Dear Lifehacker, My favourite private BitTorrent tracker, Demonoid, has apparently gone down for good. I was so dependent on it for its quality, security from viruses and protection from prying eyes. Where can I torrent safely now that Demonoid is gone?Sincerely, Lost and Leeching
Photo by Mmaxer (Shutterstock).
This is an interesting question, and the answer is going to go in directions you may not have expected. First, we need to clear up a few common misconceptions about BitTorrent and Demonoid. We’ve already recommended more secure ways to share files online, such as the much-safer Usenet (set it up in three easy steps here) or the truly private BitTorrent trackers. The main thing you need to know is that Demonoid, while a fine site, was not nearly as safe and anonymous as you probably thought.
In fact, many common BitTorrent “safety” precautions aren’t really doing you any good.
Demonoid Was Not a Private Tracker
The Problem: Demonoid was perceived as something great because it was considered to be a private tracker. You could only download torrents on Demonoid if you had an account, and you couldn’t just sign up for an account anytime you wanted. You either needed to get invited by another user or wait for one of its limited “open signup” periods.
However, Demonoid invitations were incredibly easy to come by, and open signups were held often, meaning virtually anyone could join the community. They had few rules on who was allowed to participate, what kind of quality was allowed, and they’d even sometimes list torrents from other trackers. All of these things together gave a false sense of security when in reality anyone could come on in and seed viruses, leech without seeding or track what you were downloading if you were pirating content.
The Solution: If you want faster, high-quality downloads with strict community rules, check out our guide to private trackers for suggestions. Note that they’ll be much harder to get into, so you’ll have to be patient and ready to seed your torrents 24/7.
Encryption and PeerBlock Do Not Protect You from Prying Eyes
The Problem: Many BitTorrent users, in an effort to hide their activity from media companies, the government, hackers or other organisations, encrypt their traffic and use a program called PeerBlock to block known snoopers from connecting to you. Unfortunately, neither of these solutions can truly hide you. PeerBlock can’t possibly know everyone that could try to snoop your traffic and is only going to give you a false sense of security. Many users have gotten “caught” torrenting while using PeerBlock. Similarly, while encryption used to protect you from ISP throttling, ISPs have found other means of snooping on your traffic.
The Solution: There is no harm in using encryption and PeerBlock, but they aren’t enough to keep your traffic hidden. If you really want to keep other people out of your business, you’ll need to use a proxy like BTGuard, a VPN or other similar methods. And you’ll probably have to pay money for these services, so if you’re looking for free solutions, you’re mostly out of luck.
Not All VPNs Are Created Equal
The Problem: It’s good practice to use a proxy or VPN service, but it’s pointless if you sign up for one that doesn’t take privacy seriously. Many VPN services, like the very popular HideMyAss, keep logs of all your activity and will gladly offer it to those who ask. This means your data is barely safer than if you had foregone the VPN in the first place.
The Solution: If you want to use a proxy or VPN service, do your research and find out how committed the provider is to privacy. Make sure they don’t keep logs and see what their policy is on sharing information with third parties. TorrentFreak has a great guide to finding a committed VPN provider, so I recommend starting there if you’re looking to anonymise your traffic.
The best way to avoid getting in trouble is not to pirate, and the best way to get high-quality content is to go to the original, physical source (if possible). But unfortunately BitTorrent is under so much heat that even legitimate BitTorrent users need to take precautions to avoid throttling, viruses and other problems. While Demonoid was a better site than most public trackers, it was not the Holy Grail of BitTorrent trackers by any means, and you should take this time to make sure you’re really being safe.
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