BTGuard is a paid proxy service intended for bittorrent users. For $6.95 a month you can use BTGuard to hide your IP address from other downloaders and bypass any traffic shaping your ISP performs to limit your bittorrent usage. I’ve given this service a try, with mixed results. Read on for more.
NOTE: I’ve had to disable comments on this post. I want to be completely clear: piracy is stealing. I have read many comments and opinions on this topic, from the intelligent to the misinformed to the disgusting. I refuse to get into a discussion about the ethics involved here, I just want to make it clear: if you are pirating media, you are stealing other people’s hard work, and it is wrong. That being said, please read on, and remember to use services such as this for legal and ethical activity.
BTGuard provides a Socks5 proxy, through which you pass your bittorrent (or other data) traffic before it goes out to other members of a bittorrent swarm. As a result, the tracker, as well as anyone else on that torrent, will see the BTGuard IP address rather than your own; your identity effectively stays hidden from the public.
When you register for a BTGuard account, you set a username and password, which you use to identify yourself to the proxy. This is called Socks5/A, or Socks5 with Authentication. Consequently, the service will only work with programs that support this proxy scheme; most bittorrent clients do, with the notable exception of Transmission (now the default client for Ubuntu Linux).
It is possible to use the proxy for more than just bittorrent traffic; but as of yet I have been unable to find a web browser with Socks5/A support. This includes Firefox, Opera, Konqueror, and Internet Explorer. However, any program that has support for this protocol should work, and the primary intention of the BTGuard service is for bittorrent anonymization.
In my tests, I used various clients, including Deluge, Azureus, and uTorrent (running via Wine).
Setting up your client to use BTGuard (after you have procured an account) is simple, and instructions are provided on the BTGuard website for the most popular clients. The only information you have to fill in the proxy address and port number, as well as your username and password. Once you configure your client to use the proxy, you’re good to go.
Speed and reliability
Unfortunately, the speed of the BTGuard service isn’t quite up to par. While my download cap from my ISP is quite high (I’ve often hit 2MB/s, sustained), when routed through BTGuard this falls to approximately 100KBps on average, with peaks around 300KBps and lows of 50KBps. These speeds are sure to disappoint serious downloaders with fast connections, but for someone who only occasionally grabs a file or two it may be acceptable.
Another problem with BTGuard is reliability; more than once I noticed my connection dropping entirely for short periods (about 30 seconds) before it would start up again. I ran all tests with several Linux ISO files downloading at once, so I can say with certainty that the strength of the bittorrent swarm was not the issue; this is also a problem I only encounter when using the BTGuard proxy service.
Overall, using BTGuard will most likely mean a slower, less reliable connection (at least for now, or until they upgrade their systems to meet with demand), and it’s something to consider before spending $7/month on the service.
One of the largest questions about BTGuard is simple: Can you trust them? When you use a proxy, you’re sending all your data through someone else’s servers; as a result, they can view and log everything you do. Unfortunately, there isn’t any readily-available information on exactly who is behind BTGuard. On their website they explicitly state that they do not keep any logs, but you have to take them at their word.
Using BTGuard to become anonymous changes your bittorrent security paradigm from “security through obscurity,” or becoming lost in the crowd, to “security through trust” of BTGuard’s systems. It’s up to the individual to decide whether or not they want to trust BTGuard.
The number one thing BTGuard needs to do to improve their service is make it faster; 100KBps on average is simply too slow for bittorrent traffic. As more users sign up for the service, their “tubes” will become increasingly full, and individuals will see their download speed decrease; hopefully BTGuard will vigorously combat these growing pains and provide a faster service.
Currently, the BTGuard service costs $6,95 a month, which I think is fair for what they provide (although speed remains an issue, and some people will likely be turned away from paying for a service as slow as it is now). However, there is no long-term pricing; you can sign up for one month, or a recurring monthly payment, but there is no price difference. A 12-month discount price, for example, would be a nice addition; perhaps $75 instead of the current $83.50.
BTGuard fills an important niche, and many bittorrent users will likely be willing to pay for such a service, but it’s currently plagued by some significant problems that will turn many potential users. If the company is able to increase available bandwidth, deal with its growing pains, and make themselves more trustworthy, it’s likely that BTGuard will become a powerful tool in the fight for privacy on the internet.
Know the laws in your country and locality. I do not suggest, condone, or practice the violation of national or international copyright law. The BTGuard service explicitly forbids using the proxy to commit illegal activities, including copyright infringement. No laws were broken or copyrights infringed during the writing of this article or review of this service.