The interwebz iz a crazy place, and over 20 years of widespread consumer use hasn’t done much to calm it down. Staying safe online requires a suite of automated tools, along with the knowledge of routine technical procedures. The basics are listed here. One of these tools is a torrent, which is both a file type and a method of transferring files. It may sound confusing, but once you have everything setup, it’s just another way of searching the Internet or browsing through your App and Play stores.
How Torrents Work
A torrent file has an extension of .torrent and has a small file size. Contained within it are instructions for a BitTorrent client to locate and connect, peer-to-peer, to network users with files or file fragments referenced in the torrent file. If that’s too much technobabble, it means it’s instructions for how to download the file.
This differs from normal web downloading in that users, rather than site servers, are actually hosting the files being downloaded. From both a technical and legal standpoint, this means a more secure download, as no single computer gives you the complete file – only a fragment. By taking out the middleman, websites and domain hosts are no longer holding the files, so they’re protected from .gov laws, and both downloaders and uploaders are provided a level of legal anonymity.
Are Torrents Anonymous?
The short answer is – no. They are a step in the right direction though. Using a BitTorrent client provides a stable avenue to share files, but, with trackers being the basis of the technology, anonymity is traded for encryption. This is why BitCoin was adapted as a relevant currency based off the same P2P concept. So, while torrents themselves aren’t anonymous, TOR and P2P mobile, which are based on the same concept, are much closer.
People have come up with protection methods, though, and they’re programs you should be using, regardless of whether or not you’re using torrents. The first is PeerBlock, which is a user-updated database of known IP addresses from a variety of categories, including law enforcement/government, university, advertiser, data trackers, etc. You can also set which ports to keep open for purposes of gaming, uninhibited web browsing, etc. Just know any open port immediately compromises anonymity.
Beyond that, a secure VPN, coupled with a proxy server will protect your network as much as possible without digging into advanced settings.
What Can Torrents Be Used For?
Do you remember Napster and MegaUpload? Each was notorious for allowing users to transfer and view any digital file they wanted, which turned out, more often than not, to be copyrighted material, such as Hollywood movies and TV shows, applications and video games for all devices and major consoles, music, and information. Torrents have also been used along with Pastebin (a plaintext posting service) for important data leaks in the post-Wikileaks era.
Anything digital can be transferred from one user (or multiple users, simultaneously) to another using a torrent client. The only limitations are those you place on yourself. Also software giants like Adobe, EA, and Microsoft now offer cloud-based subscription services to thwart unauthorized (free, i.e. pirated) usage of their software. Getting involved in torrents now will allow you to build up an offline database of software as we move further into a connected world, fueled by the Internet of Things.
Are Torrents Legal?
Yes – a file type can’t necessarily be made illegal. It would be like making the .mp3 format illegal. While the gesture would make a statement, we’d simply continue using them for the same reasons they were invented in the first place. This doesn’t mean you’re safe using torrents and mp3’s however you want – usage of files has been determined illegal in various courts around the world.
While a .torrent isn’t illegal, using it to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones without paying for HBO is. A BitTorrent client won’t get you in trouble, but it’ll give people a reason to look deeper, and it’s also a gateway for intruders to hit your IP. If you’re not tech-savvy, it’s best to ask for assistance before installing and using torrents.
How Do I Get Started With Torrents?
To get started, download a BitTorrent client from download.com or your favorite download depot. Many people prefer BitTorrent itself, but I’m more a fan of uTorrent, as it reminds me of my Limewire and Gnutella days of trading warez. Then download Peerblock for security.
Once both programs are installed, simply Google “____ torrent” with the blank representing whatever file you’re looking for (i.e. Always Sunny in Philadelphia torrent). You can also go to any popular torrent site, such as ThePirateBay or KickAssTorrents to search for what you need. Upon locating and downloading the torrent, your BitTorrent client will automatically start and begin downloading the usable file you need.
From there, it’s simply a matter of staying within your ISP’s data limits to avoid data charges. After a few months of using torrents to supplement your software library, you should be able to reduce data usage significantly, raising your overall data security.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, freelance writer, and troll. Penny has been featured on Huffington Post, Lifehack, The Street, Cannabis Now, and Hardcore Games.