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How Safe is Usenet?

How Safe is Usenet image

The Privacy Risks of Using Usenet (Anonymous Newsgroup Access)

How safe is Usenet? Well, in a nutshell, Usenet is a very safe way to download the content you want in complete privacy. There are some risks, especially if you upload (post) materials to Usenet, but most people choose only to download (“leech”) from Usenet. If you only leech, Usenet is probably the most private and safest way to download online content.

Lots of Content

Usenet is proving popular because it offers more content than you can get on the web. Usenet has about the same amount of content available as torrent file-sharing, including new releases, but offers a number of advantages over torrents. For starters, in contrast to torrents, you are safe from third party monitoring while downloading from Usenet because you are not downloading the content from other users.

Fast and Undetectable Downloads

With Usenet, you are downloading directly from your Usenet provider’s servers. Because it’s a direct connection, your download speeds reflect this and are super fast. Downloads are as fast as torrents, if not faster. This direct connection also means you don’t have to rely on the availability of seeders or peers as you do with torrents.

Obviously, you have to trust your Usenet provider. But that’s more manageable than trying to trust hundreds or thousands of fellow torrent users. In addition and similar to torrents, your ISP may be able to detect if you are using Usenet, so make sure to always protect your Usenet connection by using a provider with secure (SSL) connections or even doubling your protection by using a VPN when Usenetting.

Our recommended Usenet providers – Newshosting (for USA) and Eweka (for Europe) – have you covered.

How Safe is it to Download from Usenet? (“Leeching”)

Leeching (sometimes called lurking) refers to when you only download files from Usenet, but never upload them. In theory, even merely leeching might be logged by your Usenet provider, resulting in records of your downloading activities which a third party could later try to obtain. To avoid this risk, choose a Usenet provider that does not log any user activity.

Check the provider’s privacy policy and FAQs to determine whether they are logging, what they log, how long they keep logs and under what conditions they disclose customer activities reflected in the logs. For example, Newshosting makes clear that, “we do NOT log the downloads of our users“.

Uploading to Usenet (Posting) is Traceable

From its inception, the entire Usenet has been and continues to be archived. Searchable archives exist of more than 700 million Usenet posts covering a period of decades (see screenshot)! This means that unless you have given anonymity some thought, any and all items you post to Usenet will be recorded.

Such posts could come back to haunt you. So, if you want to play it safe, stick to leeching & downloading and leave uploading & posting to the pros.

Google Groups Usenet archive

Figure: Decades of Usenet messages have been archived (source: https://www.cogipas.com/UsenetGoogle)

To illustrate the privacy risks of posting to Usenet, browse or search Google Groups https://groups.google.com/ to find a message of interest. Once you have opened a message, click on More message actions (the small down arrow) and then Show original. Notice how some of the fields contain potentially revealing information (such as the message ID or even an IP address). Posting to Usenet newsgroups without taking measures to protect your privacy means revealing details that, once posted, are impossible to undo.

This is why, at an absolute minimum, you should not enter your name or email address in the settings of your newsreader app. Although this makes your posts untraceable for simple Google-type searches, there are still more precautions you should take.

As mentioned earlier, you could also choose simply to never upload or post anything to Usenet and only download; this would be the safest approach.

Posting to Usenet Newsgroups Under an Alias is Still Traceable

Even if you post to Usenet under an alias using a fake name and email address, the post is still traceable back to you. Just as your Internet browsing, email messages and torrent file-sharing activities are stamped with an IP address that can be traced back to you, Usenet posts are too. Similar to email messages, Usenet posts contain a number of headers. One or more of these headers will contain information that can be traced back to the poster.

For example, the following headers are taken from an actual Usenet post from 1996 (!) using my name and email address at the time. The post is clearly traceable from a number of the headers.

my old Usenet post

Figure: Headers in Usenet posts contain information that can be traced back to you

Some Usenet providers log the activities on their news servers, including for technical reasons, legal requirements and to deal with abuse or complaints (for example, spam or take down notices). By comparing the headers of a post to these logs, a message you posted can be traced back to you even if you posted it under an alias using a fake name and email address.

To post anonymously, you need to use a news server that omits any traceable path back to you. You could also try finding an open news server and post to it while using a VPN to mask your IP address. Even when you think you have found a news server that eliminates traceable headers, always do a test post to the alt.test newsgroup to ensure no identifying information appears in the headers of the post.

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