These are dark days for BitTorrent. Using it leaves you open to fake torrents, viruses, ISPs throttling your connection and media companies that snoop to see what you're downloading. If you want to avoid all that, you can create an uber-private BitTorrent community that only you and your friends can access. Here's how.
You're potentially open to these problems because most BitTorrent trackers allow anyone to come in and share files (a BitTorrent tracker, for those that don't remember, is the server that connects you with other BitTorrent users in order to download files). "Anyone" could include virus spreaders, snoopers and other untrustworthy folk. While joining a private tracker can help, many users feel they aren't private enough — after all, if you can get an invite, can't anyone?
What You'll Get: A Tracker Only Your Friends Can Join
You can do a lot of things to protect yourself when torrenting, but why go through all that trouble? Between you and your best friends, you potentially have a pretty solid collection of media and other files you could share without the need for other, less secure parties. We've shown you how to share your own files using BitTorrent, but if you want a bit more privacy, you can create your own BitTorrent tracker right on your home computer.
When you're done with this process, you'll have a (admittedly primitive) BitTorrent tracker running on your PC, sharing your files through torrents you create. Send those torrents to your friends, and they can download the files directly from you, without any other parties snooping. If your friends share their files too, you can pool your torrents together in a shared Dropbox folder (or something similar) and have a pretty sizable library of stuff to download, without the need for other unsafe channels.
Remember: doing this won't protect you if you're sharing copyrighted material. As with all our Evil Week posts, how you use this information is up to you.
Step One: Set Up Your Torrent Client
To get everything up and running, you'll need a torrent client that supports embedded trackers. We're going to use uTorrent for Windows as an example, but you can perform the same process with Vuze for Mac or qBitTorrent for Linux. Sadly, Transmission does not support embedded trackers, nor does uTorrent for OS X. Here's what you need to do:
Head to uTorrent's preferences and click on Advanced. Scroll down to
bt.enable_trackerand double-click on it to set it to "True".
- Restart uTorrent for your change to take effect.
- Reopen uTorrent and head back to the Preferences. This time, click on Connection in the left-hand sidebar. Take note of your listening port, and make sure "Randomize Port Each Start" is unchecked.
- Go to Advanced > WebUI in the preferences. If you aren't using the web UI to monitor torrents from afar, make sure "Alternative Listening Port" is unchecked (even if "Enable Web UI" is unchecked, the "Alternative Listening Port" box must be unchecked or you'll encounter problems). If you are using the web UI, you'll want to make note of the "Alternative Listening Port" instead of the port you found in step 3.
- Take the port you found in Step 3 (or 4) and forward it on your router using these instructions. This is required for friends to connect to your computer.
Again, if you're using Mac OS X or Linux, you'll have to perform the same steps, but with your torrent client of choice. For more information on setting up an embedded tracker in Vuze, check out this wiki entry. qBitTorrent users, check out this how-to to set up your embedded tracker.
Step Two: Set Up DynDNS For Easier Connections
Now your computer is set up to act as a private BitTorrent client. However, there's one catch: in order for your friends to connect to you, you'll need to add your IP address to every torrent you create, and most IP addresses change over time — which means your friends could get disconnected from your torrents. To solve this problem, we recommend setting up a service such as DynDNS or No IP. We won't go into too much detail about this process here, since we've shown you how to do it before. Once you've set it up, just write down your friendly domain name so you don't forget it — you'll need it in the next step.
Step Three: Create Your Torrents And Share Them
The last step is to actually gather the files you want to share, create torrents for them, and give those torrents to your friends. The process is very simple:
- Go to File > Create New Torrent and choose the file you want to share under "Select Source".
- Under "Trackers," put the following two lines, replacing 60457 with the port number you're using and using the appropriate friendly domain name:
- Check the "Start Seeding", "Preserve File Order" and "Private Torrent" checkboxes. The "Private Torrent" checkbox ensures that other BitTorrent users can't share the torrent via PEX and DHT, meaning only those you give the torrent file can join your swarm.
- Click "Create and Save As" and save your torrent. Send it to your friend, and when they add it to their client, you should begin seeding the torrent
Repeat this process for each file or group of files you want to share (and have your friends do the same). This can take a while initially if you're sharing a large collection. You can share the torrent files however you want, but the simplest way is to create a shared Dropbox folder for you and your friends, where everyone dumps the torrents of the files they're sharing. That way, you have your own mini search engine for finding exactly what you're looking for on your private tracker. Make sure you leave your computer and torrent client on when you're seeding, or your friends won't be able to download your files.
Don't forget to enable encryption so your ISP doesn't throttle you, either — whether you're using a private tracker or not, those same rules still apply. If you want, you can also use a proxy or VPN to anonymise your traffic, but it isn't really necessary as long as you trust your friends, since only they can see what you're downloading.
The Downsides To This Method
Like most BitTorrent privacy methods, this isn't perfect. This approach doesn't actually give you fine-grained control over who joins the tracker, so if one of your friends hands a torrent off to someone else, they'll be in on the tracker too without your consent (so make sure you trust your friends). In addition, anyone can seed on your tracker if they know your IP address or dynamic DNS hostname, though that's unlikely — and even if they did know it, all they'd be able to do is seed their own torrents and take up resources on your computer; they wouldn't be able to see what you're downloading.
Download speeds will also be slower, since you'll usually only be downloading the torrent from one person instead of many — that means your download speed is pretty much limited to your friend's upload speed. However, the extra privacy may be worth the slower speeds to you. After all, this doesn't have to be your only method of using BitTorrent — you can still download other torrents from public and private trackers as normal. This is just a simple way to take advantage of your network of friends, and share files with each other more privately than you can elsewhere.
Lifehacker's Evil Week is all about topics such as password cracking, social hacking and other 'questionable' tricks. Knowledge is power, and whether you use that power for good or evil is in your hands.