such as fine and imprisonment.

Torrenting for dummies

Most of people are familiar with conventional forms of sharing, such as email and FTTP. Torrenting is just another sharing method using p2p networking. Where email and FTTP rely on one computer hosting the file and transmitting it to the connected computers, torrenting allows downloading files spread over many computers. This is achieved by peer-to-peer networking. Dummies are more open to the threat of getting illegal or copyrighted files, due to its mammoth quantity. A study out of the University of Ballarat in Australia has confirmed that a large majority of contents found on Torrent Clients is illegal. Researchers from the university’s Internet Commerce Security Laboratory scraped torrents from 23 trackers and looked up the content to determine whether the file was confirmed to be copyrighted. As shown in the graph (Graph 2) below they found that 89 percent of the files they sampled were confirmed to be illegally shared, and most of the remaining ambiguous 11 percent was likely to be infringing.

Illegal files on Torrent Clients
Illegal files on Torrent Clients. Source: Data adapted from Internet commerce security library, University of Ballarat, Australia

The total sample consisted of 1,000 torrent files—a random selection from the most active seeded files on the trackers they used. Each file was manually checked to see whether it was being legally distributed. Only three cases—0.3 percent of the files—were determined to be definitely not infringing, while 890 files were confirmed to be illegal.

The report echoes similar results out of Princeton. Princeton found that movies and TV were the most popular, while music fell behind games/software, pornography, and unclassifiable files, study found that all of the movie, TV, and music content being shared was indeed infringing. Overall, Princeton said that 99 percent of the content on Torrent Clients was illegal.

Understanding the working process of torrent is important for dummies to have a better experience. Additionally, dummies should also be aware of how to use Torrent Clients safely. Following are some guidelines that should be followed by dummies while torrenting. These will help them to acquire a better understanding of the phenomena and improve their torrenting experience.

Understand How torrent File Sharing Works

It is important for dummies to know how torrenting works. Normally, if someone wants to download a file from a Web site, he/she just clicks a few links in Web browser and system will start saving the file to the default Downloads folder. The server hosting the file sends the file, bit by bit, until user have the whole thing.

Bandwidth isn’t free, however, so transferring the file costs money. The more popular a file is, the more servers and bandwidth the hosts will need to continue distributing it. This is the reason that so many download sites are saturated by obnoxious ads–the sites need to pay their bandwidth bills. As the world swaps larger and larger files, such as high-definition videos, high-resolution photos, and higher-quality music, the bandwidth bill grows and grows.

Torrent eases the monetary strain on individual file hosts by motivating down-loaders to upload, too. If the user is downloading a movie via Torrent Client, he/she start out downloading chunks of the movie. Once the user collected a few pieces of the movie, torrent continue to download the rest of the file, meanwhile the user will also start uploading the pieces for other users downloading the same file.

Protect Your Privacy with a VPN Service

Torrenting is also a risky job. It can result in opening the doorway for malware and information thefts. Dummies may face difficulty in recognizing what is legal and what is not. Therefore, VPN should be used for the protection of the user.

By subscribing to a virtual private network (VPN) service, user can mask his/her connection and identity as he/she shares files. VPN will cipher connection so that eavesdroppers will only see illegible data when they try to view downloads. Simultaneously, a VPN will bounce signal off multiple servers, making user physically very difficult to trace.

Use Torrent Downloader Software to Download Files

Torrent downloading requires special software that can read torrent files. Without these programs, user can’t download the actual files. These torrent software products also provide management control over download and upload speeds, priorities, and cataloging.

Find Torrents for the Content You Want

Once users have understood torrent swarming and have the torrent downloader software installed, it’s time to find the torrent pointer files that get the content user wants. Many torrent sites offer searching services for free, but with the annoyance of banner advertising. Some torrent sites are private communities that closely guard their catalog of torrents.

Learn to Spot Fake Torrent Files Sadly, there are vandals, thieves, and scammers out there who use phony torrent files to put malware on your computer. By disguising their nasty software as attractive downloads, these scammers try to trick the user into installing their stuff. Watch for RAR files, WMV files, and password-protected files, which are just some of the ways torrent files are faked.

Internet without VPN is unsafe
Internet without VPN is unsafe

Torrenting without VPN

Millions of users around the world download torrent files without any kind of protection. However, this does not mean that they aresafe from having their Internet services disconnected, legal notices arriving and having legal action taken against you.

File-sharing provides with instant access to the media one is searching for. But it is important to understand the potential risks involved each time a user downloads a new file to computer’s hard drive.

Just because a user know someone who has torrented for years without a VPN, or another form of online protection, does not mean that he/she is not at risk. Consequences can be entirely random, but the user is never completely excluded from the risk involved in the act itself.

Risks of Torrenting without a VPN

Before making the decision to download media, it is important to understand the risks the user is taking when he/she is not utilizing a secured and verified VPN. User should be aware that there can be long-term consequences once he/she is discovered, and pursued by any type of agency.

Share Personal Information with Strangers

While torrenting, personal information of the user becomes exposed and vulnerable. Anyone who is using a program to download the same file as a user has the ability to view and save IP address. When IP is shared with strangers, user has a much greater risk of being tracked and identified.

Allow ISPs to Track You

As IP address becomes public with each file user downloads, ISPs may begin to monitor his/her movements online. Once an ISP has flagged an IP address they serve, user may begin to receive cease and desisted letters in the mail.

In some cases, ISPs throttle bandwidth of users who torrent on a regular basis. In recent years, ISPs are beginning to threaten users, cutting off services or sharing legal letters of intent with customers. Many providers have introduced new user agreement policies that prohibit sharing copyrighted material.

When users ignore these warnings and letters in the mail, they may face additional throttling, the canceling of their service, or legal action, depending on the content they are downloading.

Copyright Infringement

While not all files found on torrenting websites are monitored, the most popular pieces of content types are watched by ISPs, legal offices, and corporations that represent creators. In such scenario, receiving a copyright infringement flag, such as a DMCA notice, is not uncommon.

But it is essential to remember that there are real life consequences of downloading torrents without a reliable VPN to protect identity of user. While most consequences include receiving letters to encourage ceasing and desisting, it is possible to face real financial trouble and, in some extreme cases, the risk of jail time.

Users are often required to pay fines and fees to cover the losses that companies experience from downloaded content, even if there are others who have downloaded the same file. In some countries, individuals have been charged with theft and sent to jail for downloading copyright material.

Torrenting penalties and fines
Torrenting penalties and fines

Hackers

File-Sharing is one of the favorite ways for hackers to infiltrate a computer and steal personal information. But that is not all; harmful files are another threat to computer. Even though a VPN doesn’t protect against viruses, it will help keeping hackers at bay.

hacker
VPN will save you from hackers

Torrenting with a VPN

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is software that helps protect the identity and location of users whenever they are online. Thanks to the high level of anonymity it offers, a VPN is the favorite tool of torrent users. But they are also useful to keep identity a secret when browsing other websites that are notorious for tracking and creating profiles on users.

But it’s not as simple as that, not all VPNs are ideal for torrenting in a fast and safe way. Some of them are slow, others keep logs of your activity, and some are simply not offering enough protection.

Benefits of Torrenting with a VPN

A VPN provides security, protection, and anonymity when downloading content. There are two main advantages of using a VPN when downloading files:

Masking IP Address

VPN servers have their own IP addresses, which are assigned to users, making it more difficult to track and pursue. It keeps the location of the user, IP address, and other sensitive information out of the wrong hands.

Encrypting Data

Whenever a user uploads or downloads a file, VPN software encrypts the data. That makes it impossible to learn what data is being exchanged, its origin and the users involved.

Data encryption is imperative to avoid revealing your identity to entities who are trying to monitor your activity.

Conclusion

Torrenting is a new phenomenon that has allowed the users to download and share files in a new way as compared to the traditional sources. Torrenting helps the users to download files that may not be available to be downloaded using traditional sources of email and FTTP. Using a Torrent Client a user can at the same time both upload and download a file. However, the legitimacy of torrenting is still a debate. Torrenting is undoubtedly safe and illegal unless the data being downloaded is copyrighted. Researchers have found that a huge amount of data available on Torrent Clients is illegal and infringing. A user can download this data without knowing its legitimacy. Furthermore, user of Torrent Clients is also open to the threats of malware and information theft. Torrenting without a VPN is a huge risk. Therefore, users should always use a VPN to protect their identity and information. A VPN helps the user to mask their identity and encrypt data. Dummies should try to know different concepts related to torrenting to make their browsing safe and sound.

References

Gregersen, E. (2013). “BitTorrent”. In: Encyclopedia Britannica.
Parker, A. (2004). The True Picture of Peer-to-Peer File-Sharing. Tech.
Pouwelse, J. et al. (2005). “The Bittorrent P2P File-Sharing System: Measurements and Analysis”. In: Peer-to-Peer Systems IV. Ed. by M. Castro & R. Renesse. Vol. 3640. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 205–216. isbn: 978- 3-540-29068-1. doi: 10.1007/11558989_19.
CacheLogic (2005). P2P in 2005. Tech. Rep.
SandVine (2013). Global Internet Phenomena. Tech. rep. Last accessed 26-March-2014
Mason, Andrew G. (2002). Cisco Secure Virtual Private Network. Cisco Press.

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