File sharing has come a long way since Napster — but users of torrenting sites may still have security and privacy fears.
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!)
Torrenting is, however, a great way to share big files (freeware apps, movies, books, etc.) that are in the public domain. This is because you download parts of them from a number of users instead of from a single place, so the demands are less on any one server and downloads are faster.
But in return for accessing files from other people’s computers, you are expected to reciprocate. Without a VPN, this could leave you vulnerable to security scams, viruses, malware attacks, and even legal action if you’ve shared a copyrighted work (even a single song).
NordVPN — Best general use VPN for security
NordVPN is a popular VPN known for its security measures. The Panama-based company has a slew of security tools available, such as shared IP addresses, and because it’s based away from the EU and US (like many VPNs), it doesn’t have to collect a user’s personal data and information, so details can’t be passed to third parties.
Its Mac client uses Next Generation Encryption (NGE) IKEv2/IPsec as standard and 256bit-GCM for encryption, a military-grade encryption. There is also the option to use “Onion over VPN” or Double VPN servers, which means data is passed through two separate VPN servers instead of one, although this takes a considerable toll on speed.
NordVPN doesn’t keep logs of online activity. This means that your private data, online activity, and browsing history can’t be monitored, gathered, exposed, or intercepted by third parties. Users can also select DNS leak protection to protect their IP address and an automatic kill switch, which either kills all programs or chosen programs if the VPN connection drops. This protects a user’s personal data from being temporarily exposed. There’s also ad-blocking functionality and protection against phishing threats.
Users can link up to six devices simultaneously to NordVPN’s servers using apps for Mac OS, Windows, iOS, and Android. The service also boasts unlimited bandwidth for torrenting, decent download speed, and a 24/7 live chat tool for support.
Notably, NordVPN is able to unblock geo-locked services including Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime Video making it a popular choice for one-season-a-day bingers.
However, while NordVPN has plenty of pros, its monthly plan is relatively expensive, at $11.95/month. But the price drops significantly to $3.29/month as part of a two-year subscription.
PIA is an established name in the VPN world and is among the cheapest of the well-known offerings, claiming to be the “highest quality for the lowest price.” Designed for torrenting, PIA doesn’t monitor or restrict any connections including peer-to-peer file sharing and can be used with any torrenting client without the annoyance of being blocked or throttled.
In terms of security, PIA claims there is no logging. It offers anonymous IP, encrypted Wi-Fi, ad and malware blockers, a kill switch, as well as various levels of encryption.
The company claims its VPN is simple to use with one click connection and intuitive software that’s compatible across devices, with apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and Google Chrome. The service can be used across five connections at the same time and download speeds are fairly impressive for a cheaper VPN too, although speeds are notoriously difficult to measure overall.
PIA boasts global coverage with 3,041 servers in 45 locations across 28 countries and claims to unblock websites, meaning the end of geographic restrictions, but some users report not being able to use it for Netflix, for example.
Most professional testers say PIA offers good download speeds but some users have complained in forums that they can be unpredictable. Another feature that may put off some users is PIA’s location, as it’s based here in the USA — AKA a Five Eyes country. This means that security agencies operating in countries that are part of this surveillance alliance could demand access to customer data, which is a big turn-off for those using VPNs for less than legal means. However, PIA says it has designed its operations “to prevent this from happening in the first place,” because there are no logs of identifying information collected about users. This means that in theory, it can’t be handed over no matter how much force is applied.
Customers can pay just $2.91/month if they sign up to PIA’s two-year subscription, or shell out $6.95 per month on a monthly basis. There are free VPNs, but the majority of security experts advise steering well clear of these.
IPVanish — Best for a simple, one-tier offering
Many VPNs offer different packages from basic to “platinum,” with deluxe options boasting extra security and other features for a slightly higher price. However, IPVanish has made a reputation in the marketplace for being more straightforward.
All users get unlimited bandwidth and P2P traffic, decent download speeds, and five simultaneous connections on multiple devices.
When it comes to security, the VPN offers anonymous torrenting, good 256-bit AES encryption, no traffic logs, and unlimited server switching. It also provides an optional kill switch and SOCKS5 proxy to mask a user’s personal IP address while making P2P and VoIP connections.
Thanks to OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec VPN protocols, IPVanish is compatible with almost any device and there are apps for Mac OS, Windows, Android, and iOS. It also has impressive global reach with more than 1,000 servers across 60 countries that it owns itself.
A drawback: There’s no compatibility for Netflix or TOR (The Orion Network) — a heavyweight security measure that lets users create a second layer of security. Although this shouldn’t put off an average user.
Currently IPVanish is offering monthly subscriptions for $10/month and yearly subscriptions for $6.49/month. There’s also a handy seven day money-back guarantee.
PureVPN — Best for loads of features
PureVPN is one of the oldest and biggest VPN providers in the market and while its reputation was tainted by a problem with its logging policy, the VPN still offers heaps of features and is a great value for the average user who is not doing anything illegal.
The VPN offers all the usual features, plus lots of extras. For example, users can use split tunneling to decide which traffic is funneled through their VPN and which is not, and there’s the ability to create a Wi-Fi VPN hotspot. This is an unusual feature that basically turns a host computer into a VPN router.
To make life easier for users, there are apps for Mac OS, Windows, Android, and iOS devices and the company claims its product is easy to set up on games consoles and smart TVs. And the convenience doesn’t stop there. Customers can even pay for PureVPN using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as well as gift cards.
There are a whole bunch of security options, including industry standard 256-bit encryption, support for pretty much all protocols, built-in ad and malware blocking, DNS and IPv6 leak protection, and a kill switch.
However, the company’s zero logging policy ran into trouble when in 2017 a user was arrested partially due to Pure VPN session logs. The VPN isn’t the only one to record session data (when a user connects to a server and the incoming IP address and bandwidth used is recorded) but it did hit the tech press headlines, no doubt rattling some users who may be using the service in less than legal ways. This is probably of little concern to the average user though.
As well as this potential security glitch, the company has been accused of having hit-and-miss download speeds. The best-value subscription costs just $2.88/month for two years, but the seven-day money-back guarantee has terms and conditions attached.
CyberGhost – Best for newbies
VPNs can seem overwhelmingly complicated to newbies, but CyberGhost boasts a simple interface with simple language to explain all its features, making it way less daunting. It’s fast to set up — claiming to be a “one-click solution for your digital needs” — and has intuitive apps for a variety of popular devices.There’s friendly support via chat or email and lots of troubleshooting guides if anything goes wrong. Despite this accessible approach, it still packs a punch by anyone’s standards.
Users have access to 1,300 servers in 115 locations across the globe and unlimited bandwidth and traffic, making CyberGhost ideal for torrenting. They have reported quick download speeds and streaming, of Hulu and BBC iPlayer, for example.
The VPN is popularly used for unblocking content, so users can access Netflix’s catalog anywhere in the world and other services that are geoblocked, as well as bypassing the great firewall of China. It supports BitTorrent in most countries.
CyberGhost’s best-value subscription is currently $2.75/month for three years or $11.99/month on a monthly basis. It offers a 30-day money back guarantee and there’s a seven day trial.
ExpressVPN – Best all-rounded pick
ExpressVPN tops many best of lists and for good reason. It offers fast download speeds, great security, has great global reach, and is easy to use for beginners who don’t want the hassle of configuring every detail. This is because there’s instant set-up across a range of devices and apps for Mac OS, Windows, Android, iOS, and Linux.
This VPN is great for torrenting thanks to its unlimited bandwidth and no throttling supported on all of its servers. It’s one of the speediest offerings out there according to various speed tests.
Security-wise, ExpressVPN is impressive, with strong 256-bit AES encryption and support for lots of VPN protocols. The company offers a strict no logging policy, which means no tracking or storing of personal data and that data is encrypted and hidden from all eyes, even ExpressVPN’s. There’s a handy kill switch and DNS/IPv6 leak protection. A split tunneling feature for Mac and Windows allows users to protect their torrent client only, leaving other activities such as gaming unaffected by the VPN and not suffering a drop in speed. There’s also TOR compatibility for serious users and the company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, which means there are no data retention laws.
ExpressVPN has over 2,000 servers in 148 locations and 94 countries and can be used for unblocking geo-locked entertainment offerings such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and so on.
While ExpressVPN’s offering is impressive, a few cons are present. It only offers three simultaneous connections — less than some of its competitors — and costs a little more than some, too.
A one-month subscription costs $12.95, but there’s currently a deal for $6.67/month if you sign up for 15 months. There’s no free trial period, but there is a 30-day money back guarantee.