P2P, or Peer to Peer, refers to the act of sharing files between two or more computer systems without needing a central server. This is also known as torrenting. Files are shared from the host computer directly to the user. The files that are most frequently sent this way can include digital media like pictures, music and movies.
This is a popular method of uploading and downloading digital information, but it is not always a safe way to do so.
P2P File Sharing: The Good, the Bad, and the Risky
When you are on the receiving end of the file, you can never be entirely sure where the file originated. This leaves you at risk for several reasons.
Potential Identity Theft: When you upload or share torrent files, you may be asked to lower your computer protections, such as firewalls and anti-virus software. Obviously, this is a huge red flag that your source cannot be trusted. When you lower your safeguards, you run the risk of being a victim of hackers. Once inside your computer, these hackers have free reign to poke around. That way, they will have access to passwords, accounts, and even stored credit card information. Identity theft is on the rise, with nearly 978 million victims worldwide in 2017. Some hackers can dodge the protections on your computer and gain access to your information, specially when firewalls and virus detection software are low-quality.
Virus Infection: Downloaded files can come with some uninvited friends. Viruses and malware are designed to destroy your computer’s hard drive. Once your device is infected, you are in for a long rocky and potentially costly road to rid yourself of them. Some of the favorites currently making their rounds are varieties of:
- Spyware: Allows the hacker to track your Internet activity.
- Virus: Can replicate itself and corrupt your hard drive and files.
- Trojans: Disguised as legitimate software or data, Trojans are a type of virus designed to destroy your hard drive.
- Worms: Worms have the objective of taking down the network itself, whereas viruses target the individual computer.
Legal Issues and Fines: Because a big part of digital media is protected by copyrights, the risks of sharing it P2P can involve multiple legalities. The first step in a potential legal battle is receiving a DMCA notice. The next steps can get a little trickier to navigate, up to and including court and fines.
Despite the risks, file sharing is a perfectly viable way to share information. All it takes is a few steps to make sure your information and your device are protected.
- Update your device with a legitimate anti-virus software: If you have no anti-virus software, get some. This is a way to stop malware in its tracks, whether you are just browsing the Internet or downloading torrents.
- Protect your Identity with a VPN: This is a key component to protecting yourself from all of the risks of file sharing. When choosing your VPN provider, though, make sure it is a VPN that doesn’t keep logs and that allows P2P file sharing.
- Firewalls: Similar to an anti-virus software, firewalls will block suspicious activity and malware before your device is exposed. Many VPN providers offer a firewall, and your device may already have one, as well. Check the settings, and enable your firewalls to protect yourself.
While there are inherent risks to share files via P2P, it is still a very popular way to share data and digital media on the Internet. These risks, however, can be significantly reduced with some defensive actions and a little common sense.