The Dangers of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File Sharing
What Is Peer-to-Peer?
In current use Peer-to-Peer, or P2P, means the sharing of files between two users on the Internet.
What are BitTorrents?
BitTorrent files or "torrents" are a popular method used to share files between computers. Users share files with "peers" allowing them to download files from other users without relying on a central distribution point.
This method is used to share music, software, and videos over the Internet. This type of sharing by creating multiple copies of a copyrighted work is illegal.
Files acquired from torrents can be dangerous, particularly if they contain executable files like games or pirated software. Programs designed to remove or circumvent copy protection are particularly dangerous, frequently containing viruses or trojan horse programs.
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 U.S. Code, provide criminal penalties for infringing on copyrighted material. In the worst case infringements can be punishable by up to five 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 machine is turned on.
Viruses, Worms, Trojans, and Spyware
Viruses, Worms and Trojans are regularly distributed using P2P applications. Some recent 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.