This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)
Downloading via Usenet is easy and there is a lot of content to be found. But can you just start downloading via Usenet and is it safe to do so?
The use of Usenet itself is legal. There is no legislation that prohibits the service as a whole. Whether it is allowed to download via Usenet may depend on what is being downloaded. In the case of copyrighted content – for example certain movies, books and music – it’s illegal. Other content, such as a question from someone or music posted with the explicit permission of the creator, may be downloaded legally.
How safe is Usenet?
There are several ways to define “safe”. If safe encompasses securing your own identity, we can state that it’s pretty safe to Usenet. Decent Usenet providers give you the option to encrypt your Usenet traffic with an SSL connection. This encryption ensures that external parties cannot monitor what you do on Usenet. This includes your internet service provider. The only party which in theory can monitor what you download, is your actual Usenet provider. Most Usenet providers choose not to monitor or log their users’ activities though, since discretion is a key pillar of their business model.
Malware in fact can be a safety problem on Usenet. With malicious software, hackers can break into your computer and steal information or even take over or block your entire computer. Malware can be picked up everywhere, so purchasing decent anti-malware software is always recommended. When looking for files on Usenet, the comments under a certain file will give you an indication whether a file contains viruses. But to be safe, it’s good to scan a file you have downloaded with anti-virus software before you open it. This ensures that you do not install anything undesirable.
Making sure you are anonymous
As we said, Usenet is quite anonymous. Your IP address is not shared and by activating SSL encryption, others cannot take a look at what you do and what you download. However, if you want to be more confident about your own security, you can also choose to use a VPN connection. A VPN masks your IP address, so your internet service provider (ISP) cannot register when you connect to Usenet. In addition, your internet service provider (ISP) cannot see what you’re doing on the internet, even outside of Usenet. In fact, nobody will be able to monitor your online behavior, including hackers, the authorities and your roommates which share your internet connection. For example, in the United States, where Internet Service Providers are allowed to sell their customers’ browsing history to third parties, a VPN is an important tool for online privacy. As a citizen, you have every right to use a VPN and protect your privacy.
A subscription to a good VPN service will cost you a couple of dollars per month, but it is certainly worth it. With it, you can surf, download and stream in complete anonymity. Your internet is also encrypted and protected by the VPN, granting you extra protection against hackers.
Illegal downloading and uploading can result in fines
Besides downloading, it is also possible to upload files to Usenet. However, if it’s copyrighted material you’re uploading, you can risk a hefty fine here.
A good example of this is a Dutch citizen who uploaded music on Usenet. He had placed 18,000 music files on Usenet, including work of Madonna and Adele. Copyright organizations managed to identify him and he received a settlement proposal of 15,000 euros. He also had to stop uploading the material immediately. If he would not pay, a lawsuit would follow. The uploader eventually agreed to the settlement.
Unfortunately for copyright organisations, there are also people that use a VPN to stay completely anonymous on internet and Usenet. Even some governments advise their citizens to use a VPN to safeguard their internet traffic and their privacy. So there is not that much that copyright organisations can do to prevent this. Even though your identity will remain hidden when using a VPN, meaning you cannot be traced and fined for illegal downloading, this is not what Usenet was originally intended for. Make sure not to break any laws when using Usenet, and stick with downloading legal files.