How Risky is Peer to Peer (P2P) File Sharing?

image Albert Einstein has been quoted as stating “Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing”.

Nowhere, in my computing experience, has this been more true than in the type of peer-to-peer file sharing where users consider themselves to have scored a coup after having downloaded the latest movie, the latest video game, or the latest music CD, ostensibly for nothing.

The number of times I have been called upon to rescue a friend’s computer because of system damage caused by peer-to-peer downloading, has convinced me to give this form of file sharing, on public file-sharing networks, an automatic “thumbs down”.

Used legitimately of course, peer-to-peer file sharing can provide computer users with access to a wealth of information.

All that’s required to participate in Peer to Peer file sharing is the installation of the necessary file sharing software such as LimeWire, FrostWire, or Ares, that connects your computer to an informal network of other computers running file sharing software.

Millions of users could be connected to each other through this type of software at any one time. File sharing applications are often free, and easily accessible as a download on the Internet.

Risk factors

Privacy: When you are connected to file-sharing programs, you may unintentionally allow others to copy confidential files you did not intend to share. So be sure to setup the file-sharing software very carefully.

If you don’t check the proper settings when you install the software, you could allow access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive. Information such as your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, and other personal and financial documents.

It’s extremely important to be aware of the files that you place in, or download to, your shared folder. Don’t put information in your shared folder that you don’t want to share with others. Your shared folder is the folder that is shared automatically with others on peer to peer file sharing networks.

Copyright Issues: You may knowingly, or otherwise, download material that is protected by copyright laws and find yourself caught up in legal issues. Can this really happen? You bet.

Copyright infringement can result in significant monetary damages, fines, and even criminal penalties. Some statistics suggest as many as 70% of young people between the ages of 9 – 17, regularly download copyrighted digital music. If you are a parent, you bear the ultimate responsibility for this illegal activity.

Adult Content: Again, if you are a parent you may not be aware that your children have downloaded file-sharing software on the family computer, and that they may have exchanged games, videos, music, pornography, or other material that may be unsuitable for them. It’s not unusual for other peoples’ files to be mislabeled, and you, or your children, can unintentionally download these files.

Elsewhere in this Blog you can read an article on child safety on the Internet, and download a free parental control program that comes highly recommended.

Go to: Free Internet Child Protection – Parental Control Bar.

Spyware: There’s a good chance that the file-sharing program you’re using has installed other software known as spyware to your computer’s operating system. Spyware monitors a user’s browsing habits and then sends that data to third parties.

Frequently the user gets ads based on the information that the spyware has collected and forwarded to these third parties. I can assure you that spyware can often be difficult to detect and remove.

Before you use any file-sharing program, you should buy, or download, free software that can help prevent the downloading or installation of spyware, or help to detect it on your hard drive if it has been installed.

Elsewhere on this Blog you can read an article on free anti-malware programs, including anti-virus software, and you can download those that may suit your needs.

Go to: Free Windows Software You Can’t Afford Not to Have!

Viruses: Use and update your anti-virus software regularly. Files you download could be mislabeled, hiding a virus or other unwanted content. Use anti-virus software to protect your computer from viruses you might pick up from other users through the file-sharing program.

Generally, your virus filter should prevent your computer from receiving possibly destructive files. While downloading, you should avoid files with extensions such as .exe, .scr, .lnk, .bat, .vbs, .dll, .bin, and .cmd.

Default Closing Behavior: It is critical that you close your connection after you have finished using the software. In some instances, closing the file-sharing program window does not actually close your connection to the network. That allows file-sharing to continue and will increase your security risk. Be sure to turn off this feature in the programs “preferences” setting.

What’s more, some file-sharing programs automatically run every time you turn on your computer. As a preventive measure, you should adjust the file-sharing program’s controls to prevent the file-sharing program from automatically starting.

For more on the potential dangers involved in peer to peer file sharing, check out the FBI’s web site.

If you decide peer to peer file sharing is for you, the following free applications are spyware free when downloaded from reputable download sites such as Download.com, or Sourceforge.net.

LimeWire: Download at Download.com

Ares: Download at Sourceforge.net

FrostWire: Download at Download.com

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19 Comments

Filed under Application Vulnerabilities, Don't Get Hacked, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety for Children, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Parenting Help, Peer to Peer, Privacy, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

19 responses to “How Risky is Peer to Peer (P2P) File Sharing?

  1. Pingback: How Risky is Peer to Peer (P2P) File Sharing?

  2. Pingback: » How Risky is Peer to Peer (P2P) File Sharing? « Bill Mullins … » Free Software

  3. This is a must read grand-slam right here, Mr. Mullins.

    Excellent advice clearly presented.

  4. g

    great article bill! as you may recall, i picked up a nasty virus from p2p when i first started using it. that was a learning experience in just how careful one must be when using p2p. i now use utorrent which suits me fine.

  5. Like you point out P2P is a tool and not inherently risky or evil. I’m sure many of us have found it the best way to get some files. I also confess I have used it for more nefarious purposes in the past and was lucky to never have been seriously bit. I think its a whole new ball game these days P2P is just part of the repertoire of the organized criminals who run the malware industry and your opening quote says a lot about what people face when they use P2P. The recent incident where classified information about the new advanced military aircraft was stolen or the malware found on computers running our power grid can show just how serious these issues are. I don’t have any proof that it was caused by people using P2P specifically but I wouldn’t be surprised. Its definitely part of the epidemic plaguing us all at this time.
    Thanks
    Mark

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Mark,

      Like you, I don’t have any proof that the two serious incidents you mention were P2P related, but the absence of proof doesn’t mean that P2P was not involved. You’re quite right – cyber- criminals use every tool in their arsenal, and P2P files are so EASY to infect.

      One of the greatest concerns faced by the enterprise today is employees who disregard, or simply pay “lip service”, to security fundamentals. It’s hard to believe that an employee would use P2P while on the job, but I’ve seen the consequences of it any number of times.

      Playing the P2P game is just like rolling the dice – some you win and some you lose. The problem is, by the time you determine that you’ve lost, you’ve REALLY lost.

      Thanks for the great comment Mark.

      Bill

  6. Tim

    Fanastic article. P2P is one of the major causes of infected, slow and ill computers. Websites like Limewire most often contain files loaded with viruses and spyware. But many of the people who use P2P like it’s the greatest thing on earth just don’t seem to get it.

    I’ve cleaned many computers for people, explained why there computer got infected or damaged and showed them how to deal with it. But a month or so later they’re always on the phone again with exactly the same problem.

    Some people never learn and I’ve given up.

    • Bill Mullins

      Thank you Tim.

      Your point “some people never learn and I’ve given up”, is well made, and I have no difficulty in understanding why you feel this way.

      Bill

  7. I think it’s not worth the fun exchanging p2p for our pc’s safety.

  8. Bill,

    P2P in the workplace! I’ve seen it… Again, it boils down to letting people know about these things as you have done so well in this article. Most people install software, such as P2P, without knowing the ramifications. My advice, stay away from P2P…

    Rick

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Rick,

      I’ve often felt that employees who *knowingly* violate IT security regulations, should be forced to wear a red warning sign that proclaims – “I am an IT dummy!”.LOL.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Bill

  9. g

    bill: if that was policy where i work, i would be wearing that red warning sign! lol. seriously, i get a lot of leeway from our i.t. guy. some of the other folks in the office – notsomuch

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