Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

With the growth of technology, including faster Internet connections, more people are connecting every day and there are more products and services available for consumers online.

One of the fastest growing trends on the Internet is peer-to-peer file sharing. Every day, millions of beginner and advanced computer users share various types of files online. Music, games and software are just a few examples of files that users share over the Internet. File sharing is simple and generally involves downloading special software, usually free-of-charge that connects your computer to a network of other users’ computers, possibly all over the world.

While file sharing makes a multitude of products and services available to anyone on the web, there are downsides to users who either send or download shared files. In order to protect yourself and your computer make sure to consider the flip side:

  • File sharing programs may expose you to lawsuits if you download materials that are protected by copyright laws;
  • You may inadvertently download a virus or open your machine or network to unintended security breaches;
  • Others may be able to copy or view private files you never intended to share;
  • You might find that you’ve unknowingly downloaded pornography labeled as something else.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends the following measures to protect yourself should you decide to use file sharing capabilities:

  • Set up the software carefully. If you do not check the settings during installation, you might open access to items you did not intend like your tax returns, financial information or other personal documents;
  • Watch for spyware. Many file sharing programs install other software that monitors your browsing habits and can even relay or collect personal information from your machine;
  • Close and end your connection when you are finished. Look to see if there are controls in the file sharing software so that your files are not always on or do not automatically open when you turn your machine on;
  • Use and update your anti-virus software regularly. Avoid files with extensions like .exe, .scr, .lnk, .bat, .vbs, .dll, .bin, and .cmd;

Make a family policy about downloads and discuss the policy with your children. Parents might not know about what types of files their children download. Kids may not understand the security and other risks involved with file sharing which can lead to illegal downloads or downloads that are not appropriate for children.

File sharing opens access to a number of new and exciting products and services to everyone but it can also be an open door to your personal information and can expose families to a host of legal issues. Consider the pros and cons before you act.

For more Internet safety tips, see our Web Wise Washington pages.