The 'dangers' of file sharing programs!

Question

Are file sharing programs such as BearShare and Kazaa safe to use? I have heard that that you can download viruses by using these programs.

- Jim

Answer

This question was answered on February 11, 2002. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

File-sharing or ‘peer-to-peer’ networking on the Internet was born with the introduction of Napster Napster was a program that made it easier to find other Internet users that had ‘MP3’ music files on their computers that they wished to share.

Instead of having a centralized computer system that contains all of the files, peer-to-peer networks have unlimited capacity because the quantity of information grows with each user and their associated shared files The speed in which information can be duplicated and shared on these networks is quite incredible.

Easy access to copyrighted material obviously created a firestorm for Napster that eventually caused it to be shut down, but in their wake, dozens of other file sharing utilities sprang up and have become very popular.

One of the differences in these new file-sharing programs such as BearShare, Kazaa and Morpheus is that they can share more than music (MP3) files Most can share music, video, documents, images and even software programs which is why they are considered dangerous.

Besides the obvious copyright infringement, the risk in acquiring files from these networks is that you have no idea who the person is that you are downloading the file from; therefore the integrity of the file is questionable.

Hiding malicious code or viruses in files and making them available to hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting users on these networks is very easy and is being done.

MP3 music files are for the most part safe but a malicious user can tamper with virtually every other type of file that you can download from these networks.

Another equally important consideration about these programs is that users can easily share personal data and documents on the network and never realize they have done so.

In a test of a particular network, I was able to find dozens of documents that were clearly not intended to be shared but where publicly available to the half-million or so users that are part of that network.

I found everything from court documents to internal corporate documents to a high school homework paper that had personal information that would easily aid a predator in targeting this particular individual.

The average user is not aware of these exposures, but the Internet ‘underworld’ is certainly aware of them, so users of these utilities need to beware.

If you choose to use a file sharing utility, pay very close attention to the folders that you are sharing on your own computer By default, most programs will scan your hard drive during the installation and ask you if you would like to share folders that contain music files, etc.

If these same folders contain documents, they will be shared as well! I would recommend turning off the sharing of local files all together if you plan on installing these programs.

Network administrators should consider blocking the ports that these programs use in order to better secure corporate networks of this vulnerability and render the programs useless I have posted information on how to block many of the most popular utilities at www.datadoctors.com/approved.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on February 11, 2002