Torrent Privacy Flaws: Is an IP Leak Putting You at Risk?

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Torrent Privacy Flaws: Is an IP Leak Putting You at Risk? - Summary

When you torrent, you run the risk of an IP leak. This means that anyone could find out your general location, and your ISP could track what you’re doing too. An IP leak while torrenting could expose you to other risks, including:

  • DDoS attacks against your IP
  • Targeted attacks, such as Remote Desktop takeover by cybercriminals
  • Prosecution for downloading illegal files, something we advise against

To improve your online safety when torrenting, always use a trusted VPN. Our best VPN for torrenting is NordVPN, as it has a comprehensive privacy policy, a strictly no-logging policy, and dedicated DNS servers to help protect against IP leaks.

There’s more information on IP leaks and the general risks of torrenting in our full article, below.

If you’re using torrent clients, you might want to consider hiding your IP address. When you torrent, you’re exposing your IP address that you’re using to everybody with whom you share files, which could result in aa IP leak. And if you’re not using a VPN, you’ll be exposing your general location to countless strangers online. In most cases, this won’t be an issue, but it does leave you open to certain risks.

That said, you also need to be sure that you’re using a trusted torrent client to avoid the risks associated with torrenting. By choosing one of the best torrent clients and using a trusted VPN, you’ll minimize the risk of an IP leak leaving you vulnerable to third parties.

What is an IP Leak?

It’s possible for an IP leak to occur, which essentially means that your real IP address is shown instead of your VPN IP address. Even if your IP isn’t exposed, other types of leaks could reveal personal information about you or the websites you visit. This could include a DNS leak or a WebRTC leak.

This is one of the reasons we recommend using paid VPNs, as they offer a more secure and stable connection. With the best VPNs, like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, or CyberGhost, you’re protected.

What is a DNS leak?

When you navigate to a URL like Google.com, your computer send information packets to a DNS server, which in turn requests the website’s IP address. This results in your computer being directed to the appropriate website.

When connected to the internet without a VPN, your internet service provider’s DNS servers handle the request. This means that your online activity is logged in plain text. Some ISPs will keep logs of these requests. They may even be asked to hand them over to authorities as part of an investigation.

However, when connected to a VPN, these DNS requests are encrypted and routed through private servers. As a result, your ISP does not get to see which websites you’re visiting. But if a request is unintentionally routed to your ISP while you’re running a VPN, it’s classified as a DNS leak.

Your IP address won’t be exposed, but this can still cause other problems. For example, some streaming services block overseas visitors based on location data from DNS leaks, even if your IP isn’t exposed. Check out our article that covers WebRTC and WebGL leaks for more information.

The good news is that with a trusted VPN provider, you’re unlikely to suffer from these types of DNS leaks. Providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN use dedicated DNS servers and monitor for leaks. Both providers also offer tools that let you check whether your IP is being leaked by the DNS or WebRTC.

What’s an IP Address?

Your IP address (Internet Protocol Address) is automatically assigned by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) in most cases. It’s a unique number that identifies your online connection. Every website has an IP address, but it’s masked and replaced with the website name by the browser.

For example, when you want to run a search query, you likely navigate to Google.com. However, your browser is actually searching for the website’s IP address (74.125.141.104).

Who can see your IP address when torrenting?

When you use a torrent client to download files, you expose your IP address to strangers online. You do this by joining a P2P (peer to peer) network or a “torrent swarm”. When you open a torrent file, your torrent client is instructed to seek the IP addresses of every other user in that swarm. All of the combined computers work together to create a “peer to peer” chain, downloading small parts of the file from each and sharing the work out among all the computers. Essentially, each computer plays the role of a server, “seeding” the files.

This means that everybody within a torrent swarm could see your IP address. Using your IP address, they could find out your location and even your internet service provider. Your IP address exposes the city you are logging in from, and some smart trackers can narrow the IP address to a specific region.

Why Hide Your Torrent IP?

Your IP address is linked to your device. With this information, your ISP could easily locate your real identity. If you’re only using legal torrents, then this shouldn’t be an issue. But some ISPs and countries are against torrenting, so you could expose yourself to consequences that might include losing your internet service or fines.

What’s more, some people choose to torrent copyrighted material – something that we at VPNOverview are against – and this could expose you to legal risks. To reiterate, torrenting copyrighted material is against the law, regardless of your location. Your personal risk is even greater when doing so without masking your IP.

And finally, perhaps the biggest risk, is that malicious third parties could use your IP address to target you and your computer personally. Simply by participating in a P2P network, you could be targeted by hackers based on your IP address.

Torrent Privacy Risks

Before you dive into the world of torrenting for quick and simple access to software and media, you should understand the risks associated with this activity. Below, we’ve highlighted the main risks linked to torrenting.

Malware risks

It’s not uncommon for malicious third parties to disguise malware (malicious software) inside of a torrent file, and this was especially prevalent in the early days of peer to peer sharing (Who doesn’t remember Limewire?). When you’ve finished downloading a torrent, get into the habit of scanning the downloaded file with an antivirus before opening it. Some torrent clients have a built-in feature that will do this for you.

Personal data security

Rest assured that when you share files on a P2P network, you’re not sharing everything on your computer. When you seed a file on the P2P network, you’re only exposing files stored within the same folder as the torrent you’re uploading. Others in your torrent network won’t be able to seed files from other folders on your computer. Just be sure to check that you’re not storing private information in the same file location as your torrents.

Breaking the law

When you download torrents, you should stick to non-copyrighted material to stay on the right side of the law. Torrenting copyrighted material is illegal worldwide, and we don’t condone using P2P file sharing to access data illegally. Nowadays, movie and music producers have tools at their disposal that can easily track such activity. If you download or share copyrighted material, you could lose your internet access, go to jail, or face hefty fines.

Exposing yourself to cybercriminals

One of the risks of using a torrent is exposing your online identity to hackers who are using the same P2P network. Since everyone in your P2P network can see your IP address, some malicious users may store these addresses for later use. They’ll then work through them in order until they find a vulnerable machine to attack. They can easily infect your computer with ransomware! So, ensure that you’re using an antivirus, disable remote control features on your machine, and make sure that you’re using a VPN to cloak your IP.

What is the Best VPN for Torrenting?

The best VPN for torrenting at the moment is NordVPN. We chose this provider because of the number of dedicated VPN servers offered, in addition to the provider’s detailed privacy policies. NordVPN also explicitly supports P2P file sharing as part of its VPN client, and they have a strict no-logging policy, plus protection against DNS leaks and IP leaks.

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How to Torrent Anonymously

A simple way to torrent anonymously is to make sure you’re using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) at the same time as your torrent client. VPN servers route your internet traffic through dedicated servers and assign you a new IP address. Any person or agency who happens to look at your internet activity will see the VPN IP address instead of your own.

How to Torrent Safely

Torrenting isn’t without its risks, but there are some steps you can take to minimize them. However, you should remember that torrenting copyrighted software or other files is illegal. We don’t condone torrenting copyrighted files or software. What’s more, governments and other agencies commonly monitor rule-breakers and have punished countless high-profile cases in the past.

Generally, people looking to stay on the right side of the law and torrent safely follow the below advice:

  • They use well-known, safe torrent software that doesn’t contain malware
  • You should always avoid torrenting copyrighted materials that could result in legal action and/or fines.
  • They utilize trusted VPN services like ExpressVPN to mask their IP address.

You’ll find more information on torrenting best-practice in our comprehensive guide.

How to check for IP leaks

If you want to be absolutely sure that your real IP address isn’t being leaked, just check it online! By using a website like DNS Leak, you can see what IP address you’re sharing online. This torrent leak test shows you which location you’re browsing from, which should be a match for your VPN server.

For example, if you’re using a U.S. VPN server, then the website should show your location as being in North America. Make sure your VPN connection is active before running the test.

You can also check out our online anonymity test, which contains a free tool to check what information you might be leaking online.

Cybersecurity journalist
Chris is a tech journalist with many years' experience covering the latest news in online privacy and cybersecurity. He's also a published author and works as a Product Manager for some of the most innovative software development companies.