File Sharing Software can put your Personal Information at Risk

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Before filing your taxes online, downloading music of sharing files learn what safety measures you may need to take to prevent your personal information from being accessed and avoid opening up your computer to a malicious virus or spyware.

File-sharing software could put your identity at risk

A click of the mouse. That's all it could take for your identity to be stolen, said ID theft expert Todd Davis who's dedicated his life to protecting identities through LifeLock.

People using free file-sharing software, such as Limewire, could be at risk, because it's not just songs and videos that are shared, it's everything on a computer's hard drive.

"If you've used your laptop filed your taxes online and stored your other personal information on your hard drive, you basically opened it up to see everything," Davis said.

On a laptop in his office, Davis demonstrated searching tax return in Limewire.

Immediately dozens of matches popped up, including tax returns saved as .pdf files, Word documents with important credit care account numbers, and even someone's scanned social security card.

Protect Your PC From File-Sharing Dangers
Dangers of Peer-to-Peer Networks More Than Just Lawsuits

Peer-to-peer file-sharing networks have come a long way since the dawn (and demise) of Napster, with LimeWire, KaZaA, Morpheus, Grokster, and others offering everything from MP3 files to movies, software, and anything that can be exchanged across a digital network.

If you're using or plan to use such networks, you should know that copyright infringement isn't the only issue to consider. You also open up your system to a host of security and privacy threats, including viruses, worms, Trojan horses, snooping, data theft, spyware, and more.

The first thing to understand about file sharing is that every user's system acts as a server for everyone else's, so there is almost no way to control the content that is available on a network.

This makes it easy for anyone to distribute a virus, worm, or Trojan horse in a file you thought contained your favorite song. Once that file is in your file-sharing directory, it's usually available to everyone, whether you've tried to play it or not, so malware can spread very quickly.

Some of the software itself has been known to have Trojan horses and other security problems. And a number of file-sharing applications contain invasive adware that monitors your online behavior and sends data back to a server. Although providers are backing away from this lately, millions of users have unwittingly downloaded tons of spyware along with file-sharing apps.

Even if you aren't using your file-sharing application, it's usually up and running in the background, providing other users with access to your system -- and often to your IP address.

Studies such as "Usability and Privacy: A Study of Kazaa P2P File-Sharing" suggest that the majority of users don't know what files they're sharing and may inadvertently end up sharing private files such as e-mail and financial information.

Turn It Completely Off

There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself. The most obvious step is to turn off your file-sharing app when you're not actively searching or downloading. SEE MORE

For a helpful list of protective steps you can take read:

Mobile Computing & Wireless Networking How-Tos


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