If you want a free VPN for torrenting, you face several hurdles. Getting high speeds and strong encryption in a VPN service costs the providing company a lot of money. So, it is almost impossible to find a free torrenting VPN with all of the qualities needed for protection.

When looking for a free VPN for torrenting, you can adopt one of the following strategies:

  • Use the free trial or refund periods of paid VPN services
  • Find a free VPN for P2P downloading with high speeds and strong encryption
  • Look for the free versions of reputable VPNs that don’t have service restrictions

How to get a paid VPN for free

You will discover later in this guide that free VPNs are beset by shortcomings that for one reason or another makes them unsuitable for BitTorrent file sharing. So, we will examine the easiest strategy for getting torrent protection for free: to make use of the refund periods of the best VPNs on the market.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN torrent

Despite topping our list as the best VPN for torrenting on the market, ExpressVPN allows customers to use its services for free. One problem, however, is that you have to subscribe for the paid service and then cancel it later. You get all of your money back, so effectively you have used the service at no cost. Think of it like getting your deposit back.

The VPN operates a no-quibble money-back guarantee. This refund period lasts for 30 days. That means you can sign up for the service, use it for 30 days, cancel it, and then get all of your money back. They don’t put up a fight when you cancel your subscription. You just have to notify the help desk to get a refund.

ExpressVPN ticks all the boxes for torrenting. It has very good speeds, completely protects all of traffic from detection, and is available as a system-wide app that covers your torrent client.

You can get a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. However, these extensions are controllers for the Desktop app, so it will cover your torrent client as well. A feature called “split tunneling” allows you to specify what apps route their internet traffic through the VPN tunnel. If you set the option to operate a split include policy, you can nominate your torrent clients for coverage and leave all of your other internet traffic outside the tunnel.

The split tunneling option is only available for the Mac OS X/Mac OS version of the app. There are apps for Windows, Android, iOS, and Linux as well. You can install ExpressVPN’s custom firmware on a compatible wifi router, will covers all of the devices in your home.

The company allows each customer to connect to the service three times all at once. That means three devices can run active VPN connections at the same time. If you install the VPN on your router that counts, as one connection even though it covers all of the devices in your house.

ExpressVPN places no data limit on its service, so you can download as much as you want without hitting a cap.

You don’t have to connect all of your devices to the same server. ExpressVPN operates servers in 94 countries around the globe. The company itself is based in the British Virgin Islands, which has no data retention laws.

The company does not keep activity logs and so it cannot be forced to hand over records to the courts. The encryption system of ExpressVPN is very strong. When connected through the default OpenVPN protocol, it uses a 4096-bit key RSA cipher to cover session establishment. This is the highest level available in the industry. The strength of the first phase of encryption is important because it protects the distribution of the cipher key for the main session. Data is protected by a 256-bit key AES cipher.

The help desk of ExpressVPN is very good and is staffed around the clock every day of the year. You can access a support technician through a live chat window on the ExpressVPN website. If you have problems coordinating the VPN with your torrent client, you don’t need to be coy about talking with support; the company is fine with customers using its VPN for torrenting.

BEST VPN FOR TORRENTING:ExpressVPN is our Top Choice and a pleasure to use for torrenting. It has a vast server network that is optimized for high-speed connections. User-friendly apps for all operating systems. Hard to beat on privacy and security. There is a 30-day no-quibbles money-back guarantee so you can try it risk-free.

Read our full review of ExpressVPN.

Free versions of good VPNs

There are many paid VPN services that offer free versions. These are great, but they aren’t exactly the same as the original version. The provider has to make the free version inferior so people will pay for the premium version.

Recommended free versions of good VPNs

Fortunately, we have managed to find a few good VPNs that offer really good free versions. In each case, the free version is not quite as good as the paid version. These companies place service restrictions or inconveniences in their free VPNs to encourage users to upgrade to the paid version. However, in the cases below, those restrictions are not irksome.

Installing any of these VPNs will provide full VPN protection for all of your torrent downloads.

Best Free VPNs for torrenting

1. CyberGhost Free Service

Free CyberGhost optons

Update: As of 2018, CyberGhost no longer offers a free version of its desktop app, so torrenters will have to opt for a paid subscription. CyberGhost still makes a free browser extension for Chrome and Firefox, but it won’t protect your torrent downloads or uploads.

CyberGhost is one of the recommended paid services listed above in this guide. However, its free version is also really good and probably your best option when looking for a totally free VPN.

As you would expect, this free service is not quite as good as the paid VPN. For starters, when you connect to a server, the app shows an advert for the paid VPN while queueing. The queue often starts in the thousands, so you have to wait quite a while before connecting. This can be especially annoying if you accidentally select the wrong server.

Speeds are reduced on the free version, but this VPN is so fast that even the impaired speed of the free VPN is faster than a lot of the paid VPNs on the market. There are no data limits, but the torrenting and video streaming optimization options are turned off in the free version.

The paid version of CyberGhost gives you access to servers in 60 countries, but with the free CyberGhost you get a choice of servers in 11 countries.

You don’t need to identify yourself at all in order to download and use this app. As with the paid version, you get the protection of CyberGhost’s no-logs policy. You can only run the free VPN on one device. However, as you don’t need to identify yourself to get the app, that restriction can’t be enforced. The ad and tracker blocking features of CyberGhost are not included in the free version, nor is the data compression feature.

2. Windscribe

windscribe homepage

Windscribe is based in Canada, in which the proportion of torrenters to the general population is higher than anywhere in the world. Windscribe is OK with you using the VPN for torrent protection. The company deletes all connection records three minutes after a session is terminated. However, it does record the amount of data consumed by each free account.

This is an excellent paid VPN, and its free version is almost as good. With the paid subscription, you can access servers in 52 countries. The free version just gives you access to servers in 11 countries:

  •         United States
  •         Canada
  •         United Kingdom
  •         Hong Kong
  •         France
  •         Germany
  •         Luxembourg
  •         Netherlands
  •         Switzerland
  •         Romania
  •         Norway

Windscribe doesn’t place speed restrictions on the free service, but there is a data cap of 10 GB, which is a lot for a free VPN. The allowance is reset on the same day of the month that you sign up on.

Windscribe is available as both an app and a browser extension. The browser extension is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera — it won’t cover your torrent client. The app is available for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, and Android. You connect to the VPN through a third-party app on iOS and you can install the VPN manually on Linux and routers.

The encryption offered by the Windscribe app is very strong. It uses RSA with a 4096-bit key for session establishment and the main data encryption cipher is AES with a 256-bit key.

3. Hide.me

hide me website ss

Hide.me is based in Malaysia, which is a good location for a VPN and the legal landscape there allows this VPN company to operate under a no-logs policy. You get speeds of at least 3 Mbps with this free VPN and the company gives free users a data allowance of 2GB per month.

The VPN app can be installed on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, iOS, and Android. You can install the VPN manually on Linux computers and routers. The company avoids logging user activity against any personally identifiable information — including the IP address.

The paid version can use the OpenVPN, SoftEther, IKEv2, SSTP, and PPTP protocols. With the free version, you can’t access OpenVPN or SoftEther, so we recommend IKEv2, which includes AES encryption with a 256-bit key.

The free version allows P2P activity and gives you access to servers in three countries:

  •         Netherlands
  •         Canada
  •         Singapore

If you sign up for the paid version, you can cancel and get your money back within 14-days.

4. SurfEasy

SurfEasy screenshot

SurfEasy is owned by Symantec, which gives it an excellent reputation. This VPN is based in Canada, which means it is subject to the same liberal jurisdiction as Windscribe. There are two paid plans for this VPN: the Total and the Ultra packages. The Ultra pack includes extra protection for torrenting. However, P2P activities are not specifically banned with the Total or the free Basic plans.

Both the Basic and Total plans get access to servers in 16 countries. These are:

  •         Australia
  •         Brazil
  •         Canada
  •         France
  •         Germany
  •         Italy
  •         Japan
  •         Netherlands
  •         Norway
  •         Poland
  •         Romania
  •         Singapore
  •         Spain
  •         Ukraine
  •         United Kingdom
  •         United States

The Ultra package gives access to servers in 15 more countries.

The company offers a 7-day money-back guarantee, so this VPN probably wouldn’t be a good choice for the “sign up and cancel” strategy.

SurfEasy apps are available for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS, plus a browser extension for Chrome and Opera. Each account gets an allowance of five simultaneous connections — even the free plan.

Surfeasy limits monthly data throughput. This is initially set at 600 MB, which is not much. However, by completing certain tasks, such as installing both the app and the browser extension, registering your email, or following the service on Twitter, you can easily get the allowance up over 1 GB per month.

Free versions of VPNs that are not quite good enough

Although there are some great free versions of excellent VPNs to try out, in most cases, the impairments imposed on them makes them useless for torrenting. Here are a few examples:

TunnelBear

TunnelBear screenshot

TunnelBear is a great VPN with a cute, simple design. Amazingly, this fantastic VPN has a free version. You would think this would be perfect for use when torrenting. However:

  •         The free version only allows a data throughput of 500 MB per month
  •         The company doesn’t allow its VPN to be used for torrenting

So, TunnelBear would be great for low data volume browsing, but it is not a feasible choice for torrenters.

ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN screenshot

Proton is a Swiss company that produces a fantastic secure email system. The company has used its expertise to produce a really good VPN service. The billing structure of ProtonVPN is a little odd. The company produces both a paid and a free VPN. Proton claims that both versions are exactly the same.  Subscribers to the paid version fund the free version. You might think this is the perfect free VPN, but:

  •         Torrenting is not allowed

SaferVPN

SaferVPN is an excellent service that we frequently recommend at Comparitech. You can try out the service on a 24-hour free trial and you also get a 14-day money-back guarantee. So, you could use this VPN for free for a day, sign up, and then cancel after two weeks and get your money back.

The free version of SaferVPN is available once you have completed the free trial if you choose not to subscribe. However:

  •         You only get a monthly data allowance of 500 MB
  •         Only available as a browser extension and won’t cover your torrent client

SecurityKISS

SecurityKISS screenshot

SecurityKISS is a low-priced VPN service that is also available for free. The company is based in the Republic of Ireland. This VPN service declares that it keeps “minimum logs.” You don’t need to give any information about yourself at all in order to use the free VPN. You don’t even need to set up a username and password.

The app uses OpenVPN in its Windows and Mac OS X/macOS versions. This is the best VPN protocol available. L2TP is available for Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, iOS, and Linux. The free version of the VPN is the lowest of five tiers. The most expensive plan gives access to servers in 16 countries and the free VPN has access to servers in four countries.

However, you wouldn’t want to use the paid version of this VPN for torrenting because those minimum logs include your IP address and timestamps of your sessions. Other reasons why SecurityKiss is not suitable for torrenting include:

  •         Crackable 1024-bit RSA encryption for session establishment
  •         Data throughput limit of 300 MB per day
  •         Terms of Service ban torrenting

ProXPN

ProXPN screenshot

ProXPN allows torrenting and includes OpenVPN protection. The VPN is headquartered in the USA, which is not an ideal location for a privacy service because it makes it vulnerable to government pressure and legal challenges. The paid version of the VPN offers servers in the USA, the UK, the Netherlands, and Singapore. However, the free version only gives access to servers in the USA.

You can sign up for the Premium (paid) service and get a 30-day refund period. This would be better than using the free version because:

  •         Torrenting is not allowed
  •         Data transfer speeds are limited to 300 Kbps

Free VPNs to avoid

There are some very bad free VPNs that should be avoided at all costs, and not just for torrenting. These VPNs make the blacklist either by providing terrible service, compromising user security, or just by being plain, downright and shamelessly dishonest. So, no matter how much their advertising may tempt you, do not, under any circumstances, install the following VPNs.

Hola!

Hola! is a free service that purports to be a VPN, but it isn’t. The system emulates the Tor network in that it uses the connections of members to pass through the connections of other users. This is presented very much like a mutually beneficial setup serving a community. However, the organization that runs Hola! also owns a business that sells access to the network. So, free users allow other users to pass their connections through their system in exchange for the same service in return. However, paid users don’t have to accept anyone else’s traffic.

Essentially, Hola! is selling the bandwidth of gullible free members. It gets worse. Hola! is advertised as a privacy service and yet its free version doesn’t include any encryption at all. The operating methodology of Hola! sends your traffic through other people’s internet connections. If you happen to be an exit point — a designation that occurs randomly — a lot of other people’s internet traffic has your IP address on it.

The sister company that sells access to the network is called Luminati. The company makes no effort to screen customers. So, it is very attractive to criminal elements and hackers who need cover for illegal activities on the internet. As a free user, you have no control over who passes their traffic through your internet connection. If someone performs a criminal act, traceable to your IP address, you could get into a lot of trouble.

The Tor-like routing of Hola! introduces a performance flaw. The Hola! network doesn’t carry your traffic all the way to its destination. Instead, your traffic bounces around the world through several different nodes and the exit point could be anywhere. Your traffic then has to continue over the internet unprotected. This final journey could well be from one side of the globe to the other. So, Hola! results in very slow transfer speeds and is useless for downloading.

Hotspot Shield

Hotspot Shield was a star of a CSIRO study into bad VPNs (PDF) and features prominently within the research group’s warnings. Researchers discovered the VPN reroutes member access to certain sites through an affiliate program, so the VPN’s parent company, AnchorFree, earns a commission on everything those users buy at those sites. So, the VPN might redirect you to Overstock.com, where AnchorFree earns percentage of everything you pay at that site. This also happens if you are running the VPN and make a purchase at AliBaba, eBay, NewEgg, Macy’s, Best Buy, or Target.

The AnchorFree marketing arm reportedly sells advertising space on the websites that you visit. You may think that the adverts you see are part of the original websites. However, Hotspot injects the ads into web pages. So, while other VPNs offer an extra ad blocking service, Hotspot Shield can add extra adverts in or replaces existing ones.

If you have a Netflix subscription, Hotspot Shield will block your access to the Netflix site and put up a warning page instead, which tells you to buy the paid version of the VPN, Hotspot Shield Elite.

Download speeds through the Hotspot Shield servers in the USA are capped at 1.4 Mbps and so it will slow your connection down.

See also: Hotspot Shield review

Betternet

Betternet is another VPN owned by AnchorFree. The CSIRO researchers found this free VPN contains malware, adware, and tracking codes. In fact, it includes 14 different tracking codes, which is way more than most dodgy VPNs. The CSIRO also discovered 13 instances of malware in the Betternet app.

Betternet’s Terms of Service give the VPN the right to grant third-party companies access to your computer. In the same document, the service absolves itself of any responsibility for the actions of those third-parties.

The free version of the VPN only gives you access to a server in the United States, so users are vulnerable to copyright trolls and ISP penalties.

The Betternet VPN drags down your transfer speeds. In the author’s experience, a transatlantic connection to the New York server reduced download rate to about 20 percent of its unprotected speed.

Cheap VPNs suitable for torrenting

The VPN market is full of great deals on good VPNs. For under $3 per month you can subscribe to a VPN service far superior to a free VPN that will allow you to torrent privately and without speed issues. Here are three great VPNs for under $3 a month.

CyberGhost

Cyberghost Torrenting

CyberGhost offers very good speeds. This is an excellent service that you will read more about in a later section of this guide. The company is based in Romania, where the High Court consistently throws out laws that impose data retention requirements on service providers. So, your identity is very well protected by CyberGhost.

The company doesn’t keep any identifiable information on its customers. All they have on you is an account number. A separate company based in a different country collects payment and then notifies CyberGhost that account XYZ has credit until a particular date. CyberGhost keeps no activity logs, so you will be impossible to trace.

The company operates servers in 60 countries, giving you plenty of options to find a location close to you. The home screen gives lets you specify what you plan to use the VPN for. Torrenting is one of those options. When you select that option, the app adjusts all of its settings to optimize downloading and selects a server specially configured to facilitate P2P file sharing.

CyberGhost can block ads and tracking cookies and added data compression is great for speeding up downloads.

There are no data limits on the paid version of CyberGhost. You can connect up to seven devices at once. The slick CyberGhost app is available on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS devices. The service can be manually installed on Linux and wifi routers. A router installation covers all of the devices in your home, but counts as only one of your seven simultaneous connections.

The CyberGhost app contains two split tunneling options. The first of these lets you nominate an internet address to which the VPN tunnel will not be applied. This option won’t be of much interest to you as a torrenter. Second, you can set the VPN to only protect specified applications, so it can just protect your torrent client without affecting other apps.

CyberGhost matches the high security of ExpressVPN. It uses a 4096-bit key RSA cipher for session establishment and key exchange protection. The data channel is protected by 256-bit key AES encryption.

CyberGhost offers live support during European business hours. You can also contact them via a web form, or through a page in the app. You can also get hold of them by email. Note that a help desk call requires you to give an email address where you can be contacted, and that breaks all of the excellent anonymity features that CyberGhost has put in place. Instead, you could find a solution to your problem by searching through the knowledge base on the website, which is very comprehensive.

CyberGhost gives you a 30-day money-back guarantee and they don’t put up a fight when you ask to cancel the service.

GOOD BUDGET VPN:CyberGhost is a great value choice. Strong on privacy, fast speeds and reliable for torrenting. We found it easy to set up and use. Works well with most streaming sites but not Amazon Prime. 45-day money back guarantee.

Read our full Cyberghost review.

PrivateVPN

privatevpn deal

PrivateVPN was set up by torrenters and the founders still campaign for the right to internet freedom. So, the support staff won’t judge you for torrenting. The support technicians are available via a live chat popup at the website and they can use remote control software to take over your computer with your permission. This enables them to explore problems and fix them for you. They won’t shop you to the cops if the problem relates to your torrent client.

As this VPN was set up for downloading, it has no data limits and offers excellent speeds. The server count of this VPN is very low when compared to other leading VPNs. However, the company spread its servers around the world, which means it offers locations in 56 countries.

The company is based in Sweden and it is adamant that it keeps no logs at all. The data retention situation in Sweden has been a battlefield in the past few years. This is due to the country’s membership of the EU, which keeps trying to impose record keeping on digital service providers in its member states. A few other Swedish VPN companies have moved to Mauritius just to be on the safe side. However, the leaders of PrivateVPN prefer to stand and fight. This policy paid off at the end of 2016 when Swedish privacy activists managed to convince the European Courts of Justice to invalidate all data retention laws in Europe.

This service’s session establishment encryption isn’t quite as strong as that of CyberGhost and ExpressVPN because its RSA implementation uses a 2048-bit key, but that’s still considered un-crackable. The 256-bit key AES cipher is same high standard as the above two VPNs. Alternatively, 128-bit Blowfish is an alternative encryption system available within the app.

PrivateVPN employs the same account privacy policies as CyberGhost. In fact, it uses the same payment collection company — Cleverbridge — to protect the identity of its customers. You are only identified by an account number on the PrivateVPN system.

PrivateVPN allows six simultaneous connections and you can install it on your router to cover all of the devices in your home under a single connection. The PrivateVPN app can be installed on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS. You can also install the service manually on Linux computers.

PrivateVPN offers five months use for free, but you have to pay for a one-year subscription in order to get that and you lose those free months if you cancel the service. The money-back guarantee of PrivateVPN lasts for 30 days. So, you can use it for a month, cancel it, and get all of your money back. The cancelation process is straightforward and quick.

GREAT FOR SPEED:PrivateVPN is consistently reliable. Good for general purpose use and Torrenting. Speeds were surprisingly good at this end of the market. Could do with having more servers and lacks 24/7 support. 30-day money back guarantee.

Read our full review of PrivateVPN

NordVPN

NordVPN torrenting

NordVPN is another top VPN that offers a 30-day refund guarantee. You can sign up, use the service for a month, cancel it, and then get all of your money back. The company presents no problems when faced with a refund request — we’ve tested the process anonymously.

The company is based in Panama. NordVPN doesn’t have any servers in Panama and it keeps no logs on their customers’ activities, so torrenters are sufficiently protected by this service.

The data encryption offered by NordVPN uses a 256-bit key AES cipher. The distribution of the AES key is protected by a 2048-bit key RSA encryption. Other interesting security measures offered by NordVPN are double-hop VPN, which places two layers of encryption on your connections and routes through two servers in different countries. Also, you have the option of connecting through the VPN to the Tor network. Although these two services will protect your identity really thoroughly while torrenting, the extra routing will slow down your connection. You may prefer to pass on those extra-strength systems in order to speed up downloads.

The customer support team is accessible via a ticket submission form on the NordVPN website or via email. Although these channels are not as immediate as live chat, the help desk team responds to queries very quickly. The company is fine about customers using the system for torrenting, so you can speak freely when you need to contact customer support with a torrent-related problem.

You can install the NordVPN app on Windows, Mac OS X, macOS, Android, and iOS. You can also set up the VPN manually on Linux computers and wifi routers. You get an allowance of six simultaneous connections and a router installation counts as just one of those even though it covers all of the devices in your home.

The server pool of NordVPN is very large. It runs 3,657 servers spread across 62 countries as of time of writing. This gives you a better chance of finding a server close to you. The server selection list includes the ping return time from your location and the load of each server to help you choose a fast route for your torrent downloads.

AFFORDABLE CHOICE:NordVPN is a good all-rounder. A great value option which works reliably with torrenting. Connects up to 6 devices simultaneously. App doesn’t offer server switching choice. 30-day money back guarantee.

Read our full review of NordVPN.

Why you need a VPN for torrenting

Peer-to-Peer protocols, notably BitTorrent, are innovative file storage and transfer methodologies, but most implementations of this amazing technology focus on illegal downloading of copyrighted files.

Although paid systems can use torrents for file distribution, they aren’t as popular as the sites and groups that get you free stuff. Comparitech doesn’t condone copyright infringement, and so this article focuses on subscription media distribution systems that employ the BitTorrent protocol to let you get entertainment legally.

Given that BitTorrent is frequently used for illegal downloading, ISPs look out for torrenting traffic. Even if you use the torrenting system for legal purposes, your internet service provider might still flag you. In this case, you could be penalized for downloading and get caught up in a legal tangle even if you did nothing wrong. ISPs often use Sandvine or a similar system that identifies torrenting traffic and sends RESET commands to the peer. This results in your connections constantly dropping, making it impossible to download anything.

In order to avoid the problems that can arise from your ISP detecting your torrent activities, it is just better to mask your internet traffic. This is a service that VPNs perform well. However, there are a few issues to take into consideration when choosing a VPN for torrenting. You need to find a service that has all of the following attributes:

  •         Fast speeds for quick downloads
  •         Unlimited bandwidth
  •         Large server network
  •         No logs
  •         Strong encryption to block deep packet inspection
  •         Comprehensive address masking
  •         Port forwarding to assist torrenting
  •         Unlimited data
  •         System-wide coverage (not just browser)

The list of requirements for a torrent VPN makes the right service very difficult to find.

VPN address substitution and privacy

A couple of issues raised in the descriptions of the VPNs above need to be explained further. When looking for a free VPN for torrenting, you need to make sure that it replaces your IP address. This is because anyone in a torrent swarm can see the IP addresses of peers. This info has been used by copyright law firms to trace downloaders and hit them with settlement letters demanding compensation. In other instances, torrent services have been forced to hand over the records of all the addresses that visited the site.

So, you have to be sure that your real IP address is not visible on the internet. For this reason, you should scrutinize a free VPN and test it out before connecting to a torrent swarm. Not all VPNs sufficiently hide your address, and so could expose you to bad actors.

The issue of data retention is vitally important when choosing a VPN. If a VPN replaces your IP address, that protection is no use if they then tell copyright lawyers or law enforcement which user was represented by an IP address at a certain time. The issue of whether a VPN service purposefully gives out this information is immaterial. When presented with a court order, the staff and owners of a VPN company have three choices: hand over all of their records; go to jail and have their company’s door kicked in and all of their records seized while they are away; or go to jail, get banned from operating a business, and have all of their records seized. So, the only defense they can offer is to keep no records. If there are no logs of user activity or identifiable information, third parties can’t request, steal, or coerce such information out of the VPN provider.

The VPN industry is very crowded and competition is fierce. All VPN companies know about the importance of privacy to users. Many keep logs that identify users despite claims to the contrary. Some companies dance around the definition of what a log is and will stretch the definition of personally identifiable information. Some outright lie and say they don’t keep logs when they actually do.

The location of the VPN provider’s headquarters is also important. Some countries are very strong on copyright enforcement. If a VPN company is based in a country that has strong copyright laws, the owners of that company can be threatened with imprisonment or fines if they fail to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. That threat can be enough to sacrifice you your anonymity.

Choosing a VPN server for torrenting

As a general rule of thumb, it is better to connect to a VPN server as close as possible to the source of the data you are accessing. This is because VPNs divert your internet traffic through the VPN server. If you are in Turkey and connecting to a web server in Germany, for example, diverting all of your traffic through a VPN located in Hong Kong would create extra distance for each piece of data to travel and slow the download.

When torrenting, you are likely to connect to peers all over the globe simultaneously, so it isn’t feasible to connect to a VPN server close to the source. An alternative VPN server selection strategy is to connect to a server close to you. In order to complicate the legal process that might occur should anyone try to trace your activities, you would also be better off connecting to a server location just outside your own country. So, if you are in the UK, connect through the Netherlands, or France.

The top VPNs have servers in a lot of countries. If you are in Europe, you likely get plenty of choice from any VPN service. However, many free VPN services only offer one VPN location, which is often in the USA.

Should you Avoid “free” VPNs?

You won’t find any really good free VPNs that allow torrenting, have high speeds, and provide strong encryption. The costs involved in running a quality service just make it impossible for free services to be provided profitably.

Although there are hundreds of VPNs on the market, surprisingly few of them offer adequate privacy protection. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization discovered that 18 per cent of VPNs on the market don’t include any encryption at all (PDF). That study took place at the end of 2016 and examined a total of 283 VPN services. Without encryption, the protocol details of your connections are visible to your ISP. Then you face the dangers of activity logging and Sandvine intervention.

The CSIRO paper highlights that just picking a service out of a search engine results page is a risky strategy. You could be wasting your time installing a VPN that doesn’t include encryption, because without encryption, a VPN offers no protection from your ISP

Free services often work as a loss leader. Companies produce free VPNs in order to funnel customers to other profit centers. For example, the CSIRO found that 75 percent of the VPNs in the study contained tracking libraries. Programming those features into the VPN software costs money, and it doesn’t enhance the service for the customer. So, why do they do it? These free VPN services earn money by tracking the activities of customers and selling that information to advertisers. So, while people install VPNs to disguise their online habits, the free VPN they chose is likely to record and share their information rather than keep it secret.

Other free VPNs earn money by displaying advertisements to users, either in the app or injected into web pages as they get loaded into browsers.

The Tor network is an interesting option for those seeking privacy protection. This is a free service run by volunteers that works sort of like a VPN by routing traffic randomly through several relays, or nodes. Unfortunately, Tor is not suitable for torrenting. Transfers bounce all around the world and then have to cross the internet all over again once it exits the network. This makes downloading large files very slow and places a strain on the Tor network as a whole.

Conclusion

As you can see from our research, picking a free VPN at random is not an advisable strategy when you are looking for torrenting protection. You are already taking a lot of risks by using P2P networks, so you need to be very, very sure that your VPN provides cast iron protection.

Unfortunately, the quality of free VPNs ranges from “bad” to “criminal.” So, you really should give up on the dream of getting adequate protection for free. A few free services in our list are stablemates of reputable and excellent VPNs and you should focus on that list if you are really determined not to pay out anything at all.

See also:
VPN Reviews
6 best VPNs for torrenting & P2P for 2018

Image: I love P2P by Manuel Gonzalez Noriega via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0