Is Usenet Safe? (Be Anonymous on Usenet)
To properly answer the question “is Usenet safe?”, you must understand the risks of downloading from Usenet newsgroups. But the good news: yes, Usenet is a very safe way to download content, with only a few things to keep in mind.
If the answer is Yes to the question, "Is Usenet safe?" the natural follow-up question is, "OK, how safe?"
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 from Usenet (“leech”).
If you only download from Usenet, it is the safest and most private way to download online content.
'Is Usenet Safe?' Contents (select to expand)
Usenet is Safer than Torrents and Streaming
Usenet is proving popular (in fact, it is making a big comeback) because it offers lots of great content like torrent file-sharing, including the latest new releases, but also because Usenet offers some advantages over torrenting, most notably a much higher degree of privacy and security.
We wouldn't say that Usenet offers more content than online streaming or p2p torrent file-sharing, but Usenet is definitely safer than either streaming or torrenting.
In contrast to torrents and streaming, you are safe from third party monitoring while downloading from Usenet because you are not downloading the content from other users in plain view or from a website with potentially dodgy privacy practices.
Fast and Undetectable Downloads
With Usenet, you are downloading directly from the news servers of your Usenet provider.
sBecause it's a direct connection, your download speeds reflect this and are super-fast. Downloads are faster than torrents. In fact, with Usenet it is possible to "max out" your connection to your Internet service provider (ISP).
This direct connection also means you don’t have to rely on the availability of seeders or peers as you do with torrents. Or to rely on a streaming website run by goodness knows who.
Usenet Privacy: How to Protect Your Privacy on Usenet
But before you take these advantages for granted, these are the 3 things you need to do to attain Usenet privacy.
#1) Choose Only a Non-Logging Usenet Provider
A big part of being safe on Usenet is to make sure you choose the best Usenet provider for your needs. For safety, the “best” Usenet provider means one that does not keep logs of your activities on Usenet.
This means that your Usenet downloading habits aren't recorded anywhere by the Usenet provider.
The good news is, almost all the reliable, long-standing Usenet providers do not keep logs. In fact, it's in their interest not to know or have the means of knowing what their customers are up to. So, stick with a well-known Usenet provider that expressly advertisers it keeps "no logs" and you are already off to a fine start.
Obviously, this still means placing a high degree of trust in your Usenet provider. But that's still a lot more manageable than trying to trust hundreds or thousands of fellow torrent users or some potentially dodgy streaming website that just popped up.
Best Usenet Providers That Don't Log
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#2) Always Use your Usenet Provider's Encrypted SSL Connections
SSL is simply an acronym for Secure Sockets Layer, an encryption protocol.
SSL is the same technology you use when accessing secure websites starting with https for banking, shopping and other secure online transactions. This technology ensures that the connection between your computer or device and the server you are accessing is encrypted from end-to-end, meaning no one can peak at your connection and see what is happening.
For Usenet, SSL connections mean your activities to/from the Usenet provider's servers are hidden and protected by encryption, so they cannot be monitored, not even by your own ISP. 🙂
Just about every Usenet provider and any decent newsreader app supports SSL connections. If yours doesn’t, switch. Now.
The port number for the secure connections that you’ll have to enter into your newsreader app's settings are usually 443, 563 or 8080. But your Usenet provider’s instructions will cover this.
#3) Hide your Usenet Activities Behind a VPN (Optional)
SSL connections prevent anyone, from snoops to even your ISP, from seeing what you are downloading from (or posting to) your chosen Usenet service.
But your ISP will still be able to detect that you are using Usenet in general. Even though they can't see the specifics of what you are downloading, they will be able to "see" that you are connecting to a Usenet server using the Usenet protocol (called NNTP). The simple fact alone that you are using Usenet may tempt your ISP to throttle or shape your traffic, slowing down your download speeds, sometimes a lot.
Using Usenet together with a VPN will prevent your ISP from even detecting that you are using Usenet. That's because the VPN hides your entire Internet connection within an encrypted tunnel that your ISP or any third party cannot see inside of.
Your ISP will still be able to detect that you are downloading lots of data and fast, but not how. The VPN keeps even your use of Usenet hidden. 🙂
Top Tip – You can often “bundle” a VPN with your Usenet service at a great deal but we recommend you use a reliable VPN provider that is different from your Usenet provider, such as ExpressVPN, to keep the two functions sealed off from one another. But most people will be fine using any "free VPN" included with their Usenet subscription.
Routing your Usenet downloads through a VPN will have an impact on your speeds, but is worth the extra benefits it brings.
Is Usenet Safer than BitTorrent?
Don't get us wrong: we love torrenting. Plus, there are ways to download torrents anonymously.
But the fact remains that, "out of the box", Usenet is safer than torrenting. Let's quickly compare Usenet vs torrent file-sharing for privacy, speeds, cost, reliability and ease-of-use.
In reaching our conclusions, we examined the pros and cons of both Usenet vs torrent technologies, especially from a privacy perspective.
not free (but even the best Usenet provider is inexpensive)
free (but a VPN subscription is recommended to stay safe)
your ability to download an item from Usenet is not dependent on other users; Usenet is a one-way street
your ability to download an item using torrents is dependent on other users by definition (“peer to peer” technology); torrents are a two-way street
utilizes your full bandwidth as you are downloading directly from your provider’s servers
speeds more limited (but can still be very good) as you are downloading from other users
Privacy & Security
extremely difficult for snoops to monitor your Usenet activities
snoops can easily monitor your torrenting activities (unless you use a safe torrent VPN)
3 to 4 hour learning curve (less for web-based Usenet)
1- to 2-hour learning curve (higher if coupled with a VPN)
Usenet wins out over torrents especially if you are privacy conscious and/or if you want access to less popular items not widely shared as torrents
Torrents win out over Usenet if you want to download only recent and popular content and you use a torrent-friendly VPN
Of course, you can always use both and enjoy the best of both worlds. 🙂
Usenet vs Torrent: Pros and Cons of Usenet Newsgroups
Despite being decades old, Usenet has kept up with the times and remains a popular way for sharing downloads. If you are new to Usenet, check out our Usenet newsgroup pages for more information.
Usenet is Not Free
Well, you can access Usenet for free for a short time but generally speaking to start obtaining downloads from Usenet, you will need a (paid) subscription from a good Usenet provider and an app, usually free, called a newsreader.
Obviously, the need to pay for Usenet service is not ideal and why many people prefer torrents which are free (but there’s more to that story too). Paying under $10 a month can get you full, uncensored access to all the newsgroups Usenet has to offer. Unlimited data volume packages are available too. Before signing up for an unlimited account without any download transfer limits, make sure you actually need it as they can be more expensive.
Decent Availability and Longevity of Downloads
Because so many newsgroups exist and Usenet has a culture of sharing, the availability of downloads is usually good.
That said, torrents are probably better for recent new releases and popular downloads.
Also, keep in mind that files made available through Usenet usually have a maximum shelf life of about 2,500 to 3,000 days. This is done for practical reasons as Usenet providers are unable to retain an infinite amount of data and files on their servers.
That said, you are likely well-served by any retention periods over 1,500 days (that’s 4 years after all) and some go as high as 3,500+ days (over 9 years).
Items on Usenet can be “incomplete” (meaning that pieces can be missing especially from larger items such as long videos) but this risk can be reduced by carefully selecting the best Usenet provider for your needs.
Leeching is Welcome
If you want only to leech from and lurk around Usenet newsgroups (that is, download items and read posts without ever uploading or posting any), you are free to do so without being “penalized” in any way. Usenet’s fast download speeds remain the same no matter how much uploading and sharing you engage in. This contrasts with torrents as you can be "penalized" with slower download speeds, albeit only slightly, for a lopsided download to uploading ratio (that's when you download lots of items compared to how much you seed items).
What's more, your torrent download speeds will be affected by the number of other active users. Generally speaking, the more people sharing a torrent the faster it will download. With Usenet, once the item you want is available in a newsgroup you are free to download it at your maximum speed regardless of how popular it is or how many other people also wish to obtain it.
Awesome Downloading Speeds
Usenet can be lightning fast as it is able – in contrast to torrents - to max out your entire available bandwidth connection.
This is possible because the files you download from Usenet reside on the provider’s servers, so you are downloading them directly, not in bits and pieces from other users as with torrents.
High Security and Privacy
Usenet is both secure and private, very private in fact.
Only your Usenet service provider can possibly know what you are downloading. This contrasts with torrents where any other user in the swarm (the people sharing the same torrent) can monitor your IP address and determine the torrent items you are downloading and sharing.
The reason it is all but impossible for third parties to monitor your Usenet activities is that your downloading activities are shielded behind strong SSL encryption (a type of connection supported by all reputable Usenet providers) which means the data travelling from the Usenet provider to your computer or device is scrambled and unreadable by anyone intercepting or monitoring that traffic. Although your ISP will be able to see that you are downloading lots of data, they will not be able to determine what you are downloading or even that it is Usenet traffic. This is similar to using torrents in combination with a VPN.
Your protection on Usenet is as bullet proof as possible when an SSL connection is combined with you using a Usenet service provider that has a “no logging” policy. If a provider keeps no activity logs, this makes it extremely tough for any specific file downloads to be tracked by any snoops to a particular individual.
Steeper Learning Curve
It’s also true that learning how to use torrents is easier than learning how to use Usenet. But frankly speaking Usenet isn’t all that hard to get to grips with.
>> Go back up to the Comparison Usenet vs Torrent Table <<
Usenet vs Torrent File-Sharing: Torrenting Pros and Cons
Torrents rely on peer-to-peer (p2p) technology to facilitate sharing downloads. If you are new to torrents, check out our torrent file-sharing pages for more information.
Torrenting is “Free”
The fact that torrents can be obtained for free is very appealing to millions of people. To start downloading torrents, you need only a free torrent app and access to a search engine. However, the “price” for free torrents is poor privacy – see below.
Item Availability and Longevity Varies
Many of the advantages expressed here for torrents apply only to popular items being shared by many torrent users.
In contrast, rare items with few people sharing the torrents (zero seeds) can mean that no matter how amazing your internet connection or torrent searching techniques, the downloading may take a very long time or may never start. Therefore, torrents work best with popular items as these torrents have the highest ratio of seeders and peers.
Speeds and Available Vary (but can be very good)
Seeds and peers make up the swarm of a particular torrent and hence your downloading speeds will always be dependent on the number of other users (the ratio of seeders to peers just discussed above), the quality of their Internet connections and how much of the torrent payload they are sharing.
Poor Privacy (unless combined with other techniques)
Because torrent technology depends on a swarm of users sharing data, it is relatively easy for a snoop to join a swarm and monitor the activities of its participants, including your activities.
This risk can be countered by torrenting only with private trackers (these are essentially “invitation only” non-public torrent groups) or using a VPN while torrent file-sharing. Of course, using a torrent-friendly VPN costs money and thus chips away at one of the primary perceived advantages of torrents over Usenet.
Top Tip: A VPN acts as a torrent anonymizing service by masking your true IP address and by encrypting the data sent to your computer or device. This protects your torrent activities from being sniffed by your ISP or monitored by third parties. Anyone joining a torrent swarm you are participating in will only be able to detect and trace downloads to your VPN’s IP address rather than yours.
Making Usenet Even Safer: How to Be Anonymous on Usenet
In addition to making sure you use a Usenet newsgroup provider that does NOT keep any logs of user activity and for those wanting even more privacy, the best way to achieve Usenet anonymity is to purchase Usenet services with an “anonymous” payment option like Bitcoin.
We place the word anonymous in quotes because strictly speaking Bitcoin is not 100% anonymous (despite claims you may read that it is), but for most people and Usenet users it is close enough. Only Edward Snowden and Ross Ulbricht types need to worry, not Usenet downloaders.
If you want to be extra safe and make sure your Usenet provider has none of your personal information at all (this information is usually needed when you pay for example) or if you intend to post controversial messages or files to Usenet (see towards the end of this post), sign up for Usenet with Bitcoin.
Usenet and Bitcoin make a great combination. Yet, Bitcoin is not accepted by all or even many Usenet providers for paying for newsgroup access.
At time of publishing, the Usenet providers listed and described below accept Bitcoin. You'll note that none of them are based in the USA.
Why Pay with Bitcoin for Usenet?
Although Usenet predates P2P networks such as BitTorrent file-sharing by almost two decades, it has managed to remain on the radar of Internet download enthusiasts. The reason for this is due to technological breakthroughs on Usenet such as NZB files and automated downloading which have now enabled its users to efficiently transfer large files including feature-length videos.
Although there are much lower snooping risks with Usenet versus P2P users due to the difference in the technologies used, some Usenet downloaders and uploaders will still wish to further reduce that risk as close as possible to zero in order to avoid any trouble with snoops.
Bitcoin Usenet Providers
Below, we identify and describe the Usenet providers which accept Bitcoin payments.
Best Bitcoin Usenet Option: PureUsenet
PureUsenet is based in The Netherlands which is a jurisdiction known for its strong stance on personal privacy and a long history of Usenet activity.
PureUsenet services are open to customers in America and anywhere else in the world. It prides itself on great customer service and low pricing. PureUsenet also offers a trial period for each of their six packages. Packages offer unlimited speed paired with 12 simultaneous connections on the premium end down to a speed of 4 Mbps with 4 connections on the lower pricing end. Retention is an impressive 1100 days for all plans.
Other Bitcoin Usenet Options
XLned is a Dutch-based Usenet provider open to worldwide users. It started operations in 2007 and offers five speed options up to a whopping 120 Mb/s. All packages provide SSL secure connections which provide the best protection against interception and inspection of your Usenet activities by snoops. XLned is a longstanding and trusted name in Usenet. It boasts a high completion rate of over 99% and offers more than 100,000 uncensored newsgroups.
You can check for yourself: see the red arrow below added to a screenshot from XLned's website showing the Bitcoin payment option.
UsenetFarm is a Dutch-based Usenet provider which offers all users a 10 GB trial account. UsenetFarm’s packages include 2 unlimited accounts and 1 block account. The block account provides 500 GB with account sharing while the flat-rate accounts offer either 24 Mbps or unlimited speed with no account sharing. Retention is between 900 and 1100 days.
Bulknews is yet another Dutch Usenet provider. However, it has the distinction of offering both block and flat-rate accounts. Block accounts range from 20 to 250 GB while flat-rate accounts offer unlimited speeds down to 20 Mbps paired with 8 to 40 connections. Potential users may test the service for a trial period. Bulknews Usenet connections are secured with 256-Bit SSL Encryption and retention is 900 days.
Top Tip – If you don’t know what a Usenet block account is, read our post about what are essentially pay-as-you-go Usenet access.
UsenetDiscounter is a Dutch Usenet provider with newsgroup servers worldwide. Users may choose one of the 9 accounts on offer, including 3 cheaper night accounts which are only available for use at midnight to midday (00:00 – 12:00) Central European Time. Users may try the service risk-free by signing up for a trial account.
The speeds on regular accounts range from 5 Mbps to 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) while night accounts are from 5 Mbps to 100 Mbps. UsenetDiscounter offers a maximum of 70 connections for regular accounts with night accounts permitting up to 30 connections. Its retention rate is 950 days. Free SSL 256-Bit encryption is provided.
Cheapnews is (yet another) Dutch Usenet provider which offers flat-rate and block Usenet accounts. They offer a 7-day trial account capped at 20 GB. Their block accounts go up to 1000 GB with 24 connections. The speeds for flat accounts are from 20 Mbps with 10 connections up to unlimited with 24 connections. Cheapnews also provides 256 Bit SSL encryption. VPN services may be paired with Usenet packages or may be purchased on its own. Retention is 1200+ days with the figure growing closer to 1300 days.
Blocknews customers have the option of using servers located either on the US East Coast or those located in Europe. Retention stands at over 2600 days and users are allowed up to 50 connections. Free SSL encryption is provided. Blocknews also offers block accounts from 5 GB up to a staggering 3072 GB.
UsenetBucket is a Dutch Usenet provider. It offers users a free 7-day trial of 5 GB. Customers may choose one of three regular plans. Free SSL support is provided and up to 50 connections are allowed. Speeds are from 10 Mbps to 400 Mbps with unlimited traffic and retention is 1200 days.
NewsDemon has servers in both the US and in Europe. They offer a 15 GB trial as well as over 20 regular plans which include both block and metered plans. Block plans go from 10 GB to 1000 GB. SSL Encryption is also supported. Metered plans are from 50 GB up to unlimited data and include secure VPN access. All plans offer unlimited speed with 2991+ days retention and up to 50 connections.
It’s hard not to notice that most Usenet providers accepting bitcoin are Dutch (i.e., based in the European country of The Netherlands). That’s no coincidence as The Netherlands has a long history with Usenet in no small part due to the government’s general tolerance towards all things Usenet.
Top Tip – If you do NOT need a Usenet Bitcoin provider, then simply check out our recommended Best Usenet Providers for Usenet services that fully respect your privacy.
Don't Upload (Post) Content Unless you 100% Know What you are Doing
95% (or more) of Usenet users will never upload anything to Usenet. If you are or will be the same, you can skip this section.
But if you are posting or tempted to post to Usenet newsgroups, you MUST give anonymity some careful thought, as there will be a record of any and all items you post to Usenet and these could be traced back to you unless you carefully chose your Usenet provider and paid for access anonymously (see Bitcoin section above).
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 below)!
Because posting could come back to haunt you, consider to playing it safe and sticking with leeching & downloading and leave the uploading & posting to the pros. There is no shame in being a Usenet leech. 🙂
Uploading (Posting) to Usenet is Traceable.
To illustrate the privacy risks of posting to Usenet, check out Google Groups https://groups.google.com/ which for our point we can use as a bare bones search of text-based Usenet posts. Now search for and find any 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.
"OK, simple enough", you think, "I'll just enter a fake name or email address in the settings of my newsreader app." Not so fast. Although this makes your posts untraceable for simple Google-type searches, there are still more precautions you need to take to be truly anonymous on Usenet.
Posting to Newsgroups Using 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. Like email messages, Usenet posts contain several 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 made by our founder in 1996 (about the game DooM if you must know)! The post is clearly traceable from the headers.
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 DMCA 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, but that is unreliable especially for larger binary uploads.
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.
So, please, please, before you post to any newsgroups make sure you have:
- chosen a privacy-respecting, non-logging Usenet provider and
- paid for the service with Bitcoin and
- used a separate VPN service each and every time you accessed Usenet
One slip, and your identity could be compromised.
Conclusion to 'Is Usenet Safe?'
If you made it to the end of this mega-post, then congratulations. You are well-armed in knowing how to be safe on Usenet.
For most people, choosing the right Usenet provider, using SSL connections and keeping their IPS out of their business with a VPN is all that you'll need.
But for those intending on posting to Usenet, please carefully read the materials above.