Anonymous Downloading With Usenet

Two people using laptops with download icons connected to a Usenet server
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Anonymous Downloading With Usenet: A Brief Summary

Usenet offers access to a lot of different downloadable content. Best of all, it allows you to download this content safe and anonymously. This is thanks to the fact it is separate from “the normal internet” and because of the great encryption most Usenet providers offer. Want to get started right away? To access Usenet, you need a Usenet provider, a newsreader and NZB files.

These are the top Usenet providers with access to newsreaders:

NZB file indexes:

However, security and privacy are among a few things that you cannot have an excess of, especially when you’re downloading. Therefore, we recommend using a VPN for additional security when downloading with Usenet and browsing the web. A great choice is the highly affordable, yet secure Surfshark VPN.

In the article below we’ll explain all of these in more detail and give you plenty of guidance on choosing the right tools for your Usenet journey. Just read on!

The internet, when used intelligently, allows for a great degree of anonymity online. But it is becoming clearer every day that many parties are tracking our activity. Whether it’s your search engine, social media, webshops, or the government, it’s hard to stay anonymous.

To get back to the days when surfing the web was more private, many people are turning to an older piece of technology. Usenet is making a comeback, and if you want to browse more anonymously or download movies, songs, and other content discretely, Usenet might be the answer you are looking for.

This is exactly why this article will tell you all you need to know about downloading securely and anonymously with Usenet. We’ll discuss what Usenet is, its origins and why you would download using Usenet (and its advantages over torrenting). Of course, we’ll also explain how to access Usenet and go over different providers as well.

What is Usenet?

Usenet is a network that allows users to exchange information, by sharing files. The network also has a lot of discussion groups related to just about anything you can imagine. Usenet is a separate network from the world wide web and cannot be accessed by the “normal internet.” If you’ve ever accessed one of the 80’s or 90’s-era bulletin board systems (BBS), Usenet will feel familiar to you.

Information and files are posted to newsgroups. Many internet forums are also set up much like newsgroups. There are hundreds of thousands of these subsets with many different sources of information available to read or download including eBooks, music, photos, and video. There are also plenty of opportunities to chat and discuss any topic you’d like.

The platform now has millions of users uploading content to and downloading it from its news servers.

Origin and development

Usenet was born in the early 1980s as a discussion platform, much like what we call a forum nowadays. In its early days, the platform was quite unsuitable for downloading and distributing files. After all, files on Usenet are so-called multipart files and it was often a difficult and frustrating task to make sure all parts of the file were downloaded and unpacked correctly.

At some point in the 1990s and early 2000s, the NZB file was born — created by the site Newzbin that started indexing Usenet’s files. This file made it much easier to find all of the parts of the file you were trying to download. Rather than users having to find and assemble all the pieces of the file, the NZB file could do this for them. After this invention, Usenet was established as a great download platform and its community never looked back.

Usenet Downloading Advantages: Usenet vs Torrents

Even though Usenet originated as a discussion platform, it’s mainly used to download movies, music, software, and other content nowadays. It is, therefore, often compared to downloading via torrents. The difference is that torrents use a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, and Usenet doesn’t.

The key difference is illustrated below:

Infographic that explains what the difference is between downloading via Torrents and downloading via Usenet

When it comes to using Usenet to download files, it offers a few big advantages, such as:

  • Usenet’s download sections cannot be accessed by just anyone, because you need a subscription with a Usenet service. This means you’ll be much more anonymous when downloading and it’s much less likely your IP address will get tracked.
  • Paid Usenet subscriptions often allow for powerful 256-keys SSL encryption. This greatly improves your privacy and means your ISP and other parties won’t see what you download.
  • Usenet doesn’t use a (P2P) system like torrent clients. This means you’re not dependent on whether other users are currently seeding (uploading) a particular download to access it. Furthermore, your download speed will only be determined by your own connection, not by that of others.

Coming back to the privacy part, copyright-related lawsuits seem a lot rarer as a result of Usenet downloads than in the case of torrenting. Of course, we are not saying you should go out and download copyrighted material.

However, this does illustrate the fact there is significantly less spying and tracking going on on Usenet than on torrenting platforms.

Torrent platforms often offer poor encryption

Laptop With LockAnother privacy and security factor that people often overlook regarding torrenting, is its often lacking encryption measures.

Many BitTorrent clients, such as uTorrent, Vuze, libtorrent, and others, mainly use something called Protocol encryption (PE) or message stream encryption (MSE), which isn’t intended as a secure encryption protocol, but more of a fast obfuscation protocol. Compared to conventional security protocols such as SSL, it corresponds more or less to the security of a 60 to 80 key protocol. By today’s standards, this is quite weak.

Moreover, the peer-to-peer nature of torrenting means you can only download a file using encryption if the seeder (uploader) you’re downloading it from is also using encryption.

Usenet disadvantages

It would be unfair to suggest conventional downloading (torrenting) offers no advantages over Usenet. The main advantages that torrenting offers over Usenet, are the following three:

  • Paid subscription: Most torrent platforms are free to use while downloading on Usenet generally requires a subscription.
  • Convenience: Usenet requires some preparation before downloading. You need to get a Usenet client, choose and get a subscription with a good provider (which requires a bit of research as well), and there is a small learning curve.
  • Lack of variety and amount of content: Because torrenting is so popular, there is an incredible amount of content that is available on torrenting platforms. Chances are, if you visit the Top 10 Free Torrenting Clients, you’re probably going to find what you’re looking for.

Of course, it’s true that torrenting requires some preparation as well. However, it generally just involves getting a BitTorrent client, finding your torrent link online on one of the many torrenting platforms around, and importing the link into your client.

How to Access Usenet?

To access Usenet, you will usually need to subscribe to a Usenet service provider (USP). Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer access to Usenet as a separate subscription. But due to the complexity of hosting Usenet access and the amount of bandwidth needed to host files for downloading, most ISPs prefer to simply not offer this as a service.

Moreover, a lot of ISPs that offer access to Usenet newsgroups, don’t offer access to the groups that allow for downloading and/or enforce speed restrictions. As such, you’re generally much better off with a non-ISP Usenet provider.

In addition to your Usenet provider subscription, you will need a Usenet browser (Usenet client) known as a newsreader. In the same way a web browser connects you to the internet, a Usenet browser connects you to Usenet. If this sounds complicated, don’t worry. In practice, this is usually very simple. Most providers offer a newsreader you can download so getting started is usually a simple matter of installing the software and logging on.

Finally, downloading files from a Usenet server requires an NZB file. Remember, these files are what you need to download the multipart files that your movies, pictures, music, or other content consists of. Down below we’ll go over some useful NZB indexes. But first things first, let’s go over some providers that will give you access to Usenet.

Comparing Usenet Providers

If you’re ready to give Usenet a try, the first thing to do is find a provider. There are many to choose from. Some key features to look for in a Usenet provider include:

  • File retention: How long does the Usenet provider keep files posted on their servers available for download? Longer retention is always better, as it makes finding the files you want easier and more likely. The gold standard is 4,987 days of retention, or about 13 and a half years.
  • Connections: Usenet is great in that it allows you to max out your system’s available bandwidth for downloads. But to do that, you need to use the right number of connections. The more connections a service offers, the better. After all, this allows you to tweak the number of connections you need to reach your maximum download speed.
  • Download limits: Most Usenet service providers offer different plans with different amounts of data you can download. Needless to say, the higher the download limit, the better. Many USPs offer a free trial. Therefore, we recommend taking note of how much data you’re using during this trial and deciding what plan to use based on this figure.
  • Security: The main security feature to look out for when choosing your provider, is SSL encryption. Although Usenet users face less security and privacy risks than users on the “normal web,” it’s still important to protect your privacy with strong encryption. Some USPs also offer additional security features, such as a VPN connection (more on this later) and secure, encrypted file storage.
  • Available newsgroups: The more newsgroups a provider offers access to, the more different content you can download. Therefore, pay some attention to this number. However, don’t sweat it: most renowned Usenet providers offer about, or even upwards of 100,000 newsrooms. That should be more than enough for most of your download and discussion needs.

The Best Usenet Providers

Here are some of the top Usenet providers to consider:

  • Newshosting is on many lists of top Usenet service providers for a reason. Founded in 1997, this provider has been around long enough to know what they are doing. With over 110,000 newsgroups (Usenet servers) and over 13 years (4,987 days) retention, you are almost guaranteed to find what you’re looking for. Newshosting offers a free newsreader to get started. They also offer an additional VPN service. Moreover, it stands out among providers for its excellent value at only $9.99 a month for unlimited downloads (around $8 per month for longer commitments), using a maximum of 100 simultaneous connections.
  • Easynews offers a unique way of connecting that works with virtually any web browser. This means you don’t even need to use a newsreader! Easynews also works on mobile devices which is great when you’re on the go. They also offer file retention of 4,987 days and provide access to over 110,000 newsgroups. This service costs a bit more for the unlimited plan, but you can try their 14-day free trial to see if Easynews is right for you. At the time of writing, their plans run from $9.99 to $14.95 a month.
  • UsenetServer is 20 years old and still going strong. If you opt for their one-year subscription, it is also one of the most affordable at $7.95 a month. They’ve got 4,987 days of file retention, and UsenetServer has some of the fastest download speeds available. One of the few drawbacks to their service is that they don’t provide their own newsreader for you to use. UsenetServer does provide a list of several newsreaders you can choose from, however, so you can get started quickly.

NZB File Indexes

Now that you know which Usenet provider and newsreader to choose, you have to find NZB files to start downloading your favorite content. You can find these in so-called indexes.

Note that some of these indexes are “raw,” meaning they are just really large databases of all the files on Usenet. These are often not very user-friendly, especially for first-time users. There are also hand-indexed databases. These are already sorted and categorized and the quality of their NZB files is verified. Moreover, there are both paid and unpaid NZB indexes. With that in mind, below are three well-known NZB indexes you can use.

  • NZBGeek: This is a useful index of hand-selected and verified NZB files. This index does require registration and payment, however. There are four different subscriptions, at the time of writing: $6 for six months, $12 for a year, $40 for five years, and $80 for a lifetime subscription. You can pay using cryptocurrency, Visa, or Mastercard.
  • NZBFinder: This is another paid tool that requires registration. They offer subscriptions for $10, $20, or $35 a year, depending on the features you want. The thing that makes NZBFinder so useful is that they offer compatibility with a large number of tools for organizing and finding downloads and preventing failed downloads, such as Sonarr, Radarr, Lidarr, and Couch Potato.
  • NZBIndex: If you don’t want to spend any additional money (after getting your Usenet provider) on an index, this is one of the few good, free NZB sites. Ironically, however, this does come at another price. After all, NZBIndex is a raw index, meaning users will have to sort through all the NZB files themselves to find what they want. Moreover, there is no guarantee that all of them work. But as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for.

Usenet Group Discussions

Suspicious man chat iconAlthough most people these days use Usenet for downloading, it started as a discussion platform. Some people still use it for this purpose, which is not a bad idea. After all, Usenet is often much more anonymous than the normal internet. For this reason, many discussions and exchanges of ideas that would not ordinarily take place on the internet do happen on Usenet.

This may lead you to believe that it is a place where criminals might find each other, but that is not normally the case. In a day where prospective employers will often perform an online search for anything you have said or posted online, some perfectly harmless opinions or ideas might be kept back for fear of how they would look out of context. The anonymity of Usenet allows for freedom of expression without fear your boss, or even your grandmother, might stumble onto your discussion.

Usenet and VPNs

VPN shieldUsenet is quite safe and privacy orientated in itself, especially if you use the SSL encryption feature many providers offer. But of course, some extra protection can never hurt when downloading. That’s why using a VPN together with Usenet is a great idea.

Some Usenet providers offer a free or affordable VPN service as well. If yours doesn’t, we strongly recommend using Surfshark to give you, even more, privacy and security. Surfshark is extremely affordable and will even beat the price of many built-in VPN features that a lot of Usenet service providers offer for an additional charge.

Furthermore, it uses excellent encryption protocols and will keep you safe and anonymous not just on Usenet, but also when torrenting (if you’re interested in this), streaming, and surfing the web.

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Visit Surfshark

Lastly, just like Usenet, a VPN increases your online freedom in its own way. After all, a VPN gives you access to streams, downloads, and other web content that would otherwise be restricted in the country you live, by changing your geographic location. Read more in our guide on VPNs and their advantages.

More on Anonymous Browsing and Privacy

Interested in anonymity and privacy while browsing online? We’ve got quite the catalog of guides, lists and articles to get you going. Just check the links below:

Anonymous Downloading With Usenet: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about downloading or getting started with Usenet? Check out our FAQ down below to see if we’ve answered your question. If we haven’t, feel free to leave us a comment down below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Usenet is known as a safe and anonymous alternative for conventional downloading and generally offers good security. This is especially true if you use the SSL encryption that many Usenet providers offer and which is much stronger than the encryption offered by most Torrenting platforms. You can increase your safety even more by using a good VPN.

Usenet is not, in and of itself, illegal. However, that doesn’t mean Usenet cannot be used and isn’t used for illegal things. As with many download platforms, there is plenty of copyrighted content one can find on Usenet. Needless to say, downloading (and especially uploading) such content is illegal in most jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, as of now, it seems all but impossible to download on Usenet for free. This is because all Usenet providers giving access to Usenet binary groups (the servers that contain files you can download) that we know of are paid. Nevertheless, a good Usenet provider that will let you download to your heart’s content doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out this article for some excellent options.

Unlike what some think, it’s not that difficult to get started downloading with Usenet. All you need is a Usenet provider, a newsreader (which many Usenet subscriptions provide) and the NZB file of the content you want to download. Look at our full guide on anonymous downloading for Usenet to get these tools and to learn about some good options.

Tech journalist
Nathan is an internationally trained journalist and has a special interest in the prevention of cybercrime, especially where vulnerable groups are concerned. For he conducts research in the field of cybersecurity, internet censorship, and online privacy. He also contributed to developing our rigorous VPN testing and reviewing procedures using evidence-based best practices.