Torrents first cropped up around the late 90’s. The first memory I have of downloading a torrent was when by brother downloaded “Pitch Black”. The process took 3 days and we got a letter from our ISP telling us they were disconnecting us because we had downloaded so much. This was a dial-up connection by the way ! *shudders.
You use torrents all the time and never had a bad experience, right? Well, the fact is that unless you are downloading a file legally, which most people who use torrents are not, then you are likely wide open to a number of worrying scenarios. You are certainly not alone though! There has been 27 million recorded users on BitTorrent at a single time and it’s estimated that it alone is responsible for 25% of all internet traffic.
You want to rewatch your favorite movie or TV program or listen to the latest music and your trusty torrent site has it available at the click of a button. I’m sure you could download your file in no time but have you ever thought about the process of what you are doing?
Torrents work by Peer 2 Peer sharing. Simply put, the more people that have and share the file, the faster it spreads. This works really well for popular files but older files can be really slow. The thing is that when you download, you become part of the “swarm” and your information (IP address) becomes clear to anyone that would like to see it. If you haven’t opened up a non-standard port on your router, then you are leaving yourself at risk of an attack. An attacker has your IP address and potentially an open port. The attack point probably isn’t really something that you need to be overly worried about as it’s not that common for people to suffer hacks through using torrents.
Remember, however, companies can also become part of the swarm and they can and will see your IP address too. If you happen to download a file that they are monitoring, they will usually send a letter to your ISP and this normally results in a slap on the wrist (For 1st-time offenders). A second will usually result in a disconnection. There are ways around this and many people use methods to circumvent their IP being displayed but your ISP catching you downloading a movie is the least of your worries.
Spreading The Virus:
Because these files are spread quickly, many of them will be infected with viruses, malware, ransom-ware, and spyware. A potential hacker wants to hit as many people as possible and this is a great way of doing it. Usually, the virus is contained in fake files but can also be attached to real files too. The issue here is that the instructions for watching movies, playing music or loading software will usually tell you to turn off your anti-virus while you run the file. In the case of illegally downloaded software, this is usually because AV programs will detect key generators and files used to circumvent security.
A typical scenario would be something like this: A new movie is about to be released, let’s say X-Men and you go to your favorite torrent site and the file is available for download. So you download the torrent and run it only to find that the file is corrupted, is a weird filename like x-men.exe or it is the wrong file altogether ) Mary Poppins plays instead of X-Men. At the best, your annoyed and at the worst, you have installed a virus on your computer. You may not even be aware until your computer starts to lock up. You have also helped the spread of the virus because you were part of a Peer 2 Peer network that both share and receive files.
So What Is The Alternative?
There are plenty of sites that allow for the direct downloading of files hosted by users on private accounts. Obviously, I’ll not be pointing you to such sites but if you are going to illegally download files, then they are the safest way to do it. You can connect with a VPN if you are concerned about your identity and these types of sites rarely have files that contain viruses. Your ISP or anyone else will be clueless as to what you are doing also.
Can I Be Prosecuted?
This is a question that I have been asked on a number of occasions and the answer is yes. The chances are unlikely as there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account. Firstly, it’s costly to bring someone to court and unless they are a serious distributor (therefore costing the company money) they are not very likely to chase you. Then comes the technical part. If someone ascertains that a file was downloaded by your IP, they have to prove that not only was it your computer that downloaded / distributed the files but it was also you personally that committed the crime. This will vary from country to country depending on local / state law but it’s quite difficult to nail someone for downloading the latest Rhianna CD and a Teletubbies DVD.
Still Going To Use Torrents?
If you are still going to use torrents, then at least take some steps to best protect yourself.
- Use IP blocking software
- Use private trackers (Usually open by invite only)
- Examine the file you are downloading. If its a movie and its 15Mb, then it is not a movie. If it is an executable file (.exe) don’t download it
- Get good anti-virus – I get complaints that “INSERT NAME HERE” free antivirus didn’t protect them. You get what you pay for folks!
- Have a good Anti-Malware program to complement your Anti-Virus
- If you are using a Torrent Client, then use a non-default port and turn your firewall on
Let us know of your experience with torrents in the comments section! Thanks for reading.