What is Torrenting? How Does It Work? Is It Legal in 2024?
- Quick Guide: How to Torrent Safely in 3 Easy Steps
- Torrenting Glossary
- How Does Torrenting Work?
- Is Torrenting Legal?
- Is Torrenting Dangerous?
- Best Torrenting VPNs — Updated in 2024
- ExpressVPN — Impressively Fast Speeds to Quickly Torrent Large Files
- CyberGhost — P2P-Optimized Servers to Download Files Without Delays
- Private Internet Access (PIA) — Customizable Security to Tailor Your Connection for Torrenting
- FAQs on How to Torrent Safely
- Start Torrenting Safely Today
Torrenting is a clever way to distribute files quickly. It splits huge chunks of data into smaller bits and distributes it among multiple users so they can share it. This increases network bandwidth, resulting in faster downloads.
However, for this method to work, everyone needs to share their real IP address. This can put your online privacy at risk as you can’t be sure there are no hackers on the network.
This article explains in detail how torrenting technology works and its safety. I also clarify what sets torrenting apart from regular downloads and whether it's legal to use this software at all. Plus, I put together a handy list of popular torrenting terms in alphabetical order for better understanding.
To protect myself from cyber threats when torrenting I use ExpressVPN. It offers impressively fast speeds and powerful online security features for quick and safe torrenting. Thanks to a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can try ExpressVPN risk-free. In case you don’t like it, getting a refund is easy.
Quick Guide: How to Torrent Safely in 3 Easy Steps
- Get a VPN. I recommend ExpressVPN for its impressive speeds and excellent privacy features. You can try ExpressVPN without risk (it has a 30-day money-back policy).
- Connect to a server. Pick a country that allows torrenting, like Switzerland. It’s also a good idea to enable the VPN’s security features that stop your IP from leaking to a swarm (like a kill switch and any leak protection).
- Start torrenting. You can now download files with added safety and privacy.
Torrenting has a lot of jargon, so here are some key terms I'm going to use, along with their meanings:
How Does Torrenting Work?
BitTorrent is a decentralized network primarily used to download and upload large files. Rather than downloading files from a central server, torrents let you fetch files from other users' devices and vice versa.
Torrenting software breaks down large files into small parts. This makes it possible for users to download parts of the file from a single source, and automatically start sharing it with others without having 100% of the data. That way, the person with the entire file isn’t overloaded with download requests. As such, they can provide you with the full bandwidth, which gives you faster download speeds.
The easiest way to use the BitTorrent network is with torrent management software such as uTorrent or qBitTorrent. They let you open a magnet link or a .torrent file you downloaded from a tracker (like The Pirate Bay) and connect to a P2P network. This will automatically download your desired content. Those who download or upload the same file are called peers, forming a swarm together. The more people (peers) share a file, the faster your download speeds will be.
And remember — you should never download copyrighted content from any of the sites we mention in this article.
Is Torrenting Legal?
Torrenting itself is legal in most countries, but torrenting copyrighted content is illegal nearly everywhere. Because torrents are frequently used to share copyrighted files, like movies, games, music, and software, it’s often associated with piracy. For this reason, some countries have made it illegal to use torrenting software altogether.
Downloading copyrighted content without a license to do so is usually in contravention of the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention. Individual countries also have their own copyright laws, like the UK’s Digital Economy Act or the US’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Depending on your location, getting caught pirating can result in anything from a written warning and a throttled internet connection, to a fine — or even prison time.
However, there are legitimate reasons to use torrent software. For instance, torrents are great if you want to share large quantities of smaller files, as you don’t need to compress them, which takes forever. Additionally, torrent software allows users to host files between themselves, reducing the load on centralized servers. You can also legally download content that isn't copyrighted (in the public domain), providing that you're in a country where torrenting is legal.
Is Torrenting Dangerous?
Torrenting always comes with a risk of accidentally downloading malware. Plus, all torrent clients let peers see each other’s actual IP addresses, which makes you an easy target for various cyber threats.
By knowing your IP, cybercriminals can obtain your location and online identity. Alternatively, they can launch a phishing attack in hopes of obtaining your private information, such as your bank account number or credit card information.
To protect yourself from all these threats, it’s important you get a VPN to cover your actual IP/DNS addresses. A decent antivirus system is a good idea too.
There’s also a risk of accidentally downloading a copyrighted file that was hidden in folders. This can get you in all kinds of trouble with the authorities.
Why You Need a VPN to Torrent Safely
Due to how P2P networks work, you expose your IP address every time you start torrenting. This makes it easy for hackers, trackers, and beacons to collect and sell your online data to the highest bidder.
However, a VPN lets you torrent privately. A VPN encrypts your data and forwards it through a server in another location. This makes your traffic almost impossible for hackers to decrypt. It also hides your actual IP address with a new one from your chosen country. For instance, you get a US IP when you connect to a US server. That way, your real IP address is protected against cyber threats.
Since you can choose a new IP address from a new location, VPNs also let you connect to a country that has more seeds. Doing so boosts your download speeds without having to use a proxy, which don’t offer the same security features.
Finally, some ISPs might start throttling speeds if they detect excessive P2P traffic. A VPN lets you bypass internet throttling by masking what you do online. Since your traffic is encrypted, ISPs can’t see what you’re doing and therefore can’t limit your speeds based on your activity.
Best Torrenting VPNs — Updated in 2024
Tested February 2024 Try Risk-Free for 30 Days
|Rapid speeds and unlimited bandwidth for fast torrenting
|3,000 servers in 105 countries to safely torrent
|Military-grade encryption and a strict no-logs policy to keep your online activity private
|ThePirateBay, 1337x, RARBG, YTS, Torrentzs, NYAA.si, EZTV, and more
ExpressVPN’s fast speeds are excellent for torrenting big files. Connected to its Germany server, my speeds didn’t drop below 96Mbps — that’s just 20% slower than my base 120Mbps speed. I also speed-tested ExpressVPN’s Dallas and Chicago servers and got fantastic results. I managed to download a massive 10.90GB file in less than 19 minutes.
The VPN also has a P2P-friendly global server network, spanning 105 countries, so you'll be able to find a fast nearby server for safe torrenting. During testing, I had no problems downloading an old public-domain movie Danger Lights, while on a trip to New York. My connection remained stable, and there were no disconnects or torrent errors.
For safe torrenting, the service protects your browsing activity with military-grade encryption. Perfect Forward Secrecy also changes the encryption key regularly, making it incredibly difficult to crack your data — even if a hacker gets hold of one session key. There are multiple protocols to choose from, like speedy WireGuard and the VPN’s own Lightway, that provides a balance of speed and security.
To avoid accidental data leaks, there’s an automatic kill switch that cuts your internet in case ExpressVPN drops (though that didn’t happen during my tests as my connection was always stable). Thanks to IP/DNS protection, you don’t have to worry that your actual location leaks on P2P networks, either. I ran a couple of tests using ipleak.net, and the VPN came back clean.
Your privacy is well-guarded too. The service is based in the British Virgin Islands where there are no data retention laws — it’s outside the 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances (international pacts to share citizens’ data). There’s also a strict no-logs policy that prevents the VPN from collecting and storing your online data. Finally, TrustedServer tech (RAM-based servers) erases your online activity on reboot.
I experienced no issues when using ExpressVPN in conjunction with uTorrent, Deluge, and qBittorrent clients. These clients instantly detected a new network connection and replaced my original IP with a VPN-based one, thereby ensuring the security of my online privacy.
One minor issue is that the plans are quite expensive. The cheapest option starts at $6.67/month. Thankfully, ExpressVPN often runs deals or promotions that let you save money — I got 49% off and 3 extra free months signing up for the year-long plan.
In case you don’t like the VPN, getting a refund is a breeze thanks to the reliable 30-day money-back guarantee. I put this policy to the test by contacting support via the 24/7 live chat. After a couple of messages, the refund was approved and my bank account was reimbursed 2 days later.
|Torrent-optimized servers for maximum download speeds
|11,683 servers in 100 countries to safely torrent
|Based in privacy-friendly Romania to protect your data when torrenting
|ThePirateBay, 1337x, RARBG, YTS, Torrentzs, NYAA.si, EZTV, and more
CyberGhost has servers that are optimized for fast torrenting. These servers are specifically designed to provide fast speeds, stability, and privacy. When testing CyberGhost, the service automatically gave me the best IP address and server location for torrenting. However, you can manually connect to a specific country using the For torrenting tab in the app if you want more control over the location.
Although the VPN isn’t as fast as ExpressVPN, the service offers great speeds for quick torrenting. I connected to the UK, US, and Australia P2P servers, and my speed averaged out at 88Mbps. My torrents finished quickly and I had no issues using other P2P-based apps, like Popcorn Time.
Your online data is protected by AES 256-bit encryption, the strongest available. This keeps your traffic hidden when torrenting. The software also comes with an automatic kill switch and Perfect Forward Secrecy. I ran a few IP/DNS leak tests and CyberGhost didn’t reveal my identifiable info.
The VPN is based in privacy-friendly Romania, adding protection when you torrent. Plus, there’s a zero logs policy so you know your private information isn’t collected. The app also comes with a WiFi protection feature that launches CyberGhost when you connect to any unknown network. I find it useful as it gives me automatic protection when torrenting on public WiFi.
All the apps are very easy to master; the user interface is clear and intuitive. Most servers are categorized into groups (streaming, torrenting, and gaming), making it easy to find one for a specific purpose. But in case you run into trouble, there’s 24/7 live chat support and plenty of step-by-step tutorials on the website.
You can sign up for just $2.03/month (the 3-year plan is the best value and long-term plans have an extended refund period). The longer 45-day money-back guarantee means you can also try CyberGhost for free. Getting a refund is uncomplicated if you’re not satisfied. After sharing my thoughts about my experience with the VPN, my refund was approved. Just 3 days later, my PayPal account was reimbursed.
3. Private Internet Access (PIA) — Customizable Security to Tailor Your Connection for Torrenting
|Highly adaptable security features for fast and safe torrenting
|29,650 servers in 91 countries to safely torrent
|A strict no-logs policy and RAM-based servers to protect your online activity
|ThePirateBay, 1337x, RARBG, YTS, Torrentzs, NYAA.si, EZTV, and more
PIA offers customizable security features that protect your device from cyber threats on P2P networks. All your internet traffic is protected with AES 256-bit encryption, but you can set it to AES 128-bit for faster speeds. You can also choose from OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols. I recommend using WireGuard and AES 128-bit for a balance of speed and security.
The VPN’s built-in ad blocker (MACE) prevents hackers from obtaining your data when you torrent. The feature blocks malicious links and ads on a DNS level, meaning it works in apps like uTorrent and Deluge too. In addition, PIA has RAM-based servers and a zero logs policy, so there’s no record of your browsing activity. When testing PIA for the IP/DNS leaks, it didn't expose my actual location.
The only downside to all of the customizable security settings and features is that they can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never used a VPN before. That said, the app comes with a pre-configured torrenting profile built in, so you can get started without much setup. There’s also 24/7 live chat support if you need help with anything.
Similar to CyberGhost, the service has a large network of 29,650 servers, so avoiding internet throttling is easy. PIA is also great for getting past ISP website blocks — I easily accessed ThePirateBay using a Polish connection.
Download speeds are fast enough to torrent large files too. In my tests, I measured 75Mbps on the US and UK servers. There’s also unlimited bandwidth, so you can download/upload as much as you like.
You can get PIA for as low as $2.03/month. Monthly subscriptions don’t offer anything extra compared to the long-term ones but they cost more. I suggest getting the 3-year option for the biggest savings. If you’re not happy, getting a refund is hassle-free thanks to a 30-day money-back guarantee (I tested it myself).
FAQs on How to Torrent Safely
Where is it legal to torrent?
Torrenting on its own is legal in most countries, but it's illegal to download copyrighted content in almost all countries. So, you can legally torrent a movie in the public domain, but downloading the latest blockbuster would be breaking the law. But, if your ISP discovers that you're torrenting, it may throttle your internet connection. You can avoid ISP throttling with a VPN.
The vpnMentor team and I don't condone using a VPN for illegal purposes. Always check your local laws to check that you're okay to torrent works in the public domain before you start downloading.
Are uTorrent and BitTorrent clients safe?
They’re safe if you use a VPN. Torrenting always comes with risks, so it’s best you connect to a VPN that can hide your IP address for safe torrenting. Otherwise, malicious parties could get hold of your IP, which can lead to all kinds of issues like ransomware (malware that blocks access to your device until you pay a ransom using cryptocurrency).
Can I get into trouble for torrenting games, movies, or music?
Yes, unless they’re copyright-free. You can download any public-domain video game, movie, or song without getting into trouble with the authorities, providing that torrenting is legal in your country. However, many hackers use public-domain torrents to steal people’s data. So make sure you have an active VPN connection while using public trackers, to avoid cyber threats.
Is torrenting faster than downloading?
Yes, torrenting is faster. Rather than downloading one big file from a single source, torrenting software splits up a file into small chunks. This results in faster speeds since the download source isn’t bandwidth-constrained.
Regular downloads share a single large file that is stored on a server. The further the server is located from you, the longer you’ll have to wait for the download to finish. But, as a benefit, you don’t need other people sharing the file to start the download.
Why is my torrent download not working?
It may not have enough seeds or your connection might be throttled. To limit the chances of ISP throttling, make sure you've protected your online connection with a VPN. Here are a few other tricks you can try:
- Check seed availability. Perhaps the torrent you’re trying to download doesn’t have an active seed.
- Try downloading the file during irregular hours. Seeders need to keep their devices powered on to continue to share files. But due to different time zones, they might be asleep. Try downloading the file at different hours.
- Try using a different torrent client. The torrent app you’re currently using may be outdated or banned from the BitTorrent network. Try using a reliable and up-to-date torrent client such as qBitTorrent or uTorrent.
- Configure your firewall. You may have a firewall installed that’s blocking P2P traffic. Most firewalls can be configured to whitelist torrent clients.
- Check your internet connection. The problem may lie outside your torrent client. Try restarting your router if you’re having connection problems overall.
If none of the solutions work, contact your ISP and explain your issue to the support team.
Can I torrent safely without a VPN?
Unfortunately, no. For torrent software to work properly, it needs to expose your actual IP address to other torrent clients. The only reliable way to safely torrent is with a VPN. Otherwise, you become an easy target for hackers, trackers, and other malicious parties.
Plus, some torrents contain viruses that are disguised as normal files. The best VPNs have protection to guard against these kinds of threats.
Is torrenting different from streaming?
Yes — streaming only lets you access files that are stored online, without downloading them yourself. This is different from torrenting, which is when you download a file to your device so that you can access it whenever you want. Since streaming sites pay for broadcasting rights, they also let you watch new content legally (torrenting copyrighted files is nearly always illegal).
There is an intermediate option too, which is streaming torrents directly. Services like Stremio, Kodi, or Popcorn Time let you watch content from torrent files without storing them on your device first. This is a good option because it saves space on your device and also gives you instant access to content without waiting for it to download.
However, these streaming platforms often host illegal torrents containing copyrighted content. These apps are also often vulnerable to malware and cyber threats. So, exercise caution, connect to a VPN server, and make sure you check that the movies and TV shows you want to watch are in the public domain before you hit play.
Can I use a free VPN for torrenting?
Free VPNs are often dangerous. Many of them don’t have vital security features, making them a bad choice for torrenting. They also usually have severe bandwidth caps and speed limitations, meaning you can’t download large files quickly. Instead of putting your online privacy at risk, try a low-cost premium VPN that has a money-back guarantee.
Even if you find a free and fast VPN, you can’t be sure it’s safe to use. Some free VPNs have been caught stealing and selling user data or hiding malware in their apps.
Start Torrenting Safely Today
Torrents are an easy way to share huge files quickly. However, due to how P2P technology works, torrents expose your IP address to everyone on the network. This leaves your personal information open to all kinds of cyber threats. The safest way to download files via torrent is to use a VPN.
After testing 25+ VPNs, ExpressVPN is my top pick for torrenting. It offers reliable security features that protect your online privacy while you torrent. The VPN also offers excellent speeds and a large server network, so you'll be able to find a fast, nearby server wherever you are. The service is backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee, meaning you can test ExpressVPN risk-free. If you don’t like it, getting a refund is easy.
To summarize, here are the best VPNs to Torrent Safely
Your data is exposed to the websites you visit!
Your IP Address:
Your Internet Provider:
The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.
VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.