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The Dangers of P2P Networks Explained

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/22/2011

Being able to share data across the Internet is one of the most popular ways of distributing content - but peer-to-peer (P2P) networks hide some terrible dangers to your personal and data security

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    Know the Dangers of P2P Networks

    Free software, free music, free video all available to download – ebooks, webcomics, video games and more. This is just a small example of some of the content you can get your hands on via a P2P (peer-to-peer) filesharing network. With so much free stuff available, you would think that P2P was the best thing on earth, ever. However, it isn’t as straightforward as that.

    There are considerable dangers in peer to peer networks.

    From malicious software to copyright and identity theft, P2P networks present daily, constant dangers to their users.

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    Typical P2P Networks

    The Bittorrent network is currently the most popular filesharing network Before proceeding to explain the dangers of P2P networks, let’s take a look at some of the popular file sharing networks that use the peer-to-peer system.

    With the success of Napster in the late 1990s, developers saw that the peer-to-peer model of sharing software was a great way of reducing overhead on file servers – after all, the data is stored across the Internet on millions of users computers.

    As a result, several new peer-to-peer file sharing networks sprung up, most notably Kazaa, although this has been added since by many recognisable names.

    Currently, the most well known P2P network is Bittorrent – this offers a level of safety that others don’t, as downloading of all files is controlled via a file known as a tracker, only available via a Bittorrent website. These websites request comments from people that have downloaded the files, in order to demonstrate its legitimacy and safety. However even this system isn’t capable of protecting users completely.

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    Dangers of P2P Networks

    For any user that is using a P2P client for the first time, it will appear that they have got their hands on a great piece of software that gives them so much other software for free.

    Unfortunately, it isn’t as clear cut as that– even when we consider the presence of copyrighted material and pornography disguised as innocent files, there is still the matter of malware, viruses, and spyware floating around all of these P2P filesharing networks, either with innocent names or hidden in zip files or the installation program of applications found on the network.

    Word and Excel documents can include macros that can be used to run malicious scripts, and the dangers to your PC, data security, and identity security are considerable.

    Why are standard documents available through these networks? The fact is, most users of P2P networks and client software don’t understand the full ramification of what they are doing. Many clients make available to other users the full contents of your computer, from the smallest GIF image found on a web page to financial spreadsheets, your family photos... and that novel you have been working on.

    With these files logged and listed, it is a simple matter for a P2P filesharer to do a search for .XLS files and download a bunch of spreadsheets from users around the world.

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    Some Typical P2P Networks

    Dangers of P2P networks - download carefully on Kazaa P2P networks exist wholly to share data - whether that be music, images, movies, software, with no regard for the copyright of the media. See our guide File Sharing - Is it Legal? for more information on this.

    Here is a more complete list of P2P networks and client applications:

    • www.gnutella.com

    • www.morpheus.com

    • www.kazaa.com

    • www.filetopia.org

    • www.limewire.com

    • www.shareaza.com

    • www.bittorrent.com

    • www.edonkey.com

    • JungleMonkey

    • iMesh

    • FileNavigator

    • MojoNation

    • BearShare

    • DirectConnect

    • eDonkey2000

    • Konspire

    • Mactella

    • Freenet

    • Newtella

    • Filetopia

    • Aimster

    • WinMX

    • Hotline

    • Flycode

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    Protection from P2P Networks

    Concern over the content of data transferred via P2P networks can only be completely allayed in one way: don’t use peer-to-peer filesharing networks.

    Of course, this isn’t always possible. As this method of sharing data becomes more and more popular, more and more legitimate services are employing the protocol. Various TV catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer in the UK employ peer-to-peer technology, with more to follow, taking advantage of its low server overhead. Meanwhile the Steam network also uses P2P for users to download games and updates, with other online game repositories following suit, while the Xbox Live network also uses P2P to distubute content.

    It might also be less than simple to avoid installing P2P filesharing clients – for instance you might use the system to share your own self produced music or video content.

    Most of the top PC security tools feature protection from intruders, corrupt files, viruses and other malware downloaded from filesharing networks – so give your security software documentation a read to check what scope of protection is offered to you.