Stealthed from Hollywood, Usenet Indexer Begins Life in the Deep Web

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During the past year or so Hollywood has taken a renewed interest in sites that index the content of the worldwide Usenet system. As a result new sites are now quickly on the radars of the MPAA and therefore potential litigation targets. However, what the studios can't find, they can't kill, which makes the emergence of Tor-based operations of particular interest. The admin of one such site currently under development agreed to speak with TorrentFreak about his motivations.

pirateusenetFor various reasons 2012 was not a good year for Usenet indexing services. First, pressure on payment processors such as PayPal, Mastercard and Visa became evident when the infamous Newzbin2 site shut itself down due to financial difficulties. Shortly after another giant bit the dust.

NZBMatrix was a very popular site in the newsgroup community and for many was the go-to place for NZB files linking to the latest content. In December 2012 the site was forced to close due to increased pressure from Hollywood studios who were sending more takedown notices than the site could handle.

Over the past year several sites have popped up to try to bridge the gap but while of decent quality, most are inherently prone to the same sort of attacks. If a site’s servers can be located then there is always a risk of litigation (or the threat of it at least) later down the line.

However, this week TorrentFreak has been speaking with Tyrion, the administrator of a fairly new Newznab-based site, who hopes to avoid some of the external pitfalls of running a Usenet indexer.

As its name suggests NNPbeta is in beta and at the time of writing is close to backfilling 340 groups to a total of 6,077,496 releases. But unlike other indexers the site is being built on an unusually secure footing right from the start.

“When I look back on the last few years of file sharing, I see the various organizations such as RIAA, MPAA, FACT, and Prenda getting ever-more aggressive in their hunting down of file sharers and search indexers,” Tyrion explains.

“For the file sharers and users of the services, the environment is getting to be one of Guerilla Warfare. They have taken away our ability to use centralized services and instead made us use small-force tactics in order to get our content.”

tor-onionNNPbeta has no conventional web presence and cannot be found using Google. The site itself can be accessed via http://nnpbetabzsneptym.onion, but this link only works for users of Tor. The site is situated in what has become known as the Deep Web.

Tyrion naturally won’t say where his servers are other than they could be anywhere in the world. All users need to know is that by jumping onto Tor they are able to find the site as easily as they could a regular webpage but with much better security.

“Tor, I believe, is part of our evolution. By using Tor as the base of operations, we have reduced the risk of our users being discovered as well as the risk of the site being discovered, therefore providing a more reliable, long-term solution for indexing,” Tyrion says.

“We don’t know who our users are (unless they chose to provide a valid email) and they don’t know who we are. We hold the user’s privacy above all else and feel that this is the only way to accomplish our goal of providing a service that is stable, reliable, and resistant to external pressure.”

In describing what Tor does for the site (which he acknowledges isn’t entirely bulletproof), Tyrion uses a nightclub security analogy.

“We like to think of Tor as that bouncer at the front of the club that only lets people into our club that we want to let in. Yes, he can be overpowered if someone sets their mind to getting into the club regardless of the design of the system but we have a really good bouncer and the bad guys need significant manpower in order to beat him down,” said.

Tyrion believes there is a balance to be considered. Given the right manpower and resources it would be possible to bring down the site, but at some point the mounting costs versus the potential gains stop making financial sense.

Another thing for NNPbeta to consider is DMCA notices, not served on the site itself, but on external Usenet providers. One of the things pointed out by NZBMatrix in its goodbye message is that anti-piracy groups are becoming so fast at taking down infringing content from Usenet itself, Usenet indexers are being rendered much less useful. Tyrion believes that can be mitigated by acting quickly.

data“From the time something is released on Usenet, [NNPbeta] users will have (at absolute maximum) about 30 minutes until we are able to identify that release until we are done with backfill. Once we are done, users can depend on knowing about a release in two minutes which provides that much more opportunity to grab files before something happens to them,” Tyrion concludes.

NNPbeta also plans on not succumbing to the payment processing issues suffered by other sites such as Newzbin2. Tyrion insists there will be no ads or affiliate links on the site, ever. As expected, the site will accept donations into a Bitcoin account.

Whether NNPbeta will grow to become a site as successful as NZBMatrix remains to be seen but they have significant hurdles to overcome. Not being indexed by search engines and sitting quietly in the Deep Web may be good for security, but it’s also likely to prove a hindrance to people who are just passing by.

Nevertheless, the emergence of sites hidden by Tor and other cloaking systems such as those employed by The Pirate Bay are an interesting development in the file-sharing space and a trend only like to increase in the months and years to come.

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