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Know What You are Downloading
Your biggest line of defense from the risks of file sharing is your own mind. Know what good and bad content looks like. Look out for five-megabyte executable files claiming to be audio-visual content. This simple mislabeling technique is a popular means of malware delivery and unfortunately can be quite effective considering how little attention users pay to what they download. One of the simplest steps to take is to learn your basic file extensions. Just by knowing that a ".mpg" extension is for video and that a '.exe' extension is for executable files(ie applications), can improve your chances of avoiding infection. Even those of us who know better will occasionally download bad because we were in a hurry and only glanced at the title. So, even when you start to feel comfortable with the technology; slow down, pay attention and you'll stay clean.
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Know Who You are Downloading from
Most file-sharing applications keep track of peers whom are known to spread bad content. Make sure that you are using a program that has this feature, and more importantly, make sure this protection is activated. You will find the settings for this protection in most popular file sharing applications' preference pane; it will be most likely be labeled as a 'Block' or a 'Ban' list. Check at least once a week for updates to this list to ensure you are properly protected from these malicious connections. The most popular downloads are also the most popular targets so it is of utmost importance to follow this guideline to stay safe.
Also look for users who post consistently safe content and follow them. In the world of file sharing, reputation is great asset to security. Following these power-users not only reduces the risk of malware infected files, but also provides consistent quality.
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Avoid Unrated Content
The greatest and worst attribute regrading the internet is the medium it provides for everybody to suddenly voice an opinion about everything. This benefits us file-sharing enthusiasts immensely. Pay close attention to comments and ratings of the content that your are considering for download. This intelligence will let you in on key details about the safety and quality of the file that cannot be gathered from a description. Content with lots of negative ratings may be poor quality or contain malware that could damage your operating system. Look for content that is highly rated and preferably has comments pertaining to why. Remember that hindsight is 20/20 and these comments are usually from people whom have already downloaded and used the content.
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Avoid Cracks and Key Generators
Software prices have skyrocketed, especially in the pro-app market. This exploitation of end-users worldwide has driven many to alternative means of acquisition. The massive movement by tech-savy(loosely used) consumers has also caught the attention of the malware community. Small applications known as cracks and key generators are widely used, by dissatisfied consumers, to illegally obtain free access to popular applications protected by product keys, user registration, etc. Periodically this software is used by computer criminals(sometimes hired indirectly by the software companies) to infect end-users' computers with malware. While generating a product key for the user a generator may also hide infected files with the users computer which can later be used to gain information about the user or in a online attack.
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Beware of Adult Entertainment
Most of us would be lying if we said we had never visited an adult entertainment site. This type of content is also very popular in the file sharing community. Unfortunately, one has to be very careful when downloading anything of this type, as it is a popular vehicle to deliver malware to unsuspecting end-users. Malicious code is often embedded within the audio-visual content, spreading malware or taking users to shady internet sites.
Avoid downloading adult content in the form of small Quicktime videos as they are a very popular target for this type of activity. If possible, avoid downloading this type of content altogether using file sharing applications, since the risk is very high and the content is usually fake.