Today, peer-to-peer, or P2P, file sharing has become a widespread phenomenon around the world and has played a major role in revolutionizing the internet.
Peer-to-peer file sharing is the act of sharing digital media such as music, movies, software, e-books, etc. via a direct connection between two peers using the same P2P network.
This is accomplished by using a P2P client software application, which allows an individual’s computer to connect to the P2P network. Once connected, users are free to download files from each other around the world.
Learn more about how peer-to-peer networks function.
A P2P network’s users are known as peers. The peer who is hosting a file is known as a seed and the person downloading the file is known as a leech. The beauty of this system is that multiple people can leech from a single seed, and as more people obtain the file, that file becomes easier to leech onto and download.
While there are many benefits to using online file-sharing services, there are several risks involved as well. Below, we’ll take a look at the dangers of using peer-to-peer file-sharing services, as well as what you can to keep yourself safe.
Copyright infringement is one of the biggest risks associated with online file sharing.
Copyright issues are mostly problematic for shared music files. However, copyright is also applicable to any other form of media, including movies, e-books, and software.
That being said, the vast majority of media being uploaded and downloaded on P2P networks is copyrighted by the musician, production company, author, or creator.
So, when you’re sending or receiving these files without paying for them and without the creator’s explicit permission, you’re technically breaking copyright laws and could face serious legal consequences if caught.
Learn more about the legality of online file sharing.
Exposing Your Personal Information
Not only do people who use peer-to-peer file-sharing networks risk legal complications by downloading and sharing pirated music, movies, and software, they’re also at risk of exposing their private, personal data to other users on the same network.
Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to tell who else is using the same P2P network as you. And, many times, there are people on these networks looking to take advantage of new users who may not know about the dangers of using P2P applications.
With that said, make sure to never share any of your personal information over a P2P network.
Another one of the major risks associated with online file-sharing is that you never truly know what’s going to be in the file you’re downloading until you open it.
Hackers and cyber criminals often upload their malware into files before adding them to the network. This way, when a person downloads and opens the file, the malicious code will automatically begin attacking the victim’s computer.
Fortunately, the P2P community has become rather vigilant about commenting and leaving notes on corrupted files to warn other users. However, there are constantly new files being added to these networks and until someone becomes the victim of a corrupted file, it’s impossible to warn others.
How to Stay Safe When File Sharing
Of course, file sharing can make everyone’s life that much easier. But that’s only if we take a few necessary steps to protect our privacy while online. Below, you’ll find a few tips to keep you safe while using online file-sharing networks.
Use a VPN
Using a VPN is another way, and quite possibly the best way, to keep yourself safe while using online file-sharing services.
VPNs encrypt your internet connection and work like a secure pathway, which the data coming from and being sent to your computer can travel through. This ensures that your online activity is kept anonymous from governments and ISPs.
Furthermore, using a VPN also disguises your IP address as the location of the VPN server. Therefore, your IP address will appear to be coming from wherever the VPN’s server is located.
If you’re interested in using one, do not pay for a VPN. There are many free VPN services that will protect your online activity just as well as any paid service.
Be Cautious at All Times
As with anything else online, the best way to ensure your safety while using file-sharing software is to remain highly aware of the information you’re sending across the network, as well as what you’re attempting to download.
In other words, make sure to never send any sensitive information, such as your name, age, date of birth, or address, via a file sharing network and never download any files that you’re uncertain about.
Avoid Sharing Illegal or Pirated Content
As we’ve mentioned, there are many legal implications involved with downloading pirated content. If you’re caught uploading or downloading any type of illegal content, even if it happens accidentally, you could potentially face fines and legal action against you.
Therefore, it’s best to avoid downloading or sharing any type of content that is protected by copyright.
Use Antivirus Software
On top of being cautious with what you’re downloading, it’s important to make sure that you have antivirus software installed and updated on your computer. We recommend that you run frequent scans when downloading from P2P networks, which will significantly reduce your risk of being infected by malware.
Also, it’s a good idea to install and enable a firewall on your computer. Most operating systems have a built-in firewall, but if your computer doesn’t, be sure to install one before you start downloading files from a P2P network.