Are torrents safe in 2021?
Torrents are part of the “grey web” — not quite dark web, though largely illegal. Where else do you get raw cuts of new movies or apps forbidden for distribution in your country? Using torrent sites is a Russian roulette. But before you’ve gone down that gold mine of content, you need a safety instruction.
So, are torrents safe? The quick answer is: NOT AT ALL. But read on, we’ll get to that.
What torrents downloads are
Torrent technology allows users to download the same file from multiple computers. They are also called peer-to-peer downloads.
What is a torrent file? Torrents were invented by genius programmer Brad Cohen back in 2011. Before torrents came about, you had to download a file from a single source. What Cohen did was decentralize the download game. Now each computer that possessed a copy of a file could give away its part to the whole network. So you’ve got one file spread among thousands of users — and good luck putting copyright restrictions on that!
Torrent files have a special file extension: .TORRENT.
What are torrent sites (torrent trackers)?
To use torrents, you need just 2 things a) install a torrent-reading application b) download a movie/app/audiobook from a torrent website. The latter are called torrent trackers. Each torrent tracker has its library of downloads and is maintained by the user community. In most cases, you’ll have to register and confirm your account.
Safe torrent applications: Do they exist?
These are world’s top 3 torrent programs that you should know about:
Is Bit Torrent safe?
BitTorrent is the first and most popular torrent protocol. It counts 130 million users in every country imaginable. BitTorrent is neither safe nor not safe because it depends on the software you’re downloading.
For the sake of the experiment, we’ll try to download a few programs using BitTorrent Web.
This image is for illustration purposes only — downloading cracked versions of apps is illegal!
Now, we’ll check if any malware has sneaked onto the computer along with these apps.
Step 1: Download CleanMyMac X (a free version from the developer’s site)
Step 2: Install the app and click on Malware Removal
Immediately, after installing a few cracked programs, CleanMyMac X found 4 adware apps on my computer.
Now, there’s no question if torrents are safe. This is the shortest way of infecting your Mac with malware. Whether the new pirated Netflix show is worth it, it’s up to you to decide.
Can I be prosecuted for torrenting?
One-third of all torrent downloads is pirated content. So yes, if you distribute someone else’s copyrighted material, you are breaking the law.
There have been documented cases of government confiscating users’ notebooks with illegal material contained on them. Back in 2016, Anton Vaulin, the creator of KickAssTorrents site was arrested after numerous copyright infringement claims.
Note that using torrents is perfectly safe if you share only non-copyrighted material. Remember, using BitTorrent or other torrent application doesn’t grant you anonymity. Unless you use VPN your IP-address remains visible and you can easily be tracked by copyright watchdogs. `
Some countries have draconian laws against torrenting. For example, in Japan, uploading torrents is punishable with up to 10 years of prison.
Seeding & leeching
Seeding means publicly sharing your files within the network. Leeching is way of parasitic behavior and is referred to those users who remove their downloads from public sharing. Some users prefer to use torrents only one-way as a means of getting content. On the flip side, most torrent tracker sites give you privileges for acting in a pro-community way. If you are an active “seeder”, you’ll see faster download speeds.
Torrents and computer performance
Using torrents is banned in most companies, and copyright infringement is not the only reason for that.
Drawbacks of using torrents:
- Slower internet speeds
- Risk of malware infection
- IP-address publicly visible
- Lots of disk-space taken
- Battery drains faster
When you use torrents, your computer is in active back-and-forth with the P2P network. This takes its toll on memory and available disk space. Obviously, your internet speed also goes down. But here is good news: most torrent clients have a pause button so you can stop and resume torrenting at any time.
Interestingly enough, some tech giants rely on BitTorrent to quickly share data within the company. Thus, Facebook uses it for updating portions of code within the company network.
Malware distributed via torrents
What type of pirated content is most likely to be infected with malware? You guessed it, it’s TV-shows, simply for being the most popular thing that people torrent.
Here’s what Kaspersky’s Lab statistics say. Game of Thrones, Arrow, and The Walking Dead (or rather their pirated versions) were responsible for 17% of all instances of torrent infections in 2019. Media content can just as well be hacked like any other software, though movies are never formally “installed” onto the computer.
How does it work? The malware is most usually placed inside hidden folders inside the downloaded package. You click on a shortcut that is disguised as an actual TV-show episode, and you get infected with malware. What’s in the menu? Trojans (30% of all cases), advertising bots (29%), downloaders (20%).
EvilQuest: Mac ransomware distributed via torrents
Are there any known threats that used torrent technology as a vehicle? In 2021, the examples are plenty. EvilQuest is one of such attack, scary enough because it encrypted data on users’ Macs. Unless they paid ransom, of course.
“It appeared to encrypt a number of settings files and other data files, such as the keychain files. This resulted in an error message when logging in post-encryption.”
Thomas Reed, security researcher
The issue with bundles
Some legitimate apps you’ll find on torrents are deliberately bundled with adware. Those shady alliances between software developers are still common practice. For some developers, bundling is the only remaining option to get on people’s computers. On a positive side, many artists, the caliber of Thom Yorke and Madonna are taking advantage of BitTorrent bundles to promote their material. Many believe that torrent bundles on pay-as-much-as-you-want basis, will save the music industry from doom due to piracy.
How to tell if a torrent is safe?
First, you should look at the number of seeders. The file with the most number of users seeding it is less likely to be infected. That’s it’s sort of community-proven. For example, here is the list of available Game of Thrones episodes that you can find on Pirate Bay:
SE stands for the number of seeders.
How to have a safe torrent experience
Finally, here are some strategies to minimize the potential harm from using torrents.
- Use ClearVPN to protect your IP address — MacPaw's first effortless VPN for a personalized and secure online experience.
- Never click on .EXE files disguised as movies.
For example, “game_of_thrones_2018.exe” is not a movie file
3. Check your downloads for viruses.
MacObserver magazine recommends CleanMyMac X because it recognizes viruses that are specific to macOS. This application is notarized by Apple and is therefore free from viruses itself.
What we liked is that CleanMyMac X is able to сheck .DMG archives before you open them.
Get a free edition of CleanMyMac X here — this is a really cool app.
4. Double-check partnership offers you install with the main app. Click responsibly!
5. Read comments from other users prior to installing anything.
6. Install a “sandbox” application that allows to run apps in an isolated environment.
7. Use independent third-party browsers, like Tor.
According to Go-gulf, 98% of all content you’ll find on torrents is protected by copyright laws. And this remains the sole reason for torrents’ popularity. As most governments are cracking down on torrents, they always invent some clever ways of getting around the restrictions. Using torrents can in no way be considered safe, but with an antivirus and a VPN at hand, you’ll swim the troubled waters with less risk.
Apps to help you torrent safely:
- CleanMyMac X, new antivirus for Mac (free version available here)
- CleanMyPC — Windows cleaner for unwanted files
That’s all, folks. Hope you are no longer in confusion about “what is a torrent” and how to use it safely. Thanks for reading all the way through.