If you want to transfer large files online, torrent downloads are the way to go. But while many internet users jump right in and begin downloading files, others wonder whether it’s safe or even legal. Here’s what you need to know about torrent download safety from both security and legal standpoints.
What Is a Torrent Download?
Most internet users are familiar with downloading files online. But a torrent download works differently than standard file downloads. Direct downloads come from a single source while torrents travel via peer-to-peer connections.
Instead of downloading a file directly from a server, you’ll access torrents via the server and online peers. The main benefit of download torrents is that they reduce stress on servers. That’s because as you request to download a file, multiple “pieces” come from different users who already have the downloaded file.
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Rather than managing multiple downloads to separate clients, the server effectively sends out one download that travels via peer-to-peer connections to numerous users.
Benefits to users with download torrents are ease of use, wide availability and, of course, the zero-dollar price tag. Transferring files via torrent download is free and there’s no learning curve if you’ve downloaded files from the internet before.
Are Download Torrents Legal?
It sounds too good to be true, so there must be a catch, right? In fact, download torrents are technically legal. Essentially, torrent download technology is a means of large file transfer. Using a torrent service or technology is not inherently illegal.
However, there are questionable practices relating to download torrents. Not all platforms respect copyrights and many users have no qualms about downloading illegally distributed content. However, every torrent download starts with a platform and client that allows you to access files.
Torrent Download Platforms
A torrent platform allows users to share and download content, and BitTorrent is currently the biggest name in file sharing. BitTorrent is a communication protocol and has its own download client programs across multiple operating systems.
Users can transfer digital video or digital audio files for free with BitTorrent. However, its system is reportedly insecure and so more susceptible to attacks than mainstream paid download sites.
Still, BitTorrent isn’t the only free file download site for torrents, and many more are likely to crop up as the demand for free content grows.
Torrent Platform Guidelines
While many websites list recommendations for “legal” platforms, a good rule to follow is to never download copyrighted content without the express permission of the creator of said content.
Although download torrents are legal, users who download illicit files such as unreleased movies are performing an illegal act. To protect yourself, avoid downloading files that are copyright-protected. The only exceptions to this guideline are if the creator of the content wants the material to circulate online.
The drawbacks of illegal file-sharing are evident in the arrest of Artem Vaulin in 2016. His torrent website ranked as the most popular illegal file-sharing site and earned over 50 million visitors each month.
Because of Vaulin’s site, U.S. authorities note, the entertainment industry lost a staggering $1 billion in revenue. The case shows the U.S. government’s commitment to fighting digital piracy and highlights the seriousness with which they handle piracy offenses.
Vaulin’s federal investigation is on the extreme end of anti-piracy action. Still, any user who downloads illegal content may find themselves on the receiving end of a federal investigation. Therefore, your legal safety is in your hands when it comes to taking risks with file sharing.
Torrent Security Risks
While the top priority for the entertainment industry is maintaining copyrights on digital video and audio files, users are more likely to focus on their personal security. In general, torrent download platforms do not address user anonymity or security.
However, some client programs offer additional protection to users who download torrent files. That said, security is still a big risk for users of these free-for-all platforms. Here are a few security risk considerations with download torrents.
Viruses and Malware
Any time you download a file from the Web, there’s the potential for it to contain a virus. However, there’s no data to indicate that download torrents are any more dangerous to your system than other types of downloads.
That said, you should always use antivirus software to scan files after download but before opening them. Although you may trust the download platform, user-generated content can come from anyone anywhere. Unfortunately, not every contributor has good intentions.
Because every file that you download technically travels from another computer’s folders, that also means that the system is accessing your folders to retrieve files. However, each torrent download uses a specific folder for file storage, and that folder’s purpose is to share with others.
While users may worry about file security, since most people don’t store sensitive data in torrent download folders, this isn’t a serious risk. However, turning off file sharing may be a good preventative measure, just in case.
Because a download torrent uses each user’s IP address while transmitting information, it’s possible that a hacker could use that information to target users. That said, it would take much trial and error for hackers to go through each IP address and search for an unsecured device.
In general, scanning for malware and viruses should be enough to discourage hackers, but setting passwords for secure files, keeping firewalls active, and turning off remote features add another layer of protection. You can also consider investing in a cheap VPN for that extra layer of added security, although be aware that this may decrease your potential download speed depending on the quality of provider you choose.
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