Torrents anonymously: The BitTorrent protocol came to revolutionize the way we share files. The protocol is popular for being fast, reliable, and one of the best ways to transfer large files.
BitTorrent is considered as the preferred big file sharing mechanism for known enterprises and organizations, including Linux, Facebook, Twitter, Blizzard, to mention a few. For example, Linux Ubuntu gives you the option to alternatively download Ubuntu ISOs using BitTorrent.
Although BitTorrent is a fine piece of file-sharing technology, the method it uses puts your identity on the line. Anyone participating within the torrent swarm and the tracker server provider will have to know and share your information, including your public IP address, torrent client, and even the contents of your torrent file.
Fortunately, there are ways to download torrents anonymously. In this post, we’ll talk about three ways to protect yourself while uploading or downloading torrents. We’ll also go through how BitTorrent works and where is exactly that you need to hide.
How does BitTorrent work and where it compromises your privacy?
BitTorrent is a file-sharing protocol based on Peer-2-Peer (P2P) technology. The idea behind P2P is decentralization. P2P is a distributed system formed by large numbers of unreliable nodes which are roughly functioning symmetrically.
As an example, imagine a flock or swarm of flying birds. A flock of birds is coming from a single source and flying towards a singular destination. If one bird or two decides to fly away from the swarm, the flock will still be the same. If three new birds come along to join, the flock will be the same. There is no commander or central leader that tells birds where to go, so they have to move and decide in unity.
Nodes within a P2P behave similarly to that flock of birds. Nodes have something in common: the torrent. These nodes are also decentralized. There is no server commanding and controlling the behavior of these nodes.
For more clarity, let’s define the P2P inter-operational elements:
- Seeds or seeders. These are the users that start and upload a torrent.
- A peer can be anyone wanting or having the same content. Peers share files and talk to each other using torrent files.
- The torrent files are vital in a P2P communication as they contain the metadata (content’s information) and torrent tracker information. Bear in mind that torrent files are not the content itself, they just give directions on where to connect to and the sequence of the contents to download/upload.
- Swarm. A torrent swarm is also composed of peers and seeds sharing the same torrent file.
- Torrent tracker. When you load a torrent file into your torrent client (uTorrent, Deluge, qBittorrent, etc), it follows the directives of the torrent file, which is to establish a connection to the torrent tracker (specified in the file). The torrent tracker helps establish peer communications and has all the IPs of all peers. As a peer, you would initially send a message to the torrent tracker to show your interest in a particular torrent. The torrent tracker sends back to you a list of peers that show the same interest in a particular torrent file. Bear in mind that trackers are not central servers, do not act as proxies or relay data in any way. You can track your sprint tools with a scrum board or simply follow Kanban methodology to track your team’s progress.
- Distributed Hash Table (DHT) Used by BitTorrent clients to find peers via the BitTorrent protocol. Used as an alternative to torrent tracker server.
How do these components work with each other?
Let’s say you want to download Ubuntu’s ISO. You go into Ubuntu’s official site. Ubuntu is likely the seeder of the Ubuntu torrent. You download their torrent file and load it into your torrent client. The client establishes a connection with the torrent tracker or uses DHT to find the peers. The tracker logs your IP and sends you a list of peers (IPs) that also have an interest in the same file. The peers start sharing bits and pieces of the entire content. If you disconnect and come back a week later, the torrent swarm will likely be composed by an entirely new set of peers. But that is ok because the content (torrent file) health is what keeps the torrent swarm alive.
Where does it compromise your privacy?
Torrents may compromise your privacy in two ways:
- Within the torrent swarm. All peers and seeds within the swarm and the torrent tracker will know your IP address, and obviously the contents you are downloading. This is not good when you are downloading or uploading content over public trackers, as these are places that you can meet with hackers or copyright trolls. Anyone can log your IP and associate it with a particular piece of content.
- From the port number. Anyone with access to your Internet traffic may be able to monitor and identify the P2P ports. ISPs are sometimes required (in accordance with data laws) to collect and log traffic information. They can set up a packet sniffer or DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) device and track down all communications from common BitTorrents ports.
So how to download torrents anonymously?
Use a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are the widespread solution to cover your tracks while torrenting. VPNs provide the right identify protection you need from the prying eyes of copyright trolls, hackers, or ISPs. They hide your tracks by encrypting your entire Internet connection and by masking your IP with someone else’s. VPNs provide a high level of security due to their encryption.
But VPNs were originally designed for quite a different purpose from what they are advertised today. They were created to connect geographically distant branch offices via unsecured networks like the Internet. They do this, by establishing an encrypted tunnel from client to server. So VPNs will provide a great of security but will hurt your speed and resources.
Use a Proxy
Proxy servers work as middle-man or intermediaries between client and destination. They centralize requests and responses from complex distributed networks and provide different processes like masking IP, hiding portions of the header, or filtering requests/responses. For example, a forwarding proxy can be used as an anonymizer to protect users of an internal network from the rest of the Internet. On the other hand, a reverse proxy can be used to protect a server from the rest of the Internet.
There is a type of proxy known as the SOCKS5 (level 5 OSI model) that can be used to anonymize your torrent traffic. While a SOCKS5 proxy does not encrypt traffic, as VPNs do, they can do mask your IP and can work with torrent applications (VPNs vs Proxies). Plus, SOCKS5 proxies tend to be more cost-efficient, easier to use, and provide faster speeds.
Use a Seedbox
There is another type of technology that can be used to download and upload torrents privately. A technology designed with the sole purpose of seeding torrents. This technology is known as Seedboxes.
Seedboxes, as the name implies, are boxes built for torrent seeding. They may be deployed or obtained via a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or physical server or via shared or dedicated resources. Seedboxes are high-speed servers (not a network as a VPN) that are built around the idea of seeding torrents.
Benefits of a seedbox:
- Give your bandwidth and processing resources a rest. The seedbox can do the dirty and hard work of downloading torrents for you.
- Seedboxes usually come with other applications, like streaming systems, torrent automation, sync, file sharing, VPN server, etc.
- Fully privacy and security. Seedboxes are far away from your resources, so you can’t be linked to any torrenting activity. Seedboxes connect directly to the torrent swarm, and you connect to the seedbox via RDP, SFTP, FTPS, Sync, WebDAV, or any other security protocol.
You could download torrents anonymously using VPNs and proxies if you are a casual torrent. But if you are a serious torrenter, and like to participate in public and private trackers, then seedboxes are the right path to take. Seedboxes will help you, not only download/upload torrents anonymously, but also save your resources, improve download speeds, and even stream your own content online.
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