HARLEY HAHN'S USENET CENTER
File Sharing Tutorial
Suppose you decide to participate in Usenet file sharing. Is there a way to do so anonymously? The answer is yes, up to a point — if you take certain precautions. However, no matter what you do, you can't get complete privacy, as I will explain in a moment.
If you want to be anonymous, the easiest and most important thing to do is to use a fake name and email address when you use Usenet. This prevents the general public — that is, other Usenet users — from knowing who you are. It also prevents programs that troll Usenet groups from putting your name and email address on spam lists.
To be sure, when you participate in Usenet discussions, you may choose to use your real name, as you may actually want people to know who you are. That's up to you. However, when you share files, however, it makes more sense to keep your identity private. After all, no one needs to know who you are to enjoy the files you upload. Indeed, if you look closely, you will see that most files are uploaded using names and addresses that are obviously fake.
For more privacy, you can use what is called SSL to connect to your Usenet provider. SSL, which stands for "Secure Sockets Layer", is the most popular security system used on the Internet. When you use SSL, all the data you send and receive is encrypted. On the off chance that someone might use a program to tap into your communication line and "eavesdrop" on what you are doing, the SSL encryption will ensure that what they see is meaningless. For example, SSL is what companies use on their Web sites when they require you to enter sensitive information, such as a credit card number. As a rule all commercial Usenet providers offer SSL connections, so if are worried about someone tapping your line to spy on your Usenet activity, this is the way to go.
For maximum privacy, you can do more than use a fake name and email address and encrypt your data. You can also hide your IP address, the unique number that identifies your computer or personal network. The easiest way to do so is to use a special type of VPN, or VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK, that is designed for maximum privacy.
A VPN simulates a private network over the Internet by encrypting your data as it is transmitted, and decrypting it at the other end. (VPNs typically use some type of SSL.) It is common for companies to use VPNs to enable their employees to connect to central servers from remote locations, such as their homes, while maintaining strict data security.
For maximum Usenet privacy, you can use a specialized VPN that is configured to hide your identity from the world at large. To do so, the VPN acts as a front, sending and receiving data on your behalf without identifying you. How does it work? As data goes in or out, the VPN hides your IP number by using it's own instead. Thus, every data transmission, to or from the VPN, is done under the auspices of the VPNs IP number, effectively hiding the IP numbers of all the individual users.
If you decide you want such anonymity, there are a variety of companies that offer commercial VPN/privacy service to individuals for a small monthly fee. When you use one of these services, nothing you do — including file sharing, accessing the Web, checking your email, on so on — can be traced back to your computer or your network.
— hint —
Using SSL and a VPN will ensure that your Internet connection is secure. However, if you want your Usenet activities to be completely private, it is important that you do not, willingly or unwillingly, give out personal information about yourself.
For example, no matter how secure your Internet connection may be, if you use your private email address or real name when you post Usenet articles or upload files, you are going to lose your privacy.
Similarly, when you use the Web, you should never type personal information, including your email address, into a form on a Web page. You may also want to make sure that your browser is not storing "tracking cookies", which are used by many Web servers to track of what you are doing.
If you are interested in trying a privacy VPN, the one I recommend is VyprVPN (pronounced "viper-V-P-N"), a low-cost, commercial VPN service offered by the Giganews Usenet company. VyprVPN not only provides privacy when you access Usenet, you can use VyprVPN for all your Internet activity, effectively making everything you do on the Internet almost untraceable.
Why do I say "almost"? If you use a fake name and email address, an SSL connection and a VPN to access Usenet, are you not completely anonymous?
The answer is yes, when you download, but not completely when you upload. This is because, whenever you upload anything to Usenet — either a message to a discussion group or a file to a file-sharing group — your Usenet provider inserts one or more special header lines into your message. These lines can, if necessary, be used to identify you. The most common such header lines are:
X-Usenet-Provider or Nntp-Posting-Host
The X-Usenet-Provider or Nntp-Posting-Host line identifies the Usenet server that was used to post the message. The X-Trace line contains information identifying the person who posted the message.
Sometimes, for privacy, the content of the X-Trace line is encrypted by the Usenet provider, in which case the information on the line looks like gibberish. Here is a typical example:
When necessary, however, the information in the X-Trace line can be decrypted by the Usenet provider (in this case, Giganews). This means that, if a legal authority were to demand that a Usenet provider identify the author of a particular Usenet message, the provider would be able to do so — and probably would do so — by using the information in the X-Trace line.
So how do you use Usenet file sharing anonymously? When downloading, the best you can do is to use an SSL connection with a VPN. When uploading, the best you can do is use a fake name and fake email address, an SSL connection, and a VPN. However, if you break the law egregiously enough to attract the attention of the authorities and they decide to go after you via your Usenet provider, you can run, but you probably won't be able to hide.
At this point, we have covered the basic ideas behind Usenet file sharing and discussed the principles involved in copyrights and privacy. We are now ready to start talking about the details of Usenet file sharing.
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