Every day, millions of computer users share files on-line. Whether it is music, games, or software, file-sharing can give computer users access to a wealth of information.You simply download special software such as LimeWire, or Ares, that connects your computer to an informal network of other computers running the same software. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at any one time. The software is often free and easily accessible.
Sounds promising, right? Maybe, but make sure that you consider the trade-offs. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. consumer protection agency, cautions that file-sharing can have a number of risks.
Privacy: When you are connected to file-sharing programs, you may unknowingly allow others to copy private 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 open access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, such as your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents.
Pay particular attention to 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 strangers.
Copyright Issues: You may download material that is protected by copyright laws and find yourself mired in legal issues. Copyright infringement can result in significant monetary damages, fines and even criminal penalties.
Adult Content: Talk with your family about file-sharing. Parents may not be aware that their children have downloaded file-sharing software on the family computer (a fairly common occurrence), and that they may have exchanged games, videos, music, pornography, or other material that may be inappropriate for them.
Because other peoples’ files sometimes are mislabeled, kids unintentionally may download these files. Users whose shared folders contain illegal pornographic material, particularly child pornography, could be subject to criminal prosecution.
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.
Spy-ware: Be aware of spy-ware. Some file-sharing programs install other software known as spy-ware. Spy-ware 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 spy-ware has collected and disseminated. Spy-ware can be difficult to detect and remove. Before you use any file-sharing program, you should buy, or download free software, that can prevent the downloading of spy-ware or help detect it on your hard drive.
Elsewhere in 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.
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. You should avoid files with extensions like .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, many file-sharing programs automatically start when 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.
Be cautious, and practice safe downloading and file sharing.