BitTorrent isn't the quiet haven it once was. These days, everyone's looking to throttle your connection, spy on what you're downloading, or even send you an ominous letter. If you use BitTorrent, you absolutely need to take precautions to hide your identity. Here's how to do that with a simple proxy.
This post originally detailed the setup of a proxy called BTGuard. Since its original publication in 2011, we've changed our recommendation to Private Internet Access due to BTGuard's slow speeds, bad customer service and other difficulties. If you're still interested in using BTGuard, you can find instructions on its website.
You have a few different options when it comes to hiding your BitTorrent activity, but we've found that a proxy is the most convenient and easiest to set up, so that's what we're going to cover here. We've talked about proxies a few times before, most notably with our original guide on how to set up BTGuard, our guide to safe torrenting post-Demonoid. Unfortunately, BTGuard has never been a great service — it was just the most convenient. Thankfully, Private Internet Access — one of our favourite VPN providers — now provides a proxy very similar to BTGuard, but with faster speeds and better customer service. So we recommend using it instead, using the instructions below. If you don't want to use a proxy, go to the end of the article for alternative suggestions.
How a BitTorrent Proxy Works
When you download or seed a torrent, you're connecting to a bunch of other people, called a swarm. All of those people can see your computer's IP address — they have to in order to connect. That's all very handy when you're sharing files with other netizens, but file sharers such as yourself aren't necessarily the only people paying attention. Piracy monitoring groups (often paid for by the entertainment industry either before or after they find violators) also join BitTorrent swarms, but instead of sharing files, they're logging the IP addresses of other people in the swarm — including you — so that they can notify your ISP of your doings.
A proxy (like Private Internet Access) funnels traffic — in this case, just your BitTorrent traffic — through another server, so that the BitTorrent swarm will show an IP address from them instead of you. In this case, Private Internet Access' proxy server is in the Netherlands. That way, those anti-piracy groups can't contact your ISP, and your ISP has no cause to send you a harrowing letter.
But wait, can't the piracy groups then go to the anonymiser service and requisition their logs to figure out what you're downloading? Theoretically, yes, but if you're using a truly good anonymiser, they don't keep logs, so there's no paper trail of activity leading back to you. All the piracy monitors see is a proxy service sharing a file, and all your ISP sees is you connecting to a proxy service. If you encrypt your BitTorrent traffic (which we recommend), your ISP won't even be able to see that you're using BitTorrent.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, there are a few downsides. Most notably:
- Anonymity isn't free. Well, at least the ones worth using aren't. Private Internet Access costs $US6.95 a month or $US39.95 a year. That isn't very expensive though, and it's well worth it for the privacy you get.
- You'll get slower download speeds. Running your connection through another server inevitably slows you down, although how much depends on what torrent you're downloading, who from and a lot of other factors. In my experience, more popular torrents stayed at their top speed of 3.4MB/s (my bandwidth cap) with a proxy, while other less popular torrents slowed down from 1MB/s to about 500-600kb/s. Your mileage may vary. I lost significantly less speed with Private Internet Access than I did with BTGuard though.
- Not every BitTorrent client supports proxies. uTorrent for Windows works great, but Mac and Linux favourite Transmission sadly does not support proxies. You'll have to use something like Vuze or Deluge instead (or try one of the alternatives listed at the end of this article).
- Nothing is foolproof. Using a proxy may bring you increased anonymity, but nothing is guaranteed unless you avoid BitTorrent entirely.
Ready to get started? Here's what you need to do.
How to Set Up the Private Internet Access Proxy
Setting up a proxy just involves signing up for a service and checking a few boxes in your BitTorrent client. We'll be using Private Internet Access and uTorrent for Windows for this guide, but you can tweak things to fit your own setup pretty easily.
Step 1: Sign Up for Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access is primarily a VPN provider. We'll talk a bit more about VPNs later in this post, but what we really want is the SOCKS5 proxy that comes with their VPN service. So, head to Private Internet Access' website and sign up for its VPN service. We recommend starting out with a monthly plan to see if you like it before buying a whole year's subscription.
Once you've signed up, Private Internet Access will email you your username and password. Log into the system with those credentials, and change your password from the client control panel.
Step 2: Generate a Proxy Password
Your account credentials are only to manage your account — we'll need a new set of credentials for the Proxy service. In the client control panel, click the "Generate Password" button under "PPTP/L2TP/SOCKS Password". This is what we'll be using to configure our BitTorrent client. Write down the username and password that appears here (it's different than your regular account credentials)
Step 3: Configure Your BitTorrent Client
Next, open up uTorrent and head to Options > Preferences > Connection. Under Proxy Server, choose Socks5 under "Type" and enter the following information:
- Proxy Type: Socks5
- Proxy Port: 1080
- Username: Your Private Internet Access Proxy username (from step two)
- Password: Your Private Internet Access Proxy password (from step two)
Check all of the other boxes under "Proxy" and "Proxy Privacy". Your Connection preferences should look exactly like the image above.
Step 4: See If It's Working
To ensure that it's working, head over to CheckMyTorrentIP.com. This site can tell you what your IP address is, and compare it to the IP address of your torrent client, which will let you know whether your proxy is working correctly. To test it, hit the "Generate Torrent" button, and open the resulting torrent in uTorrent. Then, go back to your browser, and hit the Refresh button under the "Check IP" tab. If it's the same as your browser IP — which you'll see next to the Refresh button — then your proxy isn't working, and you'll want to double-check all of the above settings. If it shows a different IP address (which should be in the Netherlands), then Private Internet Access is successfully tunnelling all your traffic for you.
Other Ways to Anonymise Your BitTorrent Traffic
A proxy like Private Internet Access is the most convenient way to anonymise your traffic, but it isn't the only way. If you want to try something else, here are a few other tricks we recommend.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network (or VPN) is very similar to a proxy, but instead of rerouting just your BitTorrent traffic, it reroutes all your internet traffic. For some people, that's a good thing — it gives you privacy all over the web. However, it can also be inconvenient, navigating you to different web pages for that VPN's country or causing issues with streaming services. If you have a NAS, you can set up your VPN on it to route only your NAS traffic, which is a perfect option for downloading anonymously. VPNs are about the same price as most proxies, and I personally have found that I get better speeds with most VPNs than I do with a proxy.
So which VPN should you use? Check out TorrentFreak's list of the best VPNs for BitTorrent, as well as our Hive Five on the subject to find a provider that works for you.
Rent a Seedbox
Unlike proxies and VPNs, seedboxes don't route your BitTorrent traffic through another country. Instead, you actually rent a dedicated server that resides in that country and do all your torrenting through that machine. They usually have insanely fast speeds, and if you're on a private tracker, they'll seed 24/7, giving you a great ratio. Once you download a torrent on your seedbox, you can just connect to it via FTP and download the file as fast as your home connection allows. Note that seedboxes also require a bit of extra setup, and some may require a little command line work to get running.
Seedboxes are more expensive than proxies and VPNs, ranging from entry-level boxes at $US10 or $US20 a month to fast boxes with more storage at $US50 or even $US100 a month. But it offers a lot of advantages over proxies and VPNs — if you have the money to spare and want super-fast speeds and a good ratio, we highly recommend getting a seedbox. Providers like Whatbox, Feral and Bytesized come highly recommended, but a bit of searching can provide you with alternative options. Shop around and see which one's best for you.
Ditch BitTorrent Altogether
Your last alternative is to try a new file sharing service entirely, like Usenet. It offers encrypted connections and doesn't connect to peers, so others can't track what you're doing. It doesn't always have the selection that BitTorrent has (depending on what you're downloading), but it offers a lot of other advantages, most notably higher speeds and better privacy. Check out our guide to getting started with Usenet to see if it's right for you.