Dangers involved in the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing


Legal ramifications of sharing copyrighted material

  • As the music industry is fond of saying, "The vast majority of [people] would never shoplift a CD at a record store but think nothing of accessing the same CD for free online". The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed lawsuits against individuals and businesses over this "sharing" of copyrighted material.
  • Federal statute, titles 17 and 18 of the US Code, provide criminal penalties for infringing on copyrighted material. In the worst case infringements can be punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned for up to 10 years. Violators can also be held civilly liable for actual damages, lost profits, or statutory damages up to $150,000 per infringement, as attorney's fees and costs.

Unauthorized use and access of private files

  • Some P2P programs will share everything on your computer with anyone by default. Searches that we have done have provided us with access to patent applications, medical information, financial and other personal and corporate information.
  • Much of the P2P activity is automatic, and its use is unmonitored. Computers running this software will be busy exchanging files whenever the computer is turned on.

Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware

  • Viruses, worms, and Trojan horses are regularly distributed using P2P applications. Some viruses that have been spread using P2P networks include Swen, Fizzer, Lirva, and even Mydoom. The use of P2P applications aids in the rapid spread of these harmful programs.
  • Some of the P2P programs themselves also contain spyware. This allows the author of the program, and other network users, to see what you're doing, where you're going on the Internet, and even to use your computer's resources without your knowledge.
  • Since the computers running the P2P programs are usually connected to a network, they can be used to spread malware, share private documents, or use your computer as a file server for storing and later download of files by other users.

Other risks from P2P programs

  • Once installed, these applications can be hard to remove. In some cases, a user has to know which files to remove, which registry entries to edit, and which configuration files need modification.
  • Various types of illegal files can be downloaded and re-shared over these P2P networks by mistake. This includes child pornography, which subjects the owner of the computer and network to severe criminal penalties.