How to hide BitTorrent from your ISP

How to hide torrents from your ISP

Torrents are still incredibly popular because of the insanely fast download speeds and impressive variety of available content.

But just because you like file-sharing doesn’t mean your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has to know what you’re downloading (or from where).

In this guide, you’ll learn how to hide torrenting from your ISP and keep your downloads and browsing private (like they should be).

Topics:

Why hide your torrents at all?

One of the most common questions BitTorrent newcomers ask is…

Why should I hide my torrent traffic from my internet provider?

Here a few of the best reasons:

  • Privacy – In the USA, your internet provider is legally allowed to monitor your browsing history and even sell that data to advertisers (or data brokers). They can see exact URLs you visit and even web searches.
  • Torrent Trolls – Some aggressive content owners (or rogue law firms) buy filesharing IP-address data and then send threatening letters to subscribers with cash demands.
  • Throttling – Many ISPs deliberately throttle torrent traffic (though they’ll deny it). If your torrents download slowly or you have buffering videos you’re probably getting throtttled.
  • Canceled Service – Some ISPs will outright cancel subscriber accounts if they get caught torrenting frequently or use a ton of bandwidth. In a rural area, there might not even been an alternative provider available.
  • Legality – Filesharing is more legal in some countries than others. If you live in a less-legal jurisdiction you may prefer to keep your ISP in the dark.

Our Advice: Don’t wait until something bad happens, protect yourself now. It’s easy & cheap with a VPN like NordVPN.

What your Internet Provider sees when you Torrent

What exactly does your ISP know about your bittorrent activity?

Alot. But probably not everything.

It really depends on how much your provider wants to know, what torrent sites you use, and whether you’re already using some encryption.

But if you’re not using a VPN (yet), here’s what they have the ability to know.

Your IP Address

If you don’t know this already, everyone’s IP address is visible when torrenting. That’s the most frequent way torrents are monitored.

And your ISP sure as heck knows your IP address (they gave it to you after all).

Websites you visit (including torrent sites)

All your internet activity flows through your provider’s data pipe. When you type a URL into your browser, they perform the DNS request to lookup the domain, and then they fetch the web page and deliver it to you.

So when you visit The Pirate Bay, your ISP knows it. And if your favorite torrent site doesn’t use SSL, then your ISP knows the exact URL (and filename) you’re about to download.

What type of traffic you’re transferring

We already established that 100% of your internet traffic flows through your ISP’s servers (including BitTorrent). But this stream isn’t just a big gush like a river.

Your traffic is actually made up of many many tiny drips (data packets). And these data packets aren’t very anonymous. They include header metadata that identifies the type of traffic, port number and destination IP address.

So basically your torrent traffic has a big “Hello my name is BitTorrent” sticker on it’s forehead.

And that’s just the surface. Your internet provider can (and probably does) use more advanced traffic-shaping techniques like Deep Packet Inspection that helps them learn the Content of your traffic (not just the metadata).

Your ISP can see:

  • Your IP address
  • Whether you’re using BitTorrent
  • What torrent sites you’re visiting
  • The exact torrent files you’ve downloaded

So…basically everything.

Solution: Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN is a fantastic tool that can instantly protect your torrents from ISP snooping, blocking & throttling. It literally takes a single click to change your IP address and encrypt all your traffic.

How it works:

The VPN is a lightweight app for your computer or smartphone. It routes all of your traffic through a remote server and does two things:

  1. Private IP Address: All torrent peers and websites will now see an anonymous IP address that belongs to your VPN service. They won’t see your real IP address (assigned by your ISP).
  2. Encryption: The VPN tunnel is encrypted, meaning all of your web traffic is scrambled using an incredibly strong password so intermediaries (like your internet provider) can’t read it.

There are 100’s of VPN services, but only a handful our suitable for torrenting.

A just of few of those are truly excellent. These are our favorite VPNs. Prices range from around $4-$10 per month depending on the subscription length.

Benefits of a VPN:

  • Torrent peers don’t see your real IP address
  • Your ISP won’t know you’re visiting torrent sites
  • They won’t be able to inspect or read your torrent traffic (encrypted)
  • Prevent throttling (slowing) of your downloads

Upgrade your security even more

Most VPNs work right out of the box, but there are a ways to plug possible leaks.

  • Enable DNS Leak Protection: Most VPNs have their own private DNS servers (lookup web addresses) but your ISP may still try to hijack your DNS queries. Most services now build DNS Leak Protection into their software. Turn it on if it’s optional. If you use NordVPN or IPVanish it’s always on.
  • Turn on the Kill-Switch: Occasionally the VPN connection might fail or the software will crash suddenly. Turn on your provider’s kill-switch to instantly shut of your internet access until the VPN is restored.
  • Verify the VPN is working: You should always check your BitTorrent IP address using a special tracking torrent.

How effective is a VPN?

When properly configured, a VPN is a very effective way to hide your torrent activity from your internet provider (and other BitTorrent spies). Just make sure to turn on (and verify) your VPN connection before starting a torrent.

Are there other methods besides a VPN?

Yes and no. There are other torrent privacy tools, but none are as simple and effective as a VPN. A Seedbox is the closest alternative.

Other solutions like a zero-log proxy aren’t as effective because the proxy tunnel isn’t encrypted.

What will my ISP see when I use a VPN

They’ll still see the amount of data you’re transmitting, the fact that it’s VPN traffic and they’ll know the location of the server it’s going to. But your provider won’t be able to see the content of your traffic.

Are there any Free VPNs?

There are some Free (usually limited) VPN services, but very few of them allow torrents. Most keep logs as well. Windscribe is the best free services we’ve found.

What are the downsides of using a VPN

Your maximum speed will typically be lower than with your direct ISP connection. The drop can range from 1% to 70% depending on how far away the VPN server is and how fast your internet speed is. Some services use very crowded servers and you may get hit with captcha challenges on google and other websites.

VPN vs. Other Encryption Methods

VPNs aren’t the only encryption software out there. In fact, most torrent clients have a built-in protocol encryption option. So which is better?

VPN encryption is stronger. Far stronger.

In-client encryption

uTorrent, Vuze, QBittorrent, Deluge, Tixati, Transmission and most desktop torrent clients all offer a version of protocol encryption. This allows you to create encrypted connections to individual peers. This sounds great in theory but there are a couple problems:

  1. It’s not always full-stream encryption
  2. The encryption method is very weak
  3. There are still packet headers identifying the traffic as BitTorrent
  4. Forced Encryption reduces your download speeds and available peers
  5. It doesn’t encrypt your web browsing on torrent sites

By contrast, VPN encryption is practically unbreakable, doesn’t reduce your number of peers, is much more effective against throttling. I

Learn more: our BitTorrent Encryption Guide

In Conclusion

Your ISP can (and probably does) know when you download torrents online. However by using a VPN you can add a layer of strong encryption and hide your p2p activity quite easily.

When you finally subscribe to a VPN you’ll wonder why you waited so long. And it can be free to try. NordVPN is a zero-log VPN with a 45-day 100% refund policy.

Ryan McCarthy

Ryan is the editor and head reviewer. He's been a tech geek and digital privacy enthusiast since the Y2k freakout in '99. When not writing BitTorrent tutorials, he can usually be found sipping a lager or playing pickup football (the real kind).

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