If you’re interested in torrenting, and in protecting your online privacy, you may have heard of PeerBlock. The article explores what PeerBlock is, how it differs from a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and whether there’s any benefit to using it.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is PeerBlock?
PeerBlock is an open source firewall product for Windows. It can block chosen IP addresses from connecting to your PC. People who torrent files are its primary users.
The idea is that you can use PeerBlock (formerly PeerGuardian) to block IP addresses associated with governments, copyright authorities and similar organisations. You can thus engage in torrenting with more privacy, reducing the chance of anybody detecting what you’re doing.
How Does PeerBlock Work?
Once you install PeerBlock, you can add whichever IP addresses you like to the configuration. PeerBlock will block both incoming and outgoing connections to those IPs.
It’s possible to add IPs on a case-by-case basis. However, PeerBlock users usually make use of blacklists from services like i-BlockList.com. These maintain lists of IPs of known enforcement agencies, governments, or other organisations or individuals that users may wish to block. While PeerBlock itself is free, access to the lists is generally on a paid subscription basis.
An example of how this might work (in theory) is that someone torrenting copyrighted material could install PeerBlock, configure a “block list” of copyright enforcement agencies and governments, and feel that they’re “flying under the radar” in terms of getting caught.
However, there are numerous flaws in this thinking – as we’ll discuss in a moment.
Is PeerBlock a VPN?
PeerBlock Vs VPN
People often use a VPN for torrenting and some users mention PeerBlock in related discussions. However, PeerBlock is simply a rudimentary “firewall” system that blocks IP addresses.
A VPN is a far more refined solution for online privacy. It offers considerably more functionality and peace of mind.
Does PeerBlock Work for Torrenting?
PeerBlock achieves what it sets out to do on a technical level. However, it’s fundamentally flawed as a privacy solution. For torrenting, any sense you may get PeerBlock is protecting your privacy is a false one.
Here are the reasons why PeerBlock falls short:
- Manually maintained IP blacklists will never be 100% correct or complete. All an enforcement agent or government representative needs to do is investigate from a new location for the first time and they won’t be on any blacklist.
- Arbitrarily blocking thousands of IP addresses can have unpredictable and negative effects on internet performance. For example, websites can fail to load due to resources being blocked. When it comes to torrenting, having a far smaller pool of IPs to connect to will slow down torrenting and make fewer hosts available for leeching files. (This is because the lists often include vast numbers of IPs, many of which they probably don’t need to include at all.)
- PeerBlock only blocks IPs – it doesn’t hide your own. As such, when you connect to a torrent file, your IP address is clear for all to see.
- PeerBlock doesn’t do anything to encrypt your traffic. This means your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will still be fully aware of what you’re doing, including visiting websites and torrenting files.
Aside from these fundamental issues, the key thing that prevents PeerBlock from being particularly effective is that it’s entirely dependent on the accuracy of its blacklists. Ultimately, the ever-evolving, transient nature of how much of the internet’s infrastructure works means that keeping these permanently up-to-date is a battle that will never be won.
Using a VPN Instead of PeerBlock
If you wish to hide your online activity from prying eyes, using a decent quality VPN solution is a far better idea than using PeerBlock.
A VPN encrypts your traffic so that not even your ISP knows what you’re doing online. Furthermore, the sites and services you connect to see one of VPN provider’s IP addresses, not your own.
For torrenting, we suggest looking at our Best VPN for Torrents list. There, we focus on the kind of features file-sharers need for the best possible privacy. These include kill switches, which prevent traffic going over your connection if the VPN drop outs, “no logs” policies, so that not even the VPN firm keeps a record of what you’re doing, and use of the best possible encryption standards.
Some providers even allow for Bitcoin payment, so you can use the service with greater anonymity.
NOTE: BestVPN.com does not recommend or condone the illegal downloading of copyrighted material.
Is There Any Benefit to Running a VPN AND PeerBlock?
There are plenty of online discussions and Reddit threads debating the wisdom of using PeerBlock and a VPN together. Most people seem to lean towards avoiding PeerBlock completely. However, some people choose to use both for specific purposes.
“Stacking” these solutions can have performance implications. Furthermore, a properly encrypted VPN should shield your online activity. As such, it’s probably best to stack PeerBlock and a VPN only if you have a very specific technical reason for doing so.
PeerBlock is best viewed as a tool for the specific purpose of blocking connections to selected IPs. If you have a reason to do this, then you could have a valid use for it. However, PeerBlock is neither a substitute for a VPN, nor a particularly natural complement to one.
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PeerBlock Vs. VPN: Conclusion
PeerBlock has a clear purpose, but in reality is something of a relic to times gone by. People have been questioning for years whether it could truly be effective for people wanting to hide their file sharing activities.
A good VPN service is a much better option. Just be sure to choose a well-reviewed service with the necessary features to protect you when torrenting. Our torrent VPN list describes these features in detail and presents the best options currently available.
If you’ve been using PeerBlock and assuming it’s keeping your activity private, it’s time for a rethink!