In the last few years, two technologies have risen to the top as the go-to for people seeking to share large files: torrents and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).
While they have much in common, especially when it comes to security and privacy, torrents and VPNs are very different animals. In this article, we’ll discuss the key differences between torrents and VPNs in detail. This way, you can have a full understanding of what each one is and how they function.
Torrents and VPNs: A Brief History
In the year 2008, a young Turkish developer named Vuze (which later became part of the BitTorrent Inc. organization) released a video that would shake the world of file-sharing.
The video, which showcased a completely new and innovative way to share files online called BitTorrent, received rave reviews and inspired many people. For example, the Netflix show, “Glitch” was directly inspired by the BitTorrent video.
In the years that followed, BitTorrent grew from a small team of developers to a multi-billion-dollar organization. Today, BitTorrent is one of the world’s most popular file-sharing platforms, often referred to as a “Netflix for files”.
Vuze’s original idea behind BitTorrent was to create a safe and secure way for people to share large files without having to worry about malware or security vulnerabilities. Vuze was motivated by the 2008 Somalia cyber-attack that compromised the security of over 1,400 Internet-connected devices, including over 300 Smartphones. Thanks to BitTorrent, users can rest assured that their information will be safe and secure while also being able to access resources and information that they need to work, study, or simply be content.
Vuze developed BitTorrent with security in mind, and thanks to its end-to-end encryption, it was one of the first file-sharing platforms to gain the “Privacy-Preserving Proxy” certification from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Many large file-sharing platforms have followed suit and built their services on top of BitTorrent, including Google Drive and iCloud Share. Indeed, file-sharing has never been more popular, especially among mainstream users who are looking for a safe and easy way to share large files with trusted individuals. However, while the need for privacy and security in BitTorrent is obvious, it’s not always easy to understand the different ways that it can be provided.
What is a VPN?
Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN is a network of cryptographic tunnels that allows for private connections between two parties, or groups of parties. With VPNs, users can ensure that their communications are private and secure by leveraging the resources of a third party, usually a “VPN provider”.
VPNs were originally designed for use in military and government networks, but they’ve since become commonplace on the commercial market as well. The number of VPN users is growing, and its popularity amongst people who want to safeguard their personal information and connections is clear from the Vuze vs. PIA case study we mentioned earlier. In that study, we discussed how the PIA VPN, in comparison to that of Vuze, offers fewer features and much slower speeds, but it’s priced at only $5 per month (plus a one-time setup fee of $30).
When compared to BitTorrent, a VPN is much more limited in terms of its functionality (e.g., it can only establish point-to-point connections and cannot maintain a consistent speed), but it also requires less effort to set up and use. This makes VPNs extremely popular amongst power users and people who need to cover a large number of devices (for work or study).
The Key Differences Between Torrents and VPNs
As we’ve established, BitTorrent and VPNs are very similar in many ways. Both are safe and secure ways for people to share large files. Both offer end-to-end encryption and privacy-preserving protocols. Both can be used to establish private connections between individuals, groups, or organizations. And both support many cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.
While BitTorrent and VPNs have a lot in common, there are still some key differences that set them apart. Let’s take a look:
Key Differences Between Torrents and VPNs (Part 1)
The first and foremost difference between Torrents and VPNs has to do with security. As we’ve established, SecuritY is of paramount importance when it comes to the safety and security of your personal information. And what is security but the confidence that what you are doing is safe and legal?
When it comes to security in BitTorrent, you have essentially two options: you can either choose to trust the default settings of the application or you can proactively configure your BitTorrent client to offer the most optimal security settings possible. This is where the “security” button in the BitTorrent client comes in. By pressing this button, you can access a menu that gives you a choice of various security protocols, as well as monitor devices (e.g., routers and semiconductors) that you’re sharing with.
And what are the security protocols that you can choose from? Well, let’s take a look:
The first and perhaps most significant protocol that you can use to establish a secure connection in BitTorrent is “Private Key”. To establish a private connection using Private Key, you need to have a pair of keys. One key is the “Public Key”, which is broadcast to the world at large. This is the key that you will share with the person(s) with whom you’re planning to communicate. The other key is the “Private Key”, which is kept confidential and used to encrypt data that is shared between the parties. For example, if Alice has a Private Key and Bob has a Public Key, they can create a secure connection that is private to the world
Using the Private Key protocol, any data that is transmitted between the parties is always secure and always confidential (i.e., it is not accessible to any third parties, including “VPN
providers” which are often owned by or partnership with large Internet companies like Google or Amazon).
One significant advantage of Private Key is that it is more secure than the default BitTorrent protocol, “Shared Key”. To establish a secure connection using “Shared Key”, you need only a single key (i.e., the Public Key). However, Private Key is more efficient, which is important when you’re trying to secure a lot of devices (e.g., a work network, a home network, or a small business network).
Perfect Forward Secrecy
When it comes to securities, you often hear of the benefits of Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). Simply put, Perfect Forward Secrecy ensures that no matter how many times a ciphertext is decrypted, it will always be slightly different than the original ciphertext. In other words, Perfect Forward Secrecy ensures that your private keys stay private (even after they’ve been used to encrypt data).