Torrenting files, such as movies, TV shows, audio and applications, remains a hugely popular online activity. Statistics suggest that BitTorrent has around 170 million monthly users.
This popularity is despite many countries clamping down hard on illegal file sharing. For example, in Japan, people can theoretically find themselves behind bars for torrenting copyrighted material. Fines are common in Germany. In the UK, warnings are often issued to file sharers, and ISPs sometimes block access to file sharing-related sites.
Enforcement action over copyright issues varies considerably from country to country. While it’s reasonable to assume that, in some parts of Africa, chasing after file sharers isn’t a major priority for the authorities, it’s still best to take reasonable precautions if you choose to torrent. People across the world do get arrested for copyright theft, so it’s best to take the risks seriously.
Why do people still torrent?
After the warning above, you’re perhaps wondering why millions of people continue to share files using BitTorrent, despite the risks?
The first and most important point to make is that torrenting itself isn’t in any way illegal. Originally conceived as a way to distribute large, legal files such as game updates, BitTorrent can be used for perfectly legitimate purposes. However, people quickly realised its utility for sharing illegal files such as movies and TV shows. Nowadays, torrenting is strongly associated with sharing copyright (illegal) material.
In actual fact, there’s still a considerable amount of legal content out there for download via BitTorrent, and you’ll find some examples here. People do use BitTorrent legally, and If you’d like to do the same, you can choose from thousands of public domain movies, legal software downloads and live music recordings.
However, being completely realistic, it’s likely that only a tiny proportion of regular BitTorrent users are going after those legal files.
For the remaining people, it’s a question of making a judgement call on the risk of being caught out using BitTorrent for copyright-protected material. Clearly, millions of people think that access to “free” media, or to music and movies that would otherwise be unavailable to them where they live, is worth the risk.
The purpose of this article is not to judge nor to condone, but to merely acknowledge that, for whatever reason, plenty of people do continue to torrent regularly. So, assuming you’re one of those people, what can you do to remain as safe as possible?
Torrenting with Care
Here are three steps to take to reduce the risk of problems when you torrent. While following these tips will make things safer for you, both technically and legally, there’s no such thing as “risk free” torrenting. To avoid the risk of prosecution and reduce the chance of malware problems on your computer, stick to fully legal downloads at all times.
- Use up-to-date malware protection
Torrented files often come bundled with viruses and other malware. Cyber criminals capitalise on people’s desire to get something for free, often releasing infected files into “the wild.” The statistics around this are mid-blowing, with over 12 million people per month affected.
So, if you are going to torrent files, make sure you have good quality antivirus and malware protection installed on your machine, and that it’s always active and kept up to date. The reality is that you’re definitely an easier target for hackers if you torrent.
- Use a VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) service encrypts your internet traffic and sends it via a private server. This means that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) cannot see exactly what you’re doing online.
Given that it’s the ISP that usually detects illegal torrenting activity, this means that using a VPN is a great way to vastly reduce the risk of anyone finding out what you’re doing. Not all VPN services are reliable, so check some reviews and choose one that’s well-suited to torrenting.
- Scan files before use
Every time you finish downloading a torrented file, ensure you actually scan it with your antivirus software. Torrenting files allows them straight onto your computer, often circumnavigating your usual defences. So, make sure every file is what you think it is before you open it.
Torrenting is not for everyone; However, if you feel it’s worth it, adhering to these recommendations will keep you as safe as possible. However, always remember that if copyright material is involved, you torrent at your own risk.