Tor provides anonymous Internet browsing, but can you use it for torrenting? Here is what you should know before trying to use a BitTorrent client with TOR.
What Is Tor?
The Onion Router (TOR) was originally developed to protect communications of the U.S. Navy. Not much later, it was available for everyone to browse the Internet anonymously. It is now a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of tools for online privacy.
As with a VPN service, the Tor network routes your Internet traffic through computers in other parts of the world. But unlike VPN services, the network is comprised of computers from volunteers instead of managed servers.
Tor gained popularity for its ease of use and privacy. Users can simply download a package containing the Tor browser and start browsing privately.
The anonymity of the free tool led many users to try using Tor for torrenting. While you can technically configure the Tor network to work with a BitTorrent client, there are several important reasons why you should avoid doing so.
The Tor Network Is Incredibly Slow
As mentioned, the Tor network relies on volunteers. Individual computers called nodes connect to create the network. When you use the Tor browser, your traffic goes through several of these nodes before coming out the other end. This routing results in severely limited Internet speeds.
Most users already find it difficult to obtain speeds close to their normal download speeds when torrenting. As with the Tor network, BitTorrent clients rely on individual computers connected in a network. These peer-to-peer (P2P) connections tend to be slow.
The combination of the slower Tor network and the limitations of the P2P network give you painfully slow download speeds.
The Tor Network Is Used for Free Speech
Using the Tor network for torrenting goes against the current aim of the non-profit organization. Tor wants to give journalists and citizens access to free speech in countries with limited freedoms.
In some regions, the Tor network is the only way for journalists and activists to share their stories. It also provides citizens with a way to access information from outside their country.
The Tor network already has limited bandwidth. Using a portion of this bandwidth for torrenting takes away from those that need it.
The Tor Network Is Not a Secure Proxy
To use a BitTorrent client through the Tor network, you need to configure the client to use Tor as a proxy. Unfortunately, most people do not set this up properly, leaving their IP addresses exposed.
The problem occurs when users fail to route the P2P connection through the Tor network. Without the right configuration, Tor only provides an anonymous connection to the torrent tracker. The P2P connection remains public.
Another very important detail is that most BitTorrent clients rely on DHT (Distributed Hash Table), which is essential for magnet links to work properly. The issue here is that DHT relies on UDP protocol and Tor does not support UDP. When attempting to download a torrent from a tracker that relies on UDP connections, your proxy settings will not work. The P2P connection is still visible to prying eyes, such as your Internet Service Provider.
What Should You Use Instead of the Tor Network?
Tor is not the only way to remain anonymous when torrenting. In fact, with everything discussed, it is one of the least effective ways.
Consider using a VPN.
When connected to a Virtual Private Network, all your traffic travels through secure servers (managed by the VPN service) instead of a network of individual computers.
As with the Tor network, your IP address gets hidden. It appears as the IP address of the VPN server that you connect to. However, VPNs provide greater security, privacy, and speeds compared to Tor.
You can use the UDP protocol with VPNs and ensure that all connections, including P2P, remain hidden. The other peers in the swarm and anyone else watching sees the IP address of the VPN server instead of your true IP address.
Another advantage is that the VPN encrypts traffic moving both ways. The requests that you make are encrypted and then decrypted on the other end. When you download content or browse the Internet, the data gets encrypted, routed to your computer, and then decrypted.
These steps keep you anonymous when torrenting. On top of that, in case you lose the connection to the VPN server, many VPN providers also include a kill switch. It instantly stops your Internet connection before your IP address gets exposed.
You also get to enjoy faster speeds. As these services use dedicated servers designed for routing traffic, you can get speeds closer to your normal download speeds.
The bottom line is that Tor does not protect your privacy when torrenting. It also provides much slower speeds. If you want to remain anonymous and not wait a week for a torrent file to download, a VPN service is your best option.