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A decade or so ago, torrenting was something that only real computer enthusiasts got involved with. Then, as fast broadband connectivity spread and many people became tech-savvy alongside the rise of social networking, more people discovered the temptations of easily sharing movies, TV shows, and music files.
Torrenting itself is perfectly legal; There’s nothing inherently wrong with peer-to-peer file sharing, and it can be used for completely honest purposes. However, everyone knows that the clear majority of traffic over these networks consists of films, music files, TV shows and cracked commercial software.
Copyright violation IS illegal in most places in the world. Copyright owners don’t like people stealing their material, and people can and do get caught out. While some countries have lax rules and monitoring processes that make the chance of detection less likely, others work hard to bring copyright thieves to justice.
However, as this Google Trends report shows, plenty of people are still interested in torrenting, suggesting they view the risk of getting caught as a worthwhile payoff for free media and software.
Deciding to use BitTorrent or similar services like Usenet must be an individual decision, and discussing it doesn’t equate to condoning it. As part of that discussion, it’s reasonable to point out that file sharing brings with it some IT security risks.
The remainder of this article discusses how to (at least partially) protect against some of those risks:
Use of antivirus
Unsurprisingly, not everyone who shares files online does it merely to be kind of strangers or to broaden global access to the latest TV episodes!
According to reports, 12 million file sharers pick up computer viruses every month due to the files they are downloading coming with an unexpected “sting in the tail.” Hackers often capitalize on people’s desire to get hold of the latest movies and software by hiding malware in the files. The malware can sometimes evade detection by arriving on a computer via the “back door,” thanks to the nature of file sharing.
So, it’s not just about installing antivirus, but also about using it to check and scan every torrented file before using it or opening it in any way. People who don’t do this stand a high chance of falling victim to cybercriminals.
Use of VPNs
Even file sharers who live in countries where the authorities seem to care little about file sharing probably don’t want to advertise their activities openly to their Internet Service Provider (ISP).
However, torrenting without the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) means doing just that. A VPN uses a private server to encrypt the traffic between the user’s broadband connection and the computers and servers they’re connecting with. This means all the ISP can see is encrypted data. It’s therefore considerably harder for ISPs to become aware of how the connection is being used.
Regular scans of your computer
We’ve already touched on the importance of antivirus – and, in truth, it’s incredibly important regardless of whether people indulge in file sharing.
However, those that do torrent regularly should make a point of regularly scanning their entire computer file system – and it’s possible to use supplemental tools to do this as well as the features within the antivirus software.
Malwarebytes is a product well worth looking into for this purpose. It scans for threats and “unwanted” programs that are sometimes beyond the scope of a standard antivirus product’s capabilities. Sometimes it’s not just torrented files that can include malware, but also programs and utilities, created to appear as if they perform useful functions but also posing dangers of their own. Scanning with a tool like this can enable users to identify if they’ve installed something that wasn’t what it professed to be.
Torrenting files comes with significant risks – not least the risk of prosecution if those files are illegal. It’s therefore impossible to condone the practice. However, for the many people who do decide the risk is worthwhile, these steps should reduce the chance of adding to it with malware and viruses.