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.
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.
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.
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.
LimeWire: Download at Download.com
Ares: Download at Sourceforge.net
FrostWire: Download at Download.com