This is where VPNs — which encrypt data leaving your computer and make it impossible for others to see what you’re downloading — come in handy. To the uninitiated, these virtual private networks assign a virtual IP address to obscure your real location from others, which is important when sharing snippets of files with other users of a torrenting client, especially if what you’re sharing is copyrighted material. (This is of course illegal and we do not condone it!)
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When you're using a public Wi-Fi network, even a password-protected one, a VPN is your best friend. That’s because using public hotspots can be rife with hazards. From man-in-the-middle attacks to Wi-Fi sniffing, there are many different hacking methods that snoopers use to intercept your Internet traffic and steal your social media or banking passwords, files and photos.
ExpressVPN scored well in our recent round of testing in terms of speed – we recorded around 8.5MB/s (68Mbit/s) via both FTP and HTTP in the UK, while Dutch endpoints gave us 6.3MB/s (50.4Mbit/s) via FTP and 7MB/s (56Mbit/s) via HTTP, more than enough for general browsing, streaming and downloading. US connection speeds, as you’d expect, were rather slower at 2.5MB/s (20Mbit/s) via FTP and a good 3.2MB/s (25.6Mbit/s) over HTTP.
VPN services offer up different "gateway" cities, allowing you to choose where the IP address assigned to your computer is located. This allows you to access websites typically only available to users from that country. It also allows you to access websites that may blocked/censored in your own country. This application is particularly important for travelers who need to access websites from their home country, as well as for people living in regions rife with Internet censorship, such as China and Iran.
The more locations a VPN provider houses servers, the more flexible it is when you want to choose a server in a less-congested part of the world or geoshift your location. And the more servers it has at each location, the less likely they are to be slow when lots of people are using the service at the same time. Of course, limited bandwidth in and out of an area may still cause connections to lag at peak times even on the most robust networks.
The concept of tunneling a connection through a remote server originated as a way for workers to access their office computers from home. The same technology, it was discovered, could allow users to tunnel their connection through a secure encrypted server, thereby hiding their online activity. While both uses are very popular, VPNs have become best known as a way for private individuals to surf the internet safely.
This is all great, you may be thinking, but a VPN seems like a bit much. As long as you don’t do anything illegal online you having nothing to worry about, right? Unfortunately, it is that kind of thinking that enables legislators to continue to create laws that violate your online rights. As long as there is valuable data to harvest from online activity, someone is willing to put your information at risk.
Even TunnelBear's network performance and pricing are just about average compared to other services we've reviewed, except that you can pay anonymously with cash. The company takes security and privacy seriously, explaining its policies and protocols in plain English, and you can read the results of two third-party security audits on the company website.
If you’ve played with torrents before you’ll know it’s a hobby that requires a degree of patience. Large files can take hours, days or even weeks to download. If your VPN connection drops for even a moment during the download, your IP address could be exposed, revealing your true identity. If you’re serious about protecting yourself when torrenting, the most important feature to look out for is a ‘kill switch’. A kill switch is part of your VPN's software that, when enabled, will make sure your IP address isn't exposed by instantly killing your connection if your VPN connection fails.
Free VPNs operate by collecting your personal data and selling it to the highest bidder. Also, they come with numerous limitations that make torrenting close to impossible. For example, you’ll be able to download 500MB per day, up to 10GB per month. This might meet your needs if you don’t plan on downloading a lot of files and if you’re ready to face a heavily throttled connection.
IVPN also performed well in our speed tests. Though it wasn't always the fastest in the 54 measurements we took on each service, it ranked near the top on many servers at different times of the week—especially compared with the most trustworthy services. Private Internet Access, one of the most visible, privacy-focused VPNs, had slower speeds when connecting to most servers and less reliable connections than IVPN. For US servers (which we expected to be the fastest locations because we tested from California), IVPN ranked behind only OVPN and TorGuard. We liked OVPN—especially its speed results—but we thought that company's small team and small selection of servers and locations were too limiting for some people.
Better yet, a year's worth of PIA is very reasonably priced at US$3.31 a month, and we've had nothing but excellent customer service from them, too. PIA also comes with a rock solid no-log policy, crypto payment support to keep you protected when making transactions, proprietary anti-malware technology and a seven-day money-back guarantee if you get cold feet.
Trusting a VPN is a hard choice, but IVPN’s transparency goes a long way toward proving that its customers’ privacy is a priority. Founder and CEO Nick Pestell answered all our questions about the company’s internal security, and even described the tools the company used to limit and track access to secure servers. The top VPN services gave us a variety of answers to these questions, some of which were frustratingly vague. ExpressVPN was the only other company to outline these controls and assure us that these policies were well-documented and not half-practiced.