It’s important to protect yourself from the possible dangers of torrent files. While you might just be looking at movie torrents or music torrents, and not something particular dangerous, what you actually get when you download the torrent might be anything but what you’re after.
For example, you might get a fake torrent that appears to be the movie you downloaded, but really it’s a keylogger program that will record all your keystrokes, or a virus that will delete your files.
It’s for these reasons that it’s important to understand how to spot a fake torrent and how to protect yourself should you get a torrent virus.
Install an Antivirus Program
Antivirus software is meant to always be running on your computer to catch threats as they arrive but before they can do damage. A virus protector is one of your best defenses against viruses from torrents.
Install the antivirus program and then make sure it’s fully updated before downloading torrents. It’s also a good idea to do an initial scan to catch anything that might have been lingering before you installed the virus cleaner. Once the antivirus program is updated and running, it’ll stay on and check for viruses all the time.
There are also free portable virus scanners you can use in a pinch.
Learn About File Extensions
The second-best way to be safe when using torrents is to know how to identify the type of file you’re dealing with. A file’s extension is used by your computer to understand how to open it, so it’s vital to understand the difference between a safe and a potentially harmful file extension.
Let’s say you’ve used a torrent to download a movie. When you get the file, but before you open it, you should look at the extension to check that it’s actually relevant to a movie format and not something else that could cause damage if opened.
Movies typically use these file extensions: MP4, MKV, AVI, and MOV. Music files you download might use MP3 or WAV, and documents PDF, DOCX, TXT.
However, if the file extension is an executable like EXE or MSI, it might be hiding a virus inside that could open when you double-click the file. For instance, if you think you’ve downloaded a wallpaper in an image format, but it’s using EXE instead of a common image file extension (JPG or PNG), you can be confident that opening it will not show you an image.
Here’s a cheat sheet you can use to know what file extension the file you’re downloading might be using:
- Pictures: JPG, PNG, PDF, ICO, TIFF, GIF, SVG, BMP
- Video: MP4, AVI, MOV, MKV, MPG, FLV, 3GP, DIVX, WMV
- Audio: MP3, AMR, APE, MP2, AAC, M4R, MIDI, WAV, OGG, ASF, FLAC, M4A
- Documents: PDF, XLSX, DOCX, PPTX, TXT, CSV, ODT, PUB, MOBI, XPS, HTML, EPS
- Applications: EXE, BAT, MSI, REG, CSH, VBS, SCR, MSC, BIN, COMMAND, IPA, APK
Important: Again, it’s the application file formats you should be aware of because they’re the ones most likely to be used to spread viruses via torrents.
For example, if you’re downloading a software program or video game, you’ll probably end up with an EXE or MSI file, but if you get one of those files when downloading a simple image or music file, scanning the download with an antivirus program would be wise.
See What’s Inside the Torrent
Something else to be aware of when downloading torrents is the files contained in them. If you’re downloading a collection of wallpapers, for instance, you want to make sure that that’s actually what you’ll get if you spend time downloading and opening the archive.
Determine If the Torrent Is Legal
The question of whether torrents are illegal or not depends entirely on the content any particular torrent is distributing. Torrents alone are not illegal because it’s simply a method for sharing files. But the files shared in the torrents might very well by copyrighted and illegal where you live.
The best thing you can do to know if a torrent is legal is to see what’s inside of it before you download it, and then use your best judgement. If you’re downloading a brand new movie that’s yet to even hit theaters, it’s most likely illegal. However, if you’re grabbing some public domain images from a ZIP archive or a program directly from the developer, then you can safely assume it’s free from copyright and totally fine to download.
Using a VPN while downloading torrents is wise if you’re still unsure of legality. iTop VPN is one example.
Choose a Torrent Client
After deciding to go through with the torrent download, it’s time to pick how you want to get the files. Most torrent clients are offline, meaning that you install them to your computer first in order to use the torrent file. While there are benefits to those types, others exist entirely online.
You might use an online torrent client if the network you’re using blocks P2P traffic. This could be the case in some schools, businesses, and public Wi-Fi locations like coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Offline torrent clients are useful if you plan to create and share torrents yourself or if you want to use the torrent client without limitations — most online torrent clients limit your download speed and file storage capacity.
Tip: A torrent program that works online appears on the network as regular web browsing traffic because that’s all that’s happening on your end. The actual torrent download and upload is taking place on the torrent client’s server.