We’re comparing PeerBlock and VPN services to see which is better at protecting your privacy while downloading or uploading torrents. PeerBlock is designed as a firewall with focus on blocking anti-P2P agencies, governments, and ISPs from tracking your torrent activities. Because of this, the software app is dedicated to users interested in safe and anonymous torrenting.
Most online users risk getting tracked and fined every time they launch their BitTorrent client to download copyrighted content, like movies, music, and software. In 2009, a US jury fined a 25-year old college student with $675,000 for illegal file sharing. Later, in 2018, over 1,000 lawsuits were filed in the USA against BitTorrent downloading via The Pirate Bay.
However, there are ways to help avoid getting caught, like masking your real identity to give a false lead to trackers. Many people have already turned to VPN clients to encrypt their connections and remain anonymous, while others have opted for PeerBlock to prevent dangerous IP addresses from reaching their computer while downloading or uploading torrents.
But first, let’s review the topics (click to jump):
- Is torrenting safe?
- How am I tracked while torrenting?
- PeerBlock vs VPN: Who is the winner?
Is torrenting safe?
Torrenting is a form of downloading files from the web. Thus, the question of whether or not torrenting is legal comes down to figuring out which online content is copyrighted. The simple act of downloading files using a BitTorrent client is perfectly safe, as long as you’re not using this means to get hold of the copyrighted material.
Many Internet users have no clue about the copyright status of a file, so they might end up unwillingly downloading forbidden content. And it’s wrong to assume that, because a file was uploaded on the web, you have the right to download it just because the file’s owner failed to lock it up tight and protect it from thieves. The fault belongs to not only the thief who distributed the data but also to the online users who downloaded it.
When using your real IP address in a BitTorrent client, you should be extra careful while browsing a torrent website like The Pirate Bay. Before downloading a torrent, you should find out if the file is protected by copyright. But few people do this. To remain on the safe side, it’s best to resort to software solutions like VPN clients or PeerBlock.
How am I tracked while torrenting?
Since it relies on the peer-to-peer protocol, a BitTorrent client depends on multiple users interested in the same torrent file as you. Each torrent file is connected to a tracker. The more users download the torrent, the more peers are connected to the tracker, the better speed you’ll get.
The tracker collects information about each torrent, including the IP addresses of all participating peers (known as a torrent swarm), along with the name and version of their BitTorrent client. The problem is that this info is public to all peers in the torrent swarm. You can quickly check this by downloading a file with your BitTorrent client and viewing the peers section at torrent properties.
Since anyone can join a torrent swarm, it’s an elementary procedure for anti-P2P organizations to obtain the IP addresses of users attempting to download illegal content. The IP address leads them to your ISP, which knows who you are since it was the entity in charge of assigning your IP address.
The ISP receives a letter from the anti-P2P organization, which can be a lawyer acting on behalf of the company that legally owns the file you just downloaded and prohibits its distribution. Typically, the ISP gives you a warning. But if you have already gone through this, you might be sued by the lawyer and forced to pay a fine to avoid going to court.
Considered the Windows successor of GuardianBlock, PeerBlock is an application designed to help protect the anonymity of torrent users. It’s a firewall with a focus on privacy. The tool maintains a database of blacklisted IP addresses belonging to governments, Internet Service Providers and anti-P2P organizations working toward identifying users who download illegal torrent.
The blacklist database is kept up to date by importing lists from I-Blocklist, an online service specialized in distributing IP address lists of anti-P2P groups and educational institutions, together with malicious spyware, adware, advertising, and data tracker servers.
How it works
PeerBlock continuously monitors your Internet traffic and blocks any IP address that tries to establish a connection. It does this after cross-checking the IP with the blacklist database and finding a match. Restricted access is applied to not only incoming traffic but also outgoing connections established by your Internet-enabled programs.
The software utility also works with custom lists added from your computer, supporting blacklists and whitelists. It means that, if you want to interfere and improve PeerBlock, you can expand its database by importing lists of IP addresses from other websites than I-Blocklist, such as PeerBlockList.
Blacklists and whitelists
Enforcing a blacklist means blocking access to all IP addresses from the list and allowing everything else to pass through. It’s typically used when the identity of the threats is already known. This kind of filtering solution is ideal for carrying out normal browsing activity while being guarded against those dangers.
Opting for whitelists when using PeerBlock is not such a good idea, though. Whitelisting means to block the access of all IP addresses, except the ones specifically mentioned in the list. It’s a harsh filtering method because it can cripple all your browsing activities if most IP addresses are banned from establishing connections to your computer. And some services require round-the-clock Internet access for maintenance, like Google Chrome or Windows Update.
Why blacklists are ineffective for torrenting
In theory, blacklisting IP addresses of malicious organizations while torrenting sounds foolproof. However, it only works with static IP addresses. Most companies are behind DHCP networks, which means they regularly change their IP addresses (dynamic).
This raises two problems that should be swiftly handled: the team behind I-Blocklist would have to find out the new IP addresses associated with the anti-P2P groups, and if their old IP addresses are now assigned to safe websites to lift the ban.
Unfortunately, I-Blocklist has limited resources, relying on cheap yearly subscriptions that cannot possibly cover the costs involved in such a high level of maintenance. Taking care of an enormous database of up-to-date IP addresses is impossible. To give you an idea, exactly 756,636,052 IPs were blocked by PeerBlock at the time of this article (only from P2P lists, excluding the spyware, advertising, and education categories).
On top of that, the IP addresses used by PeerBlock are either public and free, either private and sold at a very low price ($9.99 per year). It’s safe to deduce that “the bad guys” are aware they’re being blacklisted and take measures are simple as changing their IP address before joining a torrent swarm (using a proxy server or VPN service, for example).
There’s another significant downside of PeerBlock that’s easy to overlook. Constantly scanning all inbound/outbound IP addresses while verifying the blacklist takes up a lot of network bandwidth. Subsequently, torrenting speed decreases.
Advantages of using PeerBlock for torrenting
- Gigantic database of blacklist IP addresses, powered by I-Blocklist.
- Can monitor the following ports for trackers: HTTP and HTTPS (web traffic), FTP (FTP transfers), SMTP (outgoing mail) and POP3 (incoming mail).
- Filter the default list by type (P2P, spyware, advertising, education).
- Add custom lists from file or URL as either blacklists or whitelists.
- Free and open source, doesn’t show ads during runtime and doesn’t offer third-party applications during setup that you might end up accidentally installing.
- Wrapped in an intuitive graphical interface that shows log details about attempted but blocked connections. Logs can be recorded to history.
Disadvantages of using PeerBlock for torrenting
- Blacklists are not effective against anti-P2P organizations using dynamic IP addresses.
- It doesn’t encrypt your connection or conceal your real identity.
- It cannot protect you from bandwidth throttling if the ISP decides to set network restrictions just because you’re taking up too much bandwidth by torrenting (either legally or illegally).
- Upload and download speed while torrenting might be negatively affected by PeerBlock when it is continuously checking its blocklist for matches.
- Although I-Blocklist is still being maintained, PeerBlock is not. The software application hasn’t received updates since January 2014. Combined with the previous issue, it demonstrates that the team is not planning to optimize the tool and eliminate speed delays.
- It’s only available for Windows.
Note: Similar functionality to PeerBlock can be obtained by manually adding blacklists to the Transmission torrent client, which requires the same effort as if you were adding custom lists to PeerBlock. In Transmission, you can find this setting in Edit menu -> Preferences -> Privacy -> Enable blocklist.
Virtual private network applications take a different approach toward torrenting. While PeerBlock acts like a firewall that tries to guard your real identity against dangerous websites, a VPN service kicks it up a notch: masking your real IP address and swapping it with another one as misdirection.
A VPN client gives you access to servers from various countries. Once you choose a server and connect to it, you receive a new IP address that will be distributed to all websites. The VPN encrypts your connections and unlocks secure browsing. Therefore, you can protect your privacy when performing Internet-related tasks, even downloading torrents. If an IP address from the torrent swam pinpoints you, it would not be able to find out anything about your real identity.
Is torrenting with a VPN safe?
After getting a new IP address from the VPN client, you can launch your BitTorrent client and start downloading torrents. You will still be visible to other peers connected to the same tracker but under a different IP address. Anti-P2P groups will see your fake IP address instead of the real one, which leads them to a dead end.
Besides the fact that it won’t receive a privacy warning letter, your ISP will not be able to tell that you’re downloading torrents, so you’re safe from torrent-based bandwidth throttling. The ISP can tell that you’re connected via VPN but not what you’re doing unless it utilizes Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology.
Advantages of using VPN for torrenting
- Protects your real IP address and gives a false lead to peers connected to the same trackers.
- Encrypts your connection so that hackers cannot decipher your data even if they get hold of it.
- With a proper protocol configuration, you can minimize speed delays when downloading or uploading torrents through the VPN service.
- It provides you with multiple servers from many countries to connect.
- Some VPN apps have optimized servers for torrenting.
- If you wish to add an extra layer of security, you can get a VPN tool that obfuscates traffic to make it look like regular SSL instead of VPN.
- If the VPN has a split tunneling feature, you can have your BitTorrent client connected through the VPN while surfing the web using your regular, non-VPN network.
Disadvantages of using VPN for torrenting
- Free VPN services must be avoided because they compromise privacy. Premium VPN can be expensive.
- Some VPN applications discourage torrenting, so you can’t rely on them to keep you safe.
- Not all VPN tools come equipped with reliable servers for torrenting.
- Torrent connections can be slow if you don’t use a powerful VPN app.
- If you download illegal torrents and if the VPN company collects logs about your activity, it might hand it over to law firms seeking compensation.
Non-negotiable VPN features for torrenting
If you’ve decided to opt for a VPN client that can protect you from privacy warning letters when downloading and uploading torrents, you should take into account several important features:
It should be evident by now that security plays the most prominent role in BitTorrent clients since the whole purpose is to keep you safe from data trackers. When it comes to VPN services, security is mostly affected by the protocol used.
A virtual private network client usually supports multiple VPN protocols, each with its pros and cons. For example, PPTP delivers excellent speed for VPN connections, but it’s prone to so many vulnerabilities that some VPN providers have dropped support for PPTP. Instead, you can opt for the OpenVPN protocol since it’s widely regarded as the best protocol for combining security and speed.
Because a VPN service works by encapsulating data packets into encrypted layers, it shouldn’t be surprising that it needs more processing power for transferring files through secure tunnels. As such, you can expect slower torrenting speed compared to using standard, unencrypted connections.
However, there are various methods for counteracting this unwanted side effect, such as connecting to the nearest server. A VPN tool should feature many servers from many countries, giving you the possibility to explore IP addresses until you find one with satisfying torrenting speed, especially when discussing huge files.
Many VPN applications have optimized servers for torrenting. For instance, CyberGhost VPN has extra modules reserved for anonymous torrenting, like granting extra speed or blocking malicious websites and online tracking.
Leak protection and kill switch
A VPN service that accidentally spills your real IP address on unexpected connection drops or power outage fails to protect your privacy. An application is as powerful as its weakest link, so it should come equipped with leak protection and kill switch modules.
To make sure that all is working correctly, test your Internet connection for IP and DNS leaks using an online service like IPLeak. WebRTC leak protection is equally crucial but depends on your web browser settings, not your VPN service.
If you want to be super-careful about IP leaks, you can bind your VPN to Vuze. The BitTorrent client has a unique feature for leak prevention when using VPN. Also, you can turn to IP magnet services like TorGuard’s Check My Torrent IP to see what IP address is being broadcasted by your torrent client and to monitor any IP changes.
VPN jurisdiction probably plays the most significant role when it comes to protecting your anonymity while downloading or uploading torrents (especially uploading). The company must abide by the laws of its country. For instance, if a VPN company is located in a country part of the 5, 9 or 14 Eyes alliances, it might be required by law to turn in the logging data it collected on you.
The event goes to show how critical it is to double- and even triple-check a company’s logging policy and background history before using its VPN service for torrenting. A positive example is Mullvad VPN, which goes to great lengths to know as little as possible about its customers, like accepting untrackable cash payments and using anonymous registration.
Considerations about free VPN
Connecting to the Internet through a VPN service and hiding your browsing activity from your ISP means transferring details about your traffic from your ISP to your VPN provider. It’s a matter of trust. However, software developers who offer free VPN shouldn’t be trusted with this responsibility.
Internet users are often tempted to pick the cheapest option available. Although free VPN applications exist, they are not without cost. Instead, they feed on your browsing habits and sell data to marketing organizations. In turn, these groups paint a personalized profile and use it generate targeted ads you are likely to click. They are partly the reason why VPNs get a bad reputation.
On the other hand, premium VPN developers use your monthly subscription to pay a team of professionals in charge of ensuring your privacy, so there’s no need to sell your data to third parties. The point is that you should never trust a free VPN and always go with a premium brand.
If you need help with picking a VPN service for torrenting, you should know that the top-ranked apps on our website are excellent for the job: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost VPN, Mullvad VPN, and Surfshark. For more info, click their names to check out their reviews with ratings, speed, and leak tests.
PeerBlock vs VPN: Who is the winner?
VPN services are superior to PeerBlock in every way. Instead of acting like a firewall that blocks the IP addresses of popular anti-P2P agencies, a VPN encrypts your connection and scrambles your data so that it cannot be deciphered even if it’s acquired by someone. It keeps you safe from media companies and law firms looking to sue you for copyright infringement when downloading or uploading torrents with protected content.
Which one do you prefer for torrenting when it comes to PeerBlock and VPN? Or, do you have another fresh suggestion you’d like to share with us? Drop us a line in the section below. We’re curious.