Are Torrent Files Safe?

Nowadays, sharing files via torrenting has become a very common practice. But with its increasing popularity, the question of safety has also started echoing louder in the online corridors. “Are torrent files safe?” Anyone who has downloaded a torrent has probably asked this question. 

When I say safety, I am not referring to the risks of being monitored or traced while you’re torrenting. That’s a separate issue and undoubtedly important. For now, we will focus on a different topic. We’ll concentrate on the potential dangers torrent files can pose to your computer. This includes threats like malware and other harmful elements that could compromise your machine or data.

In light of this, we’ll examine the risks of two essential parts of torrenting: the files you download and the websites you find them on.

Understanding Torrents and Their Risks

Torrenting, as a concept, is simple: it’s a method of sharing files over the internet. However, the security of your downloads raises important concerns. To ensure a safe torrenting experience, we need to address these concerns and understand the potential risks involved.

Can a torrent carry a virus?

A virus disguised as an exe file

A torrent can carry a virus. This usually happens when a malicious party includes an infected file within the torrent. Here’s a common scenario: you download a torrent for a particular software application. This torrent doesn’t just contain the software itself but may also have a hidden virus, typically within an executable (.exe) file or disguised as a legitimate tool.

Sometimes, bad actors can “bundle” these malicious files with legitimate ones. You might download a torrent for a popular game, thinking you’re just getting the game. Instead, you also receive an unwelcome ‘bonus’ in the form of a Trojan horse. That type of malware pretends to be a harmless file but can give a hacker access to your system when executed.

Does your BitTorrent client check for viruses?

BitTorrent clients handle your downloads and uploads. They connect you with other users (peers) who are sharing the files you’re interested in. However, these clients generally do not include virus-scanning capabilities.

While some clients may alert you if a torrent contains an executable file (which could be a potential source of viruses), they don’t scan the downloaded content for malware. Consequently, you might download an infected file without realizing it.

The Profit Behind Risky Torrent Files

As we’ve established, the files you download via torrenting could expose you to hazards. But what would motivate someone to make these torrents risky? As it turns out, infecting users via torrent files can be quite lucrative for unscrupulous individuals or groups. Here are the common financial motivations behind this activity:

Malware and Ransomware

Certain individuals may embed malware or ransomware into torrent files. When an unsuspecting user downloads and opens these infected files, their computer gets infected.

The attacker can then demand a ransom in exchange for not deleting important files or relinquishing control of the computer to the user. This cyber-extortion scheme can be financially rewarding for the attackers.

Botnets

Botnets are networks of computers infected with specific types of malware. This lets a hacker control them without the owner of the computer even knowing about it. These networks can be leveraged for tasks such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks or sending spam emails.

Sometimes, these infected computers are rented out to other malicious actors. The goal is to create a continuous income stream for the botnet operator.

Crypto Mining

In an innovative approach to illicit profit, some torrent files may contain cryptojacking scripts. These scripts use your computer resources to mine cryptocurrencies without your knowledge or consent. This unauthorized mining benefits the attacker by generating cryptocurrency, all at the expense of your system resources.

Data Theft

Finally, the infected torrent file might contain spyware capable of collecting sensitive information from your computer. Personal data, financial details, login credentials; all this information has value.

The collected data could be exploited for identity theft, sold on the dark web, or used in targeted phishing campaigns. All of these can result in financial gain for the perpetrators.

Torrent Sites are Also Risky

Torrenting isn’t just about downloading files. It’s also about the places you visit to get those files. Let’s have a look at the websites that host torrent files and examine their risks.

The risks associated with torrent sites

When visiting torrent websites, the first risks you may encounter are malicious scripts hidden in pop-up ads. They often promise free downloads, discount coupons, or other enticing offers. However, when clicked, they can inject harmful code into your web browser, leading to malware infections.

A popup ad with a malicious script

Some of these ads carry scripts that run automatically, putting your data and computer system at risk even without clicking on them.

The profit behind torrent sites

Typically, financial motives are behind these threats. The more harmful the script, the more profitable it can be for those deploying it. Some unscrupulous individuals collect user data through these scripts. After that, they sell it on the dark web, earning dozens of dollars for each user profile.

A Digital Citizens Alliance and RiskIQ study found that torrent sites infect about 12 million users every month, resulting in illegal earnings of 70 million dollars every year.

The role of advertising and marketing agencies

Advertising and marketing agencies often act as intermediaries between website owners and advertisers. These agencies manage the specifics of what is displayed on the website.

Although this may seem innocent, it can become a channel for spreading malware. Some agencies abuse their position to inject harmful scripts into the ads they place on torrent sites, often without the owner’s knowledge.

The complicity of website owners

Are website owners knowingly part of the problem? It’s a complex question. Often, site owners don’t know if marketing agencies are doing anything harmful. However, a torrent site full of ads and pop-ups can be a warning sign.

This raises questions about whether site owners suspect foul play or might even be involved in it for additional revenue.

Choosing safe torrent sites

The study conducted by the Digital Citizens Alliance and RiskIQ also analyzed 800 torrent sites and found malware on a third of them. These numbers are pretty high, suggesting that even some well-known sites are unsafe.

Generally speaking, it’s safer to stick to the most popular sites. But remember, many ads on a website don’t always indicate that it’s unsafe. For instance, Rarbg, despite having some pop-ups, is still considered a reliable site by many.

Reducing the Risks

As we’ve seen, torrenting can pose several risks, from malicious ads on torrent sites to harmful scripts hidden within torrent files. But don’t let these risks deter you from enjoying the benefits of torrenting. With the right measures and tools, you can significantly reduce these threats.

Install an adblocker in your browser

Before we explore other more sophisticated tools, let’s start with a basic yet powerful one: an adblocker. An ad blocker’s primary function is to prevent pop-ups and ads from appearing.

Many reliable options are available, such as uBlock Origin and Adblock Plus. By blocking ads, these tools also block the malicious scripts they might carry.

Use a VPN

VPNs are considered to be the best friend of torrent users. They do more than protect your identity from snoopers when downloading torrent files. A VPN also keeps your identity secret from torrent sites.

Agencies that exploit these sites won’t be able to use your real IP address for their malicious activities. These are a few reliable VPN providers we recommend:

EDITOR'S PICK
NordVPN
NordVPN
  • Torrent Friendly
  • P2P Optimized Servers
  • Best VPN Overall
BUDGET PICK
PureVPN
PureVPN
  • Torrent Friendly
  • P2P Optimized Servers
  • Great Price/Quality Ratio
RISING STAR
Surfshark
Surfshark
  • Torrent Friendly
  • Good Set of Features
  • Unlimited connections

Moreover, some VPNs come equipped with a built-in adblocker. This means they can prevent potentially harmful scripts, like those pesky pop-ups, from running in your browser.

Does a VPN Protect You from Torrent Viruses?

Although a VPN is essential for safe torrenting, it’s imperative to note that it doesn’t protect you from viruses or malware in the torrents you download. A VPN hides your online activity and protects your data from being intercepted. But it doesn’t scan downloaded files for harmful elements. That’s where antivirus software comes into play.

Use an antivirus while torrenting

Since BitTorrent clients and VPNs don’t actively check for viruses, having a reliable antivirus program on your device is crucial. Antivirus software scans the downloaded files for known viruses, malware, or other harmful elements. 

A warning sign with a virus alert

Many antivirus programs also include real-time protection features that automatically check files as they’re downloaded. That’s an excellent feature that allows you to receive an immediate notification if a threat is detected.

However, remember that no antivirus software can catch 100% of threats, especially new ones that haven’t yet been added to its database.

Other measures you can take

In addition to the tools we mentioned, you can take several other defensive measures when navigating torrent websites and choosing your files. These include:

  • Download torrents only from reputable sites: As discussed earlier, some torrent sites are safer than others. Do your research and stick to torrent websites known for their integrity.
  • Check the comments section before downloading a torrent: Many torrent sites have a comments section where users can report if a file is safe or infected.
  • Stay up-to-date with your software: This includes your torrent client, VPN, antivirus software, and the operating system of your device. Regular updates equip your system with the latest security patches and features, providing a robust defense against new threats and vulnerabilities.

Conclusion

While torrenting isn’t necessarily dangerous, the files you download can pose risks. From downloading infected files to visiting malicious torrent sites, dangers lurk in different corners of the torrenting landscape.

Remember, torrent files can carry malware, ransomware, crypto-jacking scripts, and even spyware that can lead to data theft. 

When it comes to torrent sites, it is crucial to be aware that some are designed to spread malware, collect information, and even involve users in illegal activities.

Yet, with a clear understanding of these risks and taking the right precautions, you can significantly reduce these threats. Stay informed, cautious, and torrent responsibly.