Some VPN providers are adding the Split Tunneling feature to their software, which can actually be useful in a few situations. But what about Torrenting? Is this tool an advantage when it comes to downloading torrent files anonymously? The opinions are divided, and we decided to go deep and see if there are any risks.
What is VPN Split Tunneling
First of all, let's have a brief definition of the Split Tunneling feature included in some VPNs. In simple words, this tool allows you to select the programs that will run through the VPN. That way, only those applications will be encrypted. The remaining applications will connect directly to the Internet.
It's easy to see that this feature can be handy for some users who want to keep their real IP address while using some programs. And, at the same time, an encrypted connection with a different IP for other apps.
Is Split Tunneling Safe for Torrenting?
Naturally, one of the most popular uses of Split Tunneling is the download of torrents. In other words, many users hide their BitTorrent traffic through the VPN, while having a regular connection for the remaining programs. And that's the purpose of writing this post… Is this way of Torrenting safe?
In our opinion, Split Tunneling can reduce privacy and compromise your anonymity. As we always say, you should always have your entire connection encrypted, not just a few apps. And this advice is even more valid if one of the things you are doing is torrenting.
The most common way of thinking for people who use this feature is: “As long as my torrent activity is encrypted, I am safe“. But it's not exactly like that anymore. Many times, these users encrypt their BitTorrent software and leave everything else unprotected, such as their browsers.
What you need to keep in mind is that, when using a VPN, your Internet Service Provider cannot see your activity or your downloaded data. This happens because the VPN encrypts your traffic. But there's one thing they can see, which is the amount of data downloaded. And there's no problem if they know how much you've downloaded. But if you are only using the VPN for your torrent downloads, they will see the unprotected online activity, like the pages you visited. That way, they will have a clue of what you were doing.
Eric is downloading a Torrent file, which is 4.37 GB. He is using Split Tunneling and selected only uTorrent to be encrypted by the VPN. He didn't include any other apps, which means he uses his real IP for other programs, with no encryption.
On that day, Eric's Internet Service Provider did a check on his activity. In their analysis, they couldn't see what he downloaded, because it was protected by the VPN. But they had access to the pages he visited, because Eric didn't encrypt his browser. The ISP saw that Eric visited a torrent website, and one of the pages he visited corresponds to a 4.37 GB file. As we mentioned before, they can't see the data downloaded, but they see the size. This is what Eric wishes they would think:
“This guy visited a page of a 4.37 GB torrent file, and right after he performed a download of a 4.37 GB file. What an awesome coincidence!”
But we all know that it's not the case. They would put two and two together and conclude that Eric was downloading that file. And although the size of the file alone is not a proof of anything, Eric is drawing attention to himself.
Is there a problem if your ISP knows you Torrent?
Some ISPs do not like Torrenting and may cancel your account. But generally speaking, there is no major risk just because the ISP knows about your torrenting activity. But, as always, things get a bit more complicated. The problem is that in the last few years, governments and copyright agencies are trying to have access to everyone's activity.
As you probably heard, they introduced laws in a few countries that make ISPs give all the info about their customers to these governments. Some ISPs even sell this info without being forced to handle it. In other words, these institutions will see whatever the ISP saw. They will know what you are doing and they will keep an eye on you. This is precisely the opposite intention of using a VPN: to put snoopers away, not with their attention on you.
The goal of a VPN is hiding your activity. But if one of its tools can give a hint of what you are doing, it can result in compromising your anonymity. That's how we see Split Tunneling, it sounds nice and fancy, but it can be a “false friend“, especially when it comes to Torrenting. It helps entities realizing what you're doing.
If there is a situation where you need your real IP, then simply don't download torrents at the same time. In that case, turn the VPN off and use your real IP. If your issue is the VPN affecting your speed, meaning you use Split Tunneling to keep some apps running fast, then maybe it's time to get a faster VPN provider.
In our opinion, the thing to remember is: if you are going to use a VPN, then use it properly and encrypt everything.