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What is BitTorrent, and is it safe?

  • 22. November 2020
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BitTorrent is an Internet transfer protocol. Similar to HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol), BitTorrent allows you to download files from the Internet. Unlike HTTP and FTP, however, BitTorrent is a collaborative transfer protocol.

The BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) protocol looks for users who have files that other users need, and then downloads portions of those files from the different users at the same time. As a result, transfer rates are faster than HTTP and FTP because these protocols download files one after the other from a single source.

In 2005, BitTorrent was estimated to account for about 35 percent of all Internet traffic. BitTorrent experienced its highest popularity levels in early 2008, after which its popularity gradually declined as Internet speeds increased.

During the same period, streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime dominated the market with low-cost downloads. As a result, BitTorrent’s share of total download traffic in North America, which was 10 percent in 2010, declined to 3 percent by 2015.

Is torrenting legal?

BitTorrent is a legal file transfer protocol and its use – called “torrenting” – is also legal as long as the downloading/uploading of the content is legal. However, using BitTorrent to download copyrighted material, such as a brand-new movie, without permission from the copyright owner is not legal. Between 2010 and 2011, more than 200,000 users in the United States were sued for downloading copyrighted material through BitTorrent.

In the meantime, court cases have been replaced by copyright trolls who are authorized to act on behalf of the copyright owner.

Because BitTorrent technology reveals the IP addresses of devices connected to the BitTorrent data stream – known as torrents – trolls can determine which addresses are used to download files.

The trolls send letters with suggestions for comparison to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who then forward these letters to their customers.

In 2017, a typical settlement claim by the Rights Enforcement organization was $300. Since IP addresses are not considered legal entities, the trolls rarely obtain the names of individuals and therefore cannot enforce the claims.

Is there a legitimate reason for Torrenting?

Downloading patches, changes and updates for older, no longer supported video games, and user-generated modifications for supported games are valid reasons to use BitTorrent. GameUpdates.org is a legal website where these updates are summarized.

Access to movie classics, B-movies, indie music, books and software that are available publicly or through Creative Commons licenses is another valid reason to use BitTorrent. Examples of legitimate websites include Public Domain Torrents and the indie website Vodo.

Is it safe?

Torrenting should be used with caution. BitTorrent’s reputation as a technology used to pirate movies, games, and other copyrighted content precedes it. Internet service providers are aware of this and often send anti-piracy warning letters and information materials to BitTorrent users.

Repeat offenders are threatened with bandwidth reduction or account suspensions. ISPs cannot distinguish between legitimate BitTorrent sites that share Creative Commons licensed material and those that share pirated files.

In addition, hackers often use free, malware-infected content as bait to wreak havoc or launch attacks on users’ computers. To minimize this risk, BitTorrent streaming websites have emerged that claim to scan files for viruses and other malware.

The transparency associated with torrenting is also dangerous. Users’ ISP addresses and the content they submit is visible to all BitTorrent users, and this information is often collected by copyright holders, law enforcement, marketing companies, and hackers. It’s important for torrent users to protect themselves with one so that malware definitions are always up-to-date and operating system patches are installed as soon as they are available.

Encrypting an Internet connection over a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to hide the IP address is helpful, but does not provide absolute security. A good comparison can be found at vpncomparison.org.

How to use BitTorrent

As mentioned above, you should make sure that you have one and disguise your IP address over a VPN connection. You can then download and install a BitTorrent client. You can use your web browser to search for content on popular BitTorrent Tracker websites. You can then use the BitTorrent client to download the files you want.

While BitTorrent itself is legal, it is important to remember that a lot of the content that other users make available is pirated. Be sure to download only legal content and always scan all files for malware.