Managing your Privacy Online: BitTorrent Downloads

By on June 4, 2010, 1:00 AM
BitTorrent users are increasingly finding themselves under the watching eye of anti-piracy agencies and ISPs trying to detect copyright infringement or curtail bandwidth hogging, often employing questionable tactics in the process. The fact is, whether you're doing anything illegal or not, the open nature of this peer-to-peer file sharing protocol means that anyone with the right tools and knowledge can dig into stuff like your home IP address or your download history.


Although we don't support piracy, we are not fond of media giants getting a hand from governments to legally tap on users' online activities either. It's our belief that draconian DRM restrictions and other related nuisances is what's affecting the industry in the first place, but that's another story. If you're concerned about being monitored, it pays off to learn a few tricks and increase your privacy when downloading using the BitTorrent protocol.

There are some free and pretty straightforward solutions available, as well as some paid services that promise to safeguard your data from snoops, thieves, and other unauthorized parties. None of the tips below can guarantee complete and utter anonymity, that's for sure, but adding a few layers of protection will certainly help.

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User Comments: 17

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Puiu Puiu said:

Really good article Jose. A lot of good articles lately on TechSpot.

This is a request from me: can someone do an article about privacy in general? A complete one that not only beginners, but also more tech savvy guys can find useful?

Staff
Julio Franco Julio Franco, TechSpot Editor, said:

"Privacy in general"? Need to be more specific

Guest said:

Nice article.

I'm sure many people would be interested in an in article specifically on vpns and some comparison of the different features that different companies offer, such as different protocols and degrees of logging, and how these affect the privacy one obtains from them. I also heard of some programs that can guard against dropped connections on a vpn, a round-up of these and their pros and cons would be interesting too.

Thanks.

TJGeezer said:

This is the best roundup of torrent privacy options I've seen anywhere - clear and precise at the same time. Must've taken some time to put this together. Thanks, Jose.

One question - some Usenet services (like AstraWeb, for example - http://www.news.astraweb.com/) used to say they kept no logs of user activity, but more recently dropped that assurance from their pitch. Now they acknowledge embedding tracking info mandated to reveal child porn posters (and, no doubt, political malcontents, shhh!) but will release it only under court order. The question is - since I don't access porn and pretty much shut up about the %$#@ who %$#!@!@ in the halls of power, can I feel some assurance the IP mafia won't get on my back?

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

This site has tons of additional information about securing VPN/proxy connections and more. Check out the FAQ page: http://checkmytorrentip.com/

Guest said:

Just get Time Warner, they couldn't care less :D

Tekkaraiden Tekkaraiden said:

Not all of us live in the USA.

gobbybobby said:

@Tekkaraiden. where do u live then. Most countrys are getting Hard on this. Under French law u will be discconected from net if after warnings u break Copyright law again. the UK just passed a Bill forcing ISP to hand over data on file sharers and many otehr countrys are following suit. if U live in Europe there is may be a new EU law that says U MUST NOT DL stuff u don't pay for. As for other countrys IDN. In China they lock u up and BEAT U. many don't survive. In theory the government lose out when u pirate as well as u no pay VAT, if someone mentions that they Ban the internet.

Yea The China Bit was a joke...

Guest said:

i use hotspot shield and hide my ip togather i have downloaded when i knew they were checking ip numbers and have came thru untouched.

Puiu Puiu said:

Julio said:

"Privacy in general"? Need to be more specific

The articles now cover a part of the internet each (and all of then are great).

In reality there are a lot of programs/websites that send information about you over the internet without you even knowing. Do you guys have any good tips/tweaks/tools, like what firewalls we should use and how to configure them, what we should be looking out for and what we should avoid completely when online (shopping is also a big problem).

Although i work as an IT Analyst it still takes me a lot of time to find this kind of information (many websites and forums) and most of the times it's not geared towards general use but for a specific situation. I can use that and change it accordingly, but there aren't many that understand how to or even what to look for.

This might be a bit too much to do (i know i didn't say anything useful or specific), but i hope at least you guys can use this as a reference when making another Privacy article.

Keep up the good work.

gobbybobby said:

I done a few of the things listed here. Added a proxy to Utorrent and Got peerblock. I do note I had to add alot of exceptions to peerblock as it blocked most my games from connecting to the net, at least I know its working. But since I added a proxy. Its gone quiet, not blocking anything, is this becuase it does not work with proxy? I think I found a good proxy as it lists my Download speed of 1.4 meg on speedtest.net and my speed is 1.6 so not much speed loss. My ISP blocks torrents at weekends, I downloading at 25 KB/s will keep a watch see if it goes up after peak time. (Which at weekends according to my ISP is 12noon-12 Midnight. (6Pm-Midnight Weekdays)

I also got Firefox running via the proxy, get Spannish (I think its Spannish) Version of Google. (google.com.co) Have I got all the settings here correct? it seems to keep downloading even if I put fake info in that makes me question if its actully going throught the proxy. http://i50.tinypic.com/25ewne9.jpg

Guest said:

I'm running uTorrent 2.0.2. Where is this "Add New Torrent..." dialog where I'm supposed to be able to remove the trackers? I think the author is using an old version.

Staff
Jos Jos said:

@gobbybobby: It seems that if a proxy is not working uTurrent will just ignore this setting and download the file anyway, exposing your home IP address. You can monitor your torrent IP address on the site Matthew suggested a few comments above: http://checkmytorrentip.com. That way you'll know for sure if your BitTorrent traffic is actually going through the proxy -- and can look for another one if it's not.

Regarding your ISP blocking torrents at weekends, using a proxy you can hide your real IP address but it won't stop bandwidth throttling. For that you need to encrypt your traffic via an SSH tunnel, and finding a proxy server that actually supports this for free can be tricky. BTGuard's paid package supports encryption. Most VPN services encrypt your traffic by default but usually this involves a monthly fee as well. You can try Hotspot shield, which is free, but in my limited experience with the service it's very slow most of the time.

Staff
Jos Jos said:

@Guest: It's the window that automatically pops-up when opening a torrent file. Here you usually choose where to save the file and can check/un-check the torrent contents to download. You'll find the "Advanced' button in the bottom left corner. I'm using uTorrent 2.0.2 as well.

Guest said:

Sorry, your advice to remove the tracker and use DHT and PEX instead is just wrong. Those looking for illegal file sharing seek to document your *uploading* a piece of the copyrighted file to their IP. They do that with a peer-to-peer connection from you to them. It does not matter one bit whether they or you initiated that connection, or whether that connection's source was a tracker, DHT, or PEX. In other words, the peer discovery method is irrelevant: they are not catching you through monitoring the tracker, but by the act of uploading packets to them. Since several BT clients are open source, it is a simple modification to make one that logs the source of specific files.

If you are using VPN, there is even an argument for turning off DHT, because it may expose your real IP inside the DHT packets. It could be technically possible, over time, to correlate your DHT real IP with your packets coming out of the VPN service. The current advice is to disable DHT when behind a VPN service.

It's very unfortunate that the original article citing safety with DHT and PEX was so far off the mark, and got distributed so widely.

Guest said:

Would it not just be easier to use a seedbox or usenet, I use a seedbox and the cost is only $15 per month from http://dediseedbox.com

I have tried many times to use a VPN but when the server goes down which generally happens quite often with VPN servers your IP address is then exposed.

Guest said:

A VPN is no guarantee. I've been on one for less than 3 weeks, and already got a DMCA notice. You still need other options.

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