In today’s file sharing climate, it seems that Bit Torrent gets all of the attention. In fact, there are many believe that it is the only viable way to access free torrent content on the Internet. But that’s simply not the case. Many people have discovered the formerly well-kept secret named Usenet, and it has taken some substantial heat from the RIAA and the MPAA lately. Believe it or not, in the recent past a Usenet site named Newzbin was annihilated because they didn’t want to resist the legal action from big movie producing organizations.
What the Heck is a Usenet?
For those of you who aren’t aware of the existence of Usenet, you should have a basic understanding of how it started. It is very old, and it was actually started near the tail end of the 1970s. In its infancy you might have called it one of the first online chat or instant messaging systems, because it allowed users to have text discussions using its servers. Eventually the Internet took off and almost replaced Usenet, but Usenet adapted to the trends and evolved into a service that facilitated the sharing of binary files. Essentially, it grew into a way to share files just like you would do with Bit Torrent.
The problem though is that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to issue notices and demands to take down content on this file sharing platform. This is due to the fact that the servers are decentralized, and even if you remove the content from one server there will still be many other servers sharing the same files. And to top it all off, the administrators of these file sharing servers most often ignore any legal notices they receive.
One of the reasons that Bit Torrent surpassed Usenet in popularity was that it used to be pretty darn hard to find what you were after on Usenet. You ended up having to comb through their lists until indexing servers were created (like Newzbin). Now they are much, much easier to find.
Bit Torrent and Usenet
But which one is better? The line is divided with Usenet users on one side and Bit Torrent junkies on the other. The situation is very analogous to the arguments that Apple supporters have with PC users as well as the arguments Trekkies have with Star Wars fans. The Bit Torrent users will claim that their service is better while the Usenet users will vehemently disagree. To clear the air without any biased opinions, let’s run through the advantages and disadvantages of each service.
- Security Considerations: Many times when downloading a file from Usenet you can establish an SSH connection. To make it even more enticing, the majority of the servers don’t log data so you don’t have to worry about privacy.
- Speed: Usenet usually gives you faster download speeds than Bit Torrent. With Bit Torrent, you are downloading bits and pieces of information from a cloud of peers, but with Usenet you are downloading directly from a server. These servers typically have faster Internet connections that a regular user would have, and as such they help downloads complete faster.
- Data Limit: Many of the services you will find will cap your data limit at somewhere between 5 and 50 GB. To be fair, there are unlimited plans but you’ll find that they are generally more expensive.
- Cost of Downloads: Unlike Bit Torrent, Usenet isn’t free. The cost can be anywhere between $10 and $50 per month.
- Temporal File Retention: Some of the files on Usenet have ephemeral life spans. The servers have a finite storage capacity, so there is a certain amount of churn as new files are added and old files are removed. This isn’t nearly as massive of an issue as it used to be, and most files will be available for about 5 years.
Bit Torrent Pros
- No Retention Limits: Because the files aren’t stored on servers with finite storage capacities, there aren’t any time limits or restrictions governing how long a file can be shared.
- Free to Use: While Usenet costs money, you can download torrents completely free of charge. However, you would likely want to implement a VPN tunnel as you do so in order to hide your traffic from your ISP and mask your IP address.
- No Data Limits: You can download as much data as your bandwidth will allow. There are no data caps or limits.
- Ease of Use: It has been easier for users to find data on Bit Torrent than Usenet for a long time – however, Usenet is catching up to Bit Torrent on this front.
Bit Torrent Cons
- Download Speed: To most users that haven’t used another service, Bit Torrent clients work just fine. But the honest truth is that they are slower than Usenet downloads. The biggest difference is that with Usenet you are downloading from a server but with Bit Torrent you are downloading from peers with variable bandwidth speeds. Having said that, though Usenet is faster, Bit Torrent provides slower but adequate download speeds.
- Security Concerns: Without additional security software, Bit Torrent isn’t all that secure. Without a VPN, your ISP can see what you are downloading and you will certainly need some sort of antivirus or antimalware software. But with antivirus software and a VPN, you will be safe from malicious code and third parties won’t be able to track your IP address.
In the end, Usenet typically provides faster speeds, but it costs you more money than Bit Torrent combined with a VPN client. But consider this: VPNs offer more functionality than the ability to download torrents so your investment in a VPN will reach far beyond protecting the content you download.
How Does a User Use Usenet?
Alliteration aside, I’m sure all of you Bit Torrent users want to know how to take advantage of Usenet. Be warned, though. Your performance won’t be as great if you opt for the free service. The truth is that there are many methods you can use to take advantage of Usenet, but we will show you the easiest and cheapest way.
First of all, you’re going to need a Usenet client. It’s the client’s job to stitch together smaller pieces of files into the original form of the file you are downloading. By breaking the file up into smaller chunks during the download process, the download speeds can be much faster.
Next you are going to need a Usenet service. I can already hear the Bit Torrent users starting to groan, but the truth is that many of the paid services offer superior access and speeds than many torrents. Many of them even offer free trials so you can test out their service before you commit to buying it.
The last thing you are going to need is a website or a portal that acts as a directory to the hosted files. These types of sites work in much the same manner as The Pirate Bay, but in the Usenet world they are referred to as NZB indexes.
Then all you need to do is visit the NZB website, search for your file, and copy the URL of the file you want to download into your Usenet client. Otherwise you can choose to download the file and open it with your client to start the download.
You’ll notice that some Usenet providers advertise that they offer SSL connections to their servers to encrypt your download. Others will state quite clearly that they don’t even log their users’ traffic or downloads, because they aren’t bound by the law to do so. But because your connection is encrypted, your ISP won’t be able to discern exactly what files you are downloading. They will be able to see that you are connected to a Usenet server as well as the amount of data you are downloading, but that’s just about it.
But if that’s true, why would Usenet providers recommend that you use a VPN tunnel to connect to their services? Some of them even go as far as to include VPN services packaged together with their Usenet services.
First of all, a VPN will protect your entire connection and all of your web browsing habits – not just the files you download from Usenet. It will also encrypt your data so that hackers and thieves can’t steal your data by performing a man in the middle attack or using a scanner to capture you data when you are on a public network. In some instances, such as the public Wi-Fi at your favorite local coffee shop, a hacker could steal your credentials. In addition, some networks cap the maximum data rate that can be used for downloads. If you have a VPN tunnel, the software and network hardware won’t be able to see where you are downloading from or what type of data you are downloading. This will allow you to circumvent any data throttling configurations.
Not only that, but some networks completely block access to these types of sites. With Internet censorship on the rise, a VPN tunnel will help you access and download your favorite content without as much as a hiccup. And lastly, a VPN will give you an extra layer of protection. Though some providers don’t log any traffic, the ones that do would point back to a VPN service. If your VPN service doesn’t keep any logs, guess what? There’s no record of made the original download from the VPN provider’s IP address.
If you’re Usenet service doesn’t already provide you with a VPN service, consider the following services that we picked as the top five services to use with Usenet.
ExpressVPN – Full Review
Express VPN is a little more expensive than most VPNs, but it offers very fast speed, reliable service, and good customer support on all of the major operating systems. One of the reasons this service was selected was because it has good coverage in the US and Europe, which is where many popular Usenet services (like UseNeXT) have their server farms. With a solid service and fast servers, you won’t need to worry about your Usenet service’s servers being blocked at a foreign location.
HideMyAss – Full Review
Hide My Ass VPN is a great choice for Usenet downloaders who want to protect their data while it is in transit or just unblock access to a Usenet server. They aren’t the cheapest service in the market, but when you opt for the longer 12 month subscriptions their service will only cost $6.55 per month – which is about the cost of a lousy fast-food meal. But what’s really great about their service is the number of servers and locations they provide. They have over 860 servers in over 190 countries, so you are sure to find a reliable server close to the geographic region that your Usenet file servers are located in. And with so many servers, you won’t have to worry about capacity or speed issues for your downloads.
Surfshark – Full Review
Private Internet Access – Full Review
This service offers comparable speed and reliability to the other services, but where this provider really shines is their price. If you are already paying a monthly subscription to a Usenet provider you are likely going to want an inexpensive VPN service. Though all of the VPN providers on this list are reasonably priced, PIA provides one of the least expensive VPNs in the market. They also will let you have as many as 5 simultaneous connections, which could add value if you have multiple hosts with Usenet accounts that need to download content at the same time.
NordVPN – Full Review
NordVPN has thousands of servers in over 50 countries and it lets you get access to the content that you want, no matter where you are. This provider is a well-established solution that is capable of defeating restrictions and at the same time, it protects your connection with high level encryption. It will bring you even more security for Usenet and thanks to the fast network of servers it has available. NordVPN is a zero logs provider so it doesn’t keep records of your internet traffic, or your connection details.