BitTorrent is an easy way to move large files across the internet by sharing the load among peers. However, its reputation as a piracy entry tool has led to some VPNs not torrenting on their platforms. We take a look at the best VPN services that explicitly allow BitTorrenting and tell you which are the best.
What is Torrenting?
BitTorrent (technology that allows one to “torrent”) has a bad, unfair reputation and deserves. Best of all, BitTorrent overcomes the deadlock created when too many people try to download large files from one source at once — be it pirated tv shows, hot music tracks, DRM-free books, or terabytes of cat photos.
BitTorrent turns file popularity into an advantage, not a bottleneck, by having each downloader distribute a chunk of the file to every other downloader. The entire system is designed to be decentralized, without the main server choking under the load of traffic. This is a brilliant idea but its decentralized nature also makes it perfect for sharing copyrighted content online as well as illegally.
Given its reputation, some ISPs and network managers block BitTorrent traffic altogether. To avoid these barricades, and to protect your privacy when torrenting, using a VPN is a sensible choice. With a virtual private network, or VPN, all of your internet traffic is encrypted to make sure no one can see what you’re doing—even when you’re torrenting. The catch is, not every VPN service allows BitTorrent on their servers.
Using a VPN can help improve your privacy by preventing your ISP from monitoring your traffic, making it harder for advertisers to track you online. But when it comes to security, we often say that it’s better to consider a tool like a VPN to increase the amount of work it takes to successfully attack you. If someone is willing to invest the time and money to target you specifically, such as a record label or law enforcement, they will eventually get what they are looking for.
VPNs need to be part of a layered approach to security and cannot replace essential tools, such as good antivirus software, password managers, and enabled multi-factor authentication wherever possible.
Everything is Free Now
We often receive emails asking about interactions between VPNs and BitTorrent. Some of them have included confessions of piracy, and they even offer justifications for it. One reader complained of difficulty finding legal recourse for material that was not available for sale in certain locations. We sympathize. The state of the public domain has been woefully neglected, leaving many works entangled in complicated (but lucrative) distribution deals.
But however fair reasoning, law (however problematic) is law. ISPs and other technology companies are sometimes forced to respond when rights holders come up with lists of violations committed to their infrastructure.
If you’re going to use BitTorrent for whatever reason, good luck. If you’re going to use a VPN, more power to you. But make sure you take the time to read the VPN’s terms of service before getting started. Be aware of local laws and possible penalties as well—whatever your willingness to comply with them. “I don’t know the law,” or “I don’t agree with the law,” will not serve as defense in court, so make sure you can live with any possible punishment, if you choose to do something legally dubious.
Will a VPN Hide My Torrenting From My ISP or the Police?
The short answer is, yes, a VPN can protect your online activities from your ISP. It will also make it harder for someone outside to identify certain traffic as yours. That’s a good thing, not only if you have legally fragile torrenting habits, but also because it protects your privacy in general.
That said, there are always exceptions. Time and time again, user error and law enforcement efforts have undermined the protections offered by services like Tor or VPNs. A timing attack, for example, could link packet traffic on a VPN server with activity on your own network, thereby linking you to online activity.
In some cases, the problem may be the VPN itself. If a VPN company keeps a lot of logs about user activity (specifically, user identities, which servers they connect to, and when) that information could potentially be obtained by law enforcement. In our reviews, we always ask VPN services what information they collect and how they interact with requests for information from law enforcement.
Can I Use BitTorrent on My VPN?
Most VPN services are fine if you use BitTorrent or P2P services while using their product. None of our top-rated VPN services forbid file sharing.
Even services that allow torrenting often have limitations. Some, for example, may require that you only use BitTorrent when connecting to certain VPN servers. NordVPN labels servers where torrenting is acceptable. Note that almost every VPN service that allows torrenting also explicitly prohibits violating copyright laws or abusing the service.
Some VPNs have very useful tools for torrenting. Some companies offer static IP addresses for purchase, which can be desirable in some circumstances. New technologies, such as WireGuard, can provide better speeds than older VPN protocols. Our VPN review covers the available features in depth, so you’ll find something that’s right for you.
How Does a VPN Affect My Torrenting Speed?
When you use a VPN, your web traffic usually goes through more fiber and more machines. You should expect slower upload and download speeds and higher latency regardless of the VPN you choose. For large torrents, this can mean a longer wait before you get the full file.
In our most recent round of testing, we recorded the median of 10 tests with and without the VPN running, then found the percentage change between the two. To measure speed, we used the Ookla speed tester. In the past, we tested all the VPNs we reviewed at the same time. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions have limited our access to PCMag Labs, so we opted for a rolling testing model where we test new products throughout the year. The latest results are presented in the graph below.
(Editor’s note: Ookla is owned by PCMag publisher Ziff Davis.)
Networking is a finicky thing, and we don’t claim our work as the ultimate and ultimate VPN speed test. Rather, it is a description of how a particular service is performed on a particular day. We also don’t think that speed should be the only metric used to evaluate a VPN, but it is definitely one that BitTorrent users are concerned about.
To make this list, we looked at the best download scores across the services we’ve tested so far. The VPN services on the chart at the top of this story are the ten services that had the least impact on download speed test results. We’ve arranged them in descending order, meaning the VPN on the far left has the least impact on download speed. However, note that not all of them beat the median results for uploads and latency tests.
Previously, TorGuard VPN was on this list of glorious torrent VPNs. While the company allows torrenting outside the US, a legal settlement now requires the company to block torrents on US servers. We may return TorGuard VPN to the list in the future, should this change.
VPN Reliability and Accessibility Issues
The extra stops and processing for your data and distance introduced by a VPN can make the normal browsing experience a bit bogged down. Sudden loss of connectivity while the VPN is reset is a bit of a nuisance in everyday life, but we can see how such annoyances can slow down or even stop large BitTorrent downloads.
If you plan to use a VPN when torrenting, consider the consequences of a Kill Switch. This feature, found in most VPN services, prevents apps from sending data over the internet when the VPN is disconnected. The idea is to prevent any information from being transmitted unambiguously. Avid BitTorrent downloaders need to decide whether they want total and complete protection or prefer their downloads to be uninterrupted.
Location, Location, Location
Even though a VPN service has servers all over the world, every corporate headquarters has to be based somewhere on the planet. And somewhere may have data retention laws that require VPN companies to collect and maintain user data for a set amount of time.
Understanding what type of information a VPN service collects, and how long it is retained, can be difficult to figure out. To get the answer, you may have to scroll through endless FAQ pages and opaque terms of service written in mysterious legal language. If the VPN company you’re considering can’t clearly explain what information it collects and how long it will be kept, it’s probably not a good service.
When we review VPNs, we intend to ask service representatives what efforts they are making to secure customer privacy. We also read hefty books from the service (thank you again). You can read our full review to see their answers.
Note that national and international laws relating to data retention and whether data can be turned over to law enforcement are complex and constantly changing. Services that are good today may choose or be forced to change their policies tomorrow, so keep an eye out for any updates to the terms of service.
Use a VPN to Encrypt Your Torrent Traffic
Maybe you will decide that all this effort is not worth it just to secure your BitTorrent download. However, you should keep in mind that a VPN is still an easy way to increase your privacy. Have you decided to use a premium account, are you looking for Cheap VPNor you want to soak in a free VPN, it’s high time you start living the encrypted lifestyle.
Looking for more information about Torrenting and how to get started? You can read our story on how to use bitTorrent.
(Editor’s Note: While neither of these may appear in this story IPVanish, and StrongVPN are owned by Ziff Davis, parent company of PCMag.)