Will “Six Strikes” Affect Usenet?

In July 2012, American ISPs will begin cracking down on file-sharing. Offending customers will be warned and punished in a “graduated response” system similar to California’s criminal “Three Strikes” law where repeat-offenders get very long prison sentences after their third offense.

The Six Strikes program has been kept quiet since it was agreed upon a year ago. So, nobody really knows how it will work. Many observers speculate that it will only affect BitTorrent traffic, but what about Usenet?

Unlike BitTorrent, when you download from a Usenet server, there is no “swarm” – just you and the server. So, third parties hired to look for offenders cannot legally observe your traffic. However, if your ISP wanted to monitor you, they could do so very easily.

Usenet does not have built-in compression, error-detection, or encryption. In it’s default mode, Usenet data is transferred as plain text, and is easy to read by spies. In practice, files are compressed with RAR, and encoded with yEnc (or other methods) before being transferred. But of course, your ISP could easily decode, and decompress files if it chose to.

However, many Usenet servers and client programs like Super-NZB have implemented SSL. It’s pretty much a standard feature now, and will prevent your ISP from seeing what you are downloading. However, if you use an NZB-indexing website that doesn’t run HTTPS, your ISP will be able to see the NZB files that you download. Would that be enough for them to issue a warning? Probably not, but nobody really knows yet.

Once Six Strikes goes into operation, we will see how it works. However, that won’t preclude it from being expanded in the future. So, it seems wise for Usenet users to switch on SSL, and keep it on. And maybe use a VPN when visiting NZB-indexing sites.