The Best VPNs for BitTorrent

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What Is BitTorrent, Anyway?

BitTorrent has a bad reputation that is, oddly, both unfair and much deserved. BitTorrent addresses the bottleneck created when too many people are trying to download the same files—be they bootlegged movies, hot music tracks, drm-free books, or photos of dogs—at the same time. No one wants to wait in a queue when a server gets overloaded, no matter what they're downloading. BitTorrent turns a file's popularity into a benefit, by having each of the downloaders distribute pieces of the file to every other downloader. Best of all, it's decentralized, with no main server that might choke under burden of traffic. This is what's known as a peer-to-peer model. Torrenting is a clever solution; but while it can be used for legitimate puprposes, its distributed, uncontrolled nature also makes it the ideal way to share and download copyrighted content online.

BitTorrent's dubious distinction as the pirate's tool of choice has led to crackdowns from ISPs on the use of BitTorrent—regardless of whether people are using it legally or otherwise. With a virtual private network, or VPN, your traffic is encrypted and secured to ensure that no one can see what you're up to. Even when you're torrenting. The catch is, not every VPN service allows Torrenting. But before I get into which VPNs allow BitTorrent traffic, here's a little background on just what a VPN is.

What Is a VPN?

When you surf the web, your internet traffic isn't necessarily secure. If you're connected to a public Wi-Fi network, someone on that network might be monitoring your activities. Clever attackers can even create bogus Wi-Fi networks that impersonate legit ones, tricking you into connecting and exposing your personal information.

Out on the web, one of the many ways that spies and advertisers track your movements is by noting your IP address. Your ISP also has remarkable insight into what you do online, and has even been given the green light to sell anonymized user metadata. Thanks, Congress!

When you use a VPN, all your web traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel between your computer and a server operated by the VPN company. Anyone snooping on your activities, even if they are the ones running the network, won't be able to see what you're up to. Even the ISPs will be blind. Advertisers and others on the web will have a harder time tracking your movements because your true IP address is hidden behind that of the VPN server. It all boils down to this: You need a VPN.

Using a VPN goes a long way to improving your personal security, but it's not a bulletproof, magical solution. When it comes to security, I often say that it's better to think of tools like VPNs as raising the effort required to attack you. If someone is willing to invest the time and, probably, money in targeting you specifically, they will eventually get what they're after. Also, a VPN needs to be part of a layered approach to security and can't take the place of critical tools, such as good antivirus software.

Everything Is Free Now

I often receive emails asking about the interplay between VPNs and BitTorrent. Some of them have included admissions of piracy, and even justifications for it—such as the material in question being out of print or just hard to obtain or not available for sale in a given locale. I sympathize; the state of the public domain has been woefully neglected, and market forces often keep worthy art and materials out of the hands of those who want it—even if they are willing to pay for it. But no matter how just the reasoning, the law (however problematic) is the law. ISPs and, yes, other web companies, are compelled to answer when rights holders come with a list of offenses carried out on their data infrastructure. And some have even taken proactive steps to avoid these confrontations.

If you are going to use BitTorrent for whatever reason, good luck to you. If you are going to use a VPN, more power to you. But be sure that you take the time to read the VPNs terms of service (or this article) before you start. And be aware of the local laws and possible penalties before you start, whatever your willingness to obey them. "I didn't know the law" or "I don't agree with the law" won't hold up as defenses in a court, so make sure you can live with any potential punishments should you choose to do something illegal.

Will a VPN Hide My Torrenting From My ISP or the Police?

As I said, no security tool is bulletproof. On paper, a VPN should prevent your ISP from seeing your traffic as it flows across the web. It should also make it much, much harder for someone on the outside to identify particular traffic as yours.

That said, there are always exceptions. We've seen, time and time again, that user error and efforts by law enforcement have undermined the protection offered by services like Tor or VPNs. Timing attacks, for example, can correlate packet traffic at a VPN server with activity on your own network.

And in some cases, the problem may be the VPN itself. If the VPN company keeps copious logs about user activity—specifically, the identity of the user, which server they connected to, when—that information could potentially be obtained by law enforcement. The best way to stay out of trouble is to never do anything troublesome, of course.

Can I Use BitTorrent on My VPN?

Most VPN services are completely fine with you using BitTorrent or P2P services while using their products. There are a few notable exceptions: Norton WiFi Privacy, Spotflux Premium, and TunnelBear all specifically prohibit the use of BitTorrent.

That said, the services that do allow torrenting often have restrictions. Some, for example, may require that you only use BitTorrent when connected to specific VPN servers. NordVPN labels the servers where torrenting is acceptable. Avira Phantom VPN, on the other hand, does not make any distinction about user traffic, so you can torrent to your heart's content. Pretty much every VPN service that allows torrenting also explicitly forbids breaking copyright law, however.

Some VPNs have tools that are particularly useful for torrenting. NordVPN is one of several companies that offers static IP addresses for purchase, which may be desirable in some circumstances. TorGuard VPN has built its entire reputation around protecting torrenters. In addition to the usual VPN protection, TorGuard also offers static IP addresses and access to special high-bandwidth connections, for an additional fee.

What About Speeds?

When you use a VPN, your web traffic is usually traveling through more fiber and more machines. The practical upshot is that your connection speeds are affected by all that extra travel. For downloading large files, this can mean a longer wait before you get the completed file.

But that's not always the case. Over the past two years, PureVPN has consistently shown that it increases download speeds over both local and international connections. In the most recent round of testing, it boosted download speeds by 346.4 percent when connected to a local server, and 403.8 percent when connected to a far-flung server in another country—as you would be if you were spoofing your location.

PureVPN is also one of the very few VPNs to offer something called Split Tunneling. This lets you choose which apps route their traffic through the encrypted VPN tunnel and which take the faster, albeit less secure, journey outside the tunnel. With this feature, you could send just your downloads through the tunnel, while the rest of your computer's operations hum along at normal speed.

If you're more concerned about protecting your browser traffic than your downloads, you can install a VPN browser plug-in. This routes just your browser traffic through the VPN, and leaves everything else alone. KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, Private Internet Access, TunnelBear VPN, IPVanish, and HotSpot Shield Elite offer browser plug-ins. The Opera browser also now includes a surprisingly fast VPN service integrated directly into the browser.

Note that VPNs aren't just for your Windows PC, either. There are Android VPNs, iPhone VPNs, and even Mac VPNs. That said, you're less likely to want a VPN to protect your BitTorrent traffic over a mobile device.

VPN Reliability and Accessibility Issues

The extra stops and processes for your data and the distance introduced by VPNs can make a normal browsing experience somewhat hiccupy. Suddenly losing connectivity while the VPN resets is mildly annoying in day-to-day life, but I could see how such interruptions could really mess up a large download.

If you plan on using a VPN while torrenting, consider the ramifications of the kill switch. This feature, found in just about every VPN service, prevents apps from sending data over the internet when the VPN is disconnected. The idea is that it prevents any information from being transmitted in the clear. The avid downloader needs to decide if they want total and complete protection, or would rather not have their download interrupted.

Also, not all websites like it when you connect via VPN. Although there are some VPNs that work with Netflix and Hulu, these and similar services outright block most VPN users. I've encountered many websites, apps, and services that simply don't work right when a VPN is in use. This might impact when and how you decide to download via VPN.

Location, Location, Location

While VPN services have servers all over the world, the company does have to be based somewhere on the planet. And that somewhere might have data retention laws that require the VPN company to either collect and maintain user data for a set period of time.

Understanding what kind of information a VPN company collects, and how long it is maintained, can be hard to figure out. To get the answer, you may have to wade through unending FAQ pages and opaque terms of service written in arcane legalese. If the VPN company you're considering can't clearly explain what information it gathers and how long it will be kept, then it's probably not a great service.

When I review VPNs, I make a point to ask company representatives directly if they maintain user logs and if they are subject to mandatory data retention laws. You can read through my full reviews to see their answers. So far, the vast majority have taken protecting user privacy very seriously.

Note that national and international law as it relates to data storage and whether that data can be turned over to law enforcement is complicated and constantly changing. A good service today might choose or be compelled to alter its policies tomorrow.

VPN Performance

There are three important numbers to consider when choosing a VPN, aside from price. The first is the number of devices the VPN allows per subscription. On average, VPN services let you use up to five devices at a time. More than that, and you usually have to pay. If the VPN you're looking at offers fewer than five devices (they might be called "simultaneous connections"), the company better offer something pretty nifty to balance out that restriction.

Second is the number of servers. Unless you purchase a VPN server yourself (which you can do!), you'll have to share that server with other people using the VPN service. For each person added to the server, your slice of the bandwidth pie shrinks a little bit. The more servers a company has on hand, the less likely you are to find yourself crowded in with a bunch of other downloaders. If you're keen to have a VPN server to yourself, you can purchase static IP addresses from TorGuard VPN, or take advantage of KeepSolid VPN Unlimited's Personal VPN Server offering.

The issue of bandwidth sharing is compounded when it comes to torrenting, because many VPNs only allow it on specific servers. The more servers, the better the odds that there will be more torrent-friendly servers, too.

Last is the number of server locations. The more server locations there are, the more likely you are to find one nearby, and the nearer the server, the better your web performance tends to be. Having more server locations also gives you more options to spoof your location, if you're into that kind of thing. That's an especially important ability if you're trying to access Netflix from a region other than the one for which you have subscribed.

A good VPN service offers more than 500 servers across the globe, and diverse server location options. A robust VPN service has more than 1,000 servers. The king of the heap as far as servers go is Private Internet Access. This company offers over 3,000 servers to subscribers, and has a good mix of locations to boot.

Encrypt Your Torrent Traffic

Perhaps you'll decide that all this effort isn't worth it just to secure your BitTorrent downloads. But even so, you should keep in mind that a VPN is still the best way to keep your internet traffic private and secure. Whether you decide to spring for a paid account, or dip your toe in with a free VPN, it's about time you started living the encrypted lifestyle.

Featured Best VPNs for BitTorrent Reviews:

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    KeepSolid VPN Unlimited Review

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    $8.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: With affordable and flexible pricing, solid speed test performance, browser extensions, and advanced features, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited has it all.

     Read Full Review
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    NordVPN Review

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    $11.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: NordVPN is a robust VPN service with an excellent collection of features, all wrapped in a slick Windows client that can easily secure your online activities. It's an Editors' Choice winner.

     Read Full Review
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    Private Internet Access VPN Review

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    $6.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Private Internet Access offers an incomparable number of VPN servers along with ad-blocking and other advanced features for a reasonable price. It's not the prettiest, but it's by far the mo...

     Read Full Review
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    PureVPN Review

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    $10.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: PureVPN shows outstanding speed test results for the second year in a row, making it the fastest virtual private network we've tested. That earns it our Editors' Choice endorsement.

     Read Full Review
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    IPVanish VPN Review

    $11.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: VPN service IPVanish secures your web traffic from prying eyes. It's not for newcomers, nor is it cheap, but it does pack some powerful features for experienced VPN users.

     Read Full Review
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    AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite Review

    $12.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite is a fast and capable VPN that throws in antivirus protection along with other extras. But it's still expensive for what you get.

     Read Full Review
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    Avira Phantom VPN Review

    $10.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Avira Phantom VPN secures the web browsing of as many devices as you like, and allows you to torrent to your heart's content, but it's light on features and likely won't please speed-conscio...

     Read Full Review
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    Golden Frog VyprVPN Review

    $9.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Golden Frog VyprVPN offers advanced features, a robust service, and a friendly interface, but you won't be able to cover as many devices as the competition.

     Read Full Review
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    TorGuard VPN Review

    $9.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: TorGuard VPN is the best bet for BitTorrent seeders and leechers who want to secure their web traffic. It's packed with features sure to appeal to security wonks, but its client is clunky.

     Read Full Review

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