OK, you’re using BitTorrent. We’re not going to judge. But we are going to give you a few simple reminders on how to keep your torrenting activity as private as possible.
Don’t Use The Pirate Bay
Think of the Pirate Bay like the red light district: it’s impossible to shut down, but if the law are looking to bust some heads, that’s probably where they’ll start. And copyright trolls are some particularly unimaginative cops.
Instead, try to get access to some of the closed torrent communities. Places like Demonoid or IPTorrents aren’t as isolated as they once were, but they’re way safer than the Pirate Bay or IsoHunt. They’re invite-only, but invites aren’t too hard to come by. Ask around, and one of your techy friends will probably have one to throw your way. Beyond that, always, always, always read the comments to check for warnings about not just pirate-tracking files embedded by nerd hunters, but potential malware.
Use a Proxy
Hiding your IP address using a proxy is one of those nerdspeak tasks that sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is. The jargon breaks down to, essentially, using the cutoff man in baseball. Except with internet connections instead of shortstops. To use it with torrents, all you’ve got to do is go to any number of lists of public proxies and paste the address into the Proxy field of your BitTorrent client. Or for a small fee, you can just use a ready-to-use service like the popular BTGuard, which does all the work for you. You literally just download and run the app, enter your login information, and then run your torrent. That simple. (Lifehacker has a good guide to using BitGuard if you want more detail.)
You can take this a step further by using a virtual private network (VPN), which BTGuard also offers. VPNs essentially do what the proxy does, but for all of your online actions. That’s probably a little excessive for spot-pirating of a bit of software, but if you’re worried about anyone tracking what you’re doing on the web, it’s something to look into.
The downside is that there is an additional point of failure for your connection. That’s not too much of a concern most of the time, as stable servers are usually just fine, and more automated options will adjust on the fly. But it’s something to think about.
Adjust Your BitTorrent Settings
Generally speaking, your ISP doesn’t give a single damn about copyright violations going on in torrent transfers. It just cares about the massive spike in your bandwidth, and what it can do to to stop it. If it can prove you’re using BitTorrent, it’ll just throttle the crap out of your connection. Choosing to force encryption in your BitTorrent app’s preferences will make it harder to pin you down. The downside is that it also precludes you from connecting to other BT users who aren’t using encryption. Many don’t, but you should think of it like a pirating condom. Better safe than sorry.
You also might want to consider easing back on your max upload speeds. Traditional torrenting protocol says you should cap your max download speed at about 80 per cent of your connection’s maximum download speed, and your upload speed at about 10-20 per cent of that. You can crank either up if you want, but limiting how much you upload can also limit your exposure to being caught.
Do Not Seed
Yeah, yeah. This is where all the hardcore torrenters will come for my head. But listen up: This guide is about not getting caught. Not your online reputation, not the health of the torrent community. Plain and simple, the easiest way to get caught for torrenting is by seeding.
When you’re using BitTorrent, you are constantly uploading and downloading data from other users. “Seeding” is when you’ve finished downloading, and continue to upload to others. It’s good manners, but it’s also a bullseye on your head. That’s what the lawyer zombie packs are really after. They’ll try to pin the wider distribution charges on you if you’re caught. And if you don’t seed, you’re in killzone for a much shorter amount of time.