Sometimes it’s smart not to share. Here’s why. One way identity thieves may be able to access your personal information is through peer-to-peer, file-sharing networks.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds.
What is file sharing?
Peer-to-peer file-sharing technology was developed for people to share music, documents, games, and more from one computer to another on one network.
For instance, a P2P file-sharing service might allow you to share digital audio files. But keep in mind that copyright infringement can sometimes be an issue.
While P2P networks sometimes may be used for entertainment purposes, the technology can also be a useful tool for identity thieves.
What are the identity-theft risks?
Without the proper security measures in place, file-sharing users are putting themselves at risk for various Internet crimes. Here’s what to consider:
- Hidden code: P2P networks may have millions of users and even more available files. With such a huge scope, there’s likely no way to verify the legitimacy and safety of these files. The files you download could contain malicious code that attacks your computer with malware, viruses, spyware and more. Many of these malicious programs are designed to aid identity thieves by stealing your personal information.
- Open exposure: File sharing is based in the process of allowing others to access your computer and download a file. You have to connect your computer to the shared network. A network with sophisticated security will force you to select the files you want to share. But a poorly regulated network may have default settings that grant others access to more than you had in mind. For instance, they may get access to any files shared on your computer such as tax returns and bank statements.
- Disabled security: Many file-sharing networks and software require you to change your security settings. This might require disabling a firewall or opening a port. A message may pop up asking you to do so or you may have to go into your browser settings. It may seem like a harmless change, but you’re likely putting your computer at a greater risk by disabling security features.
- Prosecution: Although not directly related to identity theft, it’s important to note that it’s possible to be prosecuted for internet piracy and file-sharing crimes. It might seem harmless to download your favorite new song, but by doing so you are cutting out the credit due to the creators and managers of this content. That’s why file sharing receives such legal scrutiny. In some cases, it can be stealing
What if I don’t use file-sharing software?
Keep in mind that even if you don’t personally use file-sharing software, other people do. And those other people might be storing your personal information.
For instance, the receptionist at your doctor’s office could use a file-sharing network. Or a coworker could be putting your information at risk.
Bottom line? It’s smart to be careful about who you give your information to. It’s also important to take steps to help protect against identity theft.
Editor’s note: This content was lightly edited and updated on March 30, 2018.