There are a lot of computer programs out there that allow for peer-to-peer file-sharing. Each of these systems – like the popular Kazaa, Morpheus, or Grokster applications – are easy to use, and provide great fun. However, if you choose to install and use these powerful tools you need to be aware of the potentially serious privacy and security risks that may come with them. Key concerns facing file-sharing users include:
•Putting your personal information at risk. Usually this is done inadvertently. However, many peer to peer systems make it possible, and too easy to share things like tax returns, inboxes, your checking account, etc. often times these items are shared by mistake, but they are shared none the less making identity theft a real concern for those who use peer to peer file sharing.
•Infection of your computer with spyware and adware. One of the biggest problems with peer to peer file sharing programs is that they often come with spyware. Usually this spyware communicates information for advertising or other reasons, often without the user’s knowledge. This opens you up and makes your computer vulnerable. You should be able to know how your computer is being used, and whether or not it is communicating with third parties.
•Security concerns such as infection with viruses. With any sort of file trading you are at risk for getting viruses, etc. File sharing introduces risks similar to those faced by Internet users generally, such as attacks from viruses, or worms. So, you will want to make sure you only download things from trusted sources.
Another common concern for file sharing are the legal risks. Even if done in ignorance, file traders who violate copyright laws face obvious legal risks.
These are the key concerns, but the problem is that these concerns are exacerbated by the growing use of file-sharing programs by millions of individuals and families, often with little or no training or experience.
So, what does this mean? Does it mean file sharing is bad? Absolutely not. For many, peer-to-peer file sharing used for legitimate, non-infringing file distribution and it is great. Its underlying technology, not so different from peer-to-peer networks like the World Wide Web, is rapidly evolving, and had many uses. So, it benefits many, and is constantly changing, which means the key concerns are going to be constantly changing as well.
To protect yourself against these concerns you can do the following:
•Install a good anti-virus program on your computer and be sure to use it. You want to continually update it as it is only as good as when you buy it. Anti-virus or virus protection programs protect you against known viruses, but viruses get changed, or new ones are made all the time, so update your software so that you do not have new viruses attacking you.
•Enable your firewall, and make sure that you have not created any holes in it. Your firewall should keep many things from ever getting to your computer. So, make sure you have one, and make sure it is turned on.
Other than the above two things, just be careful about what you download, and make sure it is from users you trust and know. They pose less threat. If you do not know the user, be wary and scan everything carefully.