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The ultimate guide to BitTorrent

How it works, how to avoid the pitfalls

BitTorrent has come a long way since its public release on July 2, 2001, but unless you're a regular media pirate, you probably haven't used it much. Read on to find out how it works and to clear up a few common misconceptions about it.

Why does My NAS drive/wireless router/media streaming box have BitTorrent?

Over the past two years, we've been seeing apps with BitTorrent embedded in them finding their way into a handful of devices, including NAS drives, media streamers, and wireless routers. It's a fairly natural fit: Many people use BitTorrent to download movies, music, and TV shows, so these devices can download, store, and stream to your PC or TV without your having to leave the PC on all the time. The actual client software included differs from device to device, but most of them use a web app nested within the device's management page. Buffalo, for example, has licensed the official BitTorrent app, so the web app is essentially a modified version of the µTorrent web client. Keep in mind that you still have to find the actual .torrent files yourself.

Is BitTorrent Safe?

Well, that depends.

Illegal file-sharing sites can leave you open to malware infection. Because so many people use BitTorrent for swapping copyrighted material, it also qualifies as a security risk. There's no guarantee that anyone has screened the files shared via BitTorrent, and some pirates might try to make money by hiding malware in your downloads and then selling access to your computer, or by adding your PC to a botnet of infected PCs.

Still, nothing about the file-sharing protocol itself makes BitTorrent more dangerous than any other method of transferring files. If your system gets infected with malware from a file downloaded via BitTorrent, the culprit is the tainted file, not the fact that you downloaded it via BitTorrent. Had you opened the same file as an email attachment, it would have introduced the same infection.

Whether you use BitTorrent to download OpenOffice or each episode of The Office, there are a few things you can do to help yourself stay safe while using it:

  • When you search a tracker site for a .torrent file, read the comments about a file before downloading it. If a popular file is infected with something, someone else has probably already downloaded it, found the malware, and posted a message warning others.
  • Vet your torrent trackers thoroughly. Lots of websites contain fake torrent search listings. If it seems as though real people aren't posting on the site, don't use it.
  • Don't use BitTorrent without some form of antivirus. Even a free antivirus app like Microsoft Security Essentials, if properly updated, can help keep you somewhat safe.

See also: Apple boots BitTorrent-related app from iTunes

  1. We explain how it works
  2. Downloading with BitTorrent
  3. NAS drives and other devices with BitTorrent

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