You may already know you should always use a VPN while torrenting, but you may not be aware that not every VPN fits the bill. Some VPNs, in fact, are so bad that you may not have used one at all. Here’s what you need to know.
Some VPNs Won’t Let You Torrent
One reason why not every VPN is a good fit for torrenting is that some VPNs themselves aren’t fans of the BitTorrent protocol. This group usually falls into two other subgroups. Some VPNs simply don’t like the heavy toll torrenting takes on their networks. When you torrent, you’re using up a lot of resources: not only are you downloading large amounts of data—even a single movie can be several gigabytes—you’re also uploading a lot of data at the same time.
Download enough files, and you can seriously restrict what other people on your network can do. You can easily test it yourself, too: torrent a large number of files and then test your internet speeds; you’ll likely see a large drop in performance. There’s not much you can do about this, it’s just how BitTorrent works.
Because of this, some VPNs, especially ones that run on a voluntary or not-for-profit basis—a good example is VPN Gate, which is run by a Japanese university—won’t allow torrenting on their networks. It’s also why you shouldn’t torrent over Tor, there’s a chance you could seriously hurt the network. Some commercial VPNs, like NordVPN, will have you use special torrenting servers for this very reason.
On the other hand are VPNs that don’t allow torrenting for legal reasons. A good example is TorGuard, which doesn’t allow torrenting on its U.S. servers since a lawsuit was brought against the company. In cases like this, it’s just a terrible idea to torrent simply because there’s a good chance somebody is watching both users and the company itself.
Some VPNs You Just Shouldn’t Use
It’s these trackers which bring us to the other big group of VPNs, ones you shouldn’t use for torrenting, or for anything else, really. This is because some VPNs, despite what they may claim in their promotional material, simply don’t do what they should do and protect you from tracking.
Thing is, if you live in a country where torrenting is an issue—and you’d be surprised at how many countries it’s no problem whatsoever—there’s a chance that torrents are being tracked. These trackers work by finding out who is downloading a certain torrent file and then registering that person’s IP address, the set of numbers that determines your physical location.
This is why we recommended you use a VPN while torrenting: a VPN is a surefire way to cloak your IP address. It does this by rerouting your connection to a server owned by the VPN provider, which lets you assume that server’s IP address rather than your own, and then also encrypting your connection in a so-called VPN tunnel, making it impossible for a tracker to find out who you really are.
It’s a neat trick, but it stands and falls with the trustworthiness of your VPN. For example, if the security isn’t up to snuff, then the VPN tunnel can be penetrated by the tracker. In that case, you’re basically paying the VPN for the privilege of being tracked, which isn’t what you want.
Even worse is if your VPN of choice keeps so-called logs, records of who you are and where you’ve connected to. Though all VPNs claim to be no-log VPNs, not all of them follow all the way through and will keep logs, which can be revealed in a lawsuit or even exposed should the authorities show up with a search warrant.
How to Choose a Good VPN for Torrenting
The trick to torrent with a VPN, then, is to choose a good service. Sadly enough, in the VPN market today there are plenty of services that fail spectacularly at these basic tasks. Many operations are fly-by-nights with questionable engineering behind them. Thankfully, there are some solid signs that will serve as red flags for dodgy VPNs.
For example, most free VPNs that populate the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store are, put simply, terrible. Not only do most of them not even perform the basic tasks you would expect of a VPN—hiding your tracks—they will often do the opposite, selling your browsing data to line their own pockets.
While there are some good free VPNs—Windscribe comes to mind—as a general rule, you want to stay away from free VPNs. Unless they come recommended from a trusted source, they’re likely not worth the trouble.
This removes some of the worst offenders from the field, but there are still some other things you can check for. For one, you should test any VPN you’ve subscribed to. Doing so takes all of two minutes and can be done for free with tools you can find online—ipleak.net is particularly popular. If these tests come up with any leaks, cancel your subscription and get your money back.
If that sounds like a hassle, you can also check out our selection of the best VPNs, all of which are suitable for torrenting and none of them failed our tests. Our biggest favorite for BitTorrent is IVPN, though ExpressVPN is also a solid choice. Whatever you do, make sure your VPN is safe before you torrent any files.