A quick search for how to stay anonymous online while downloading torrents will yield many articles. As you look through the results, most will contain the word “proxy” and the acronym “VPN“. Both of these can be powerful anonymity tools. Their effectiveness varies depending on how they're used and the underlying protocols you choose and the service offers.
We'll take a look at how proxies work. Then we'll jump into how they differ from VPNs. Finally, we'll help you decide which one is safer for torrenting.
How Does a Proxy Work?
A proxy server does exactly what the name suggests. It takes requests from a user, then performs them on the user's behalf. The results are then returned to the user. However, the IP address logged as making the request will be the one from the proxy. There are a few different proxy servers, but the most common two are HTTP and SOCKS.
The most popular type of proxy is HTTP. People often use these to bypass local restrictions blocking them from getting to specific web pages. However, it will only work to access websites without hiding your traffic by default. Therefore, these are not the ones we will be discussing.
If you want a torrent proxy, then a SOCKS5 is what you're looking for. It's safer and also the only one supported by BitTorrent clients.
You should look for the most recent iteration, “SOCKS 5” or “SOCK5”. Some services offer SOCKS 4, but this has known vulnerabilities and is useless in protecting your identity online.
While SOCKS 5 is much faster at processing requests than most proxies and VPNs, there is a compromise. Only traffic routed through SOCK5 is protected. In other words, only one program is using the IP of the proxy.
Advantages of a SOCKS5 Proxy
A SOCKS5 proxy server is considered good enough for torrenting by many users. It provides some advantages that may be ideal for you.
Because of the lack of encryption, a proxy can achieve higher speeds than a VPN.
On average, a proxy is cheaper than a VPN. It's much less expensive to run and maintain a SOCKS5 proxy service than a VPN, and providers can afford to offer lower prices.
Disadvantages of a SOCKS5 Proxy
Unfortunately, some disadvantages are a deal-breaker for many.
There is no encryption
The anonymous proxy won't encrypt your traffic. This makes it less secure than a VPN.
It only protects one application
If you are torrenting, the proxy will only protect your BitTorrent traffic. Everything else uses your true IP address.
It needs manual configuration
Quite often, novice users believe they operate like a VPN and turn them on and begin torrenting. Remember that if the proxy and torrent client aren't configured correctly, the user's public IP address is shown in the swarm.
How Does a VPN Work?
Most VPN providers are “full-tunnel”, meaning that all of your traffic is encrypted. Unlike proxies, VPN clients typically bypass the traditional issues that lead to DNS leaks and other privacy concerns.
VPNs can run on many different protocols. One of the leading protocols is “OpenVPN” and is popular because it's compatible with almost every operating system. Once you're connected to a VPN, no one will be able to see what you do online or your torrenting activity. Most modern protocols are built to ensure robust P2P capabilities, so speed is typically less of an issue.
Advantages of a VPN
A VPN is the choice of most torrent users. Let's see why:
It encrypts your connection
Besides hiding your real IP, it provides a strong encryption to the entire Internet connection, usually a 256-AES cipher. Users are protected, no matter if they are browsing a torrent site or downloading a file.
A VPN has extra features that take security to another level. An excellent example is the kill switch tool, which will keep you anonymous, even if the VPN client stops working.
Easy to use
A VPN is a program that you will install and activate. There is no need for the high maintenance that the proxy server requires.
You can choose several locations to connect to. It will allow you to select the country of your new IP address.
Disadvantages of a VPN
There are also some cons when using a Virtual Private Network:
It's more expensive
A VPN company has costs with the development and maintenance of the software. There are much more expenses than what a proxy requires. That's why they need to charge more.
The encryption of a VPN consumes resources, which impacts the download speed.
Can You use a VPN and a Proxy simultaneously?
You can try to increase security by combining a BitTorrent proxy with your VPN. Actually, some VPN providers, such as IPVanish and NordVPN, offer a free proxy. That's because a VPN already has most of the technical infrastructure required to run proxy servers.
Unfortunately, this will have an impact on your upload and download speeds. In our opinion, it's not worth it to lose Internet speed by adding a proxy to your VPN connection. It does not make a big difference when it comes to safety.
The Verdict: VPN vs. Proxy for P2P file-sharing
In our opinion, a VPN is both more secure and straightforward. These services are also typically “ready out of the box” to use. You won't need to do anything besides getting the software, activate a couple of tools, and start torrenting.
The extra security features are an additional layer of protection that can make the difference between being safe and exposed. Therefore, in almost every case, VPNs are superior, especially for P2P.