Learn Not To Share
Forget everything you’ve learned about the golden rule and sharing with others. When you’re online, it’s survival of the cautious. One of the most common ways identity thieves get a hold of information is through peer-to-peer, file-sharing networks. And it’s not as high-tech as it sounds. In fact, your 13-year old might use it every single day.
So what is file sharing?
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing technology was developed for people to share music, documents, games and more from one computer to another on one network. Remember Napster? It was one of the first P2P networks to become a popular, consumer-friendly site. Napster may not be offering free downloads anymore, but several networks have gained fame over the years including UTorrent, Limewire, Kazaa, Piratebay and more.
It may be commonly used for entertainment purposes, but the technology is also 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 a long list of Internet crimes:
Hidden Code: P2P networks have millions of users and even more available files. With such a huge scope, there’s no way to verify the legitimacy and safety of these files. The files you download could actually contain malicious code that attacks your computer with worms, malware, viruses, spyware and more. And the infection could go completely undetected. Many of these malicious programs are designed to aid identity thieves by stealing your personal information. For more information, click here and here.
Open Exposure: Not all information leaks are due to attack. 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 specifically select which files you want to share. However a poorly regulated network may have default settings which grant others access to a lot more than you had in mind. They could get access to any files shared on your computer—tax returns, bank statements and more.
Disabled Security: Many file-sharing networks and software require you to change your security settings—disable a firewall or open a port. A message may pop up asking you to do so or you may have to go into your browser settings. It may appear to be a harmless change but by disabling security features, you are putting your computer at a greater risk.
Jail Time: Although not directly related to identity theft it’s important to note that people are prosecuted for Internet piracy and file sharing crimes every year. You may think it seems harmless to download your favorite new song or a blockbuster new release, 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—it’s stealing. There are many other options out there today to get free content legally and safely, so file sharing just isn’t worth the risk.
So what? 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. The receptionist at your doctor’s office could use a file-sharing network. Or a teacher at your child’s school. Even a coworker could be putting your information at risk. So be careful whom you give your information to, and take as many precautionary steps that you can to keep your identity protected.
To learn about DIY identity theft protection, click here.
For more information about P2P file sharing, click here.
† Javelin Strategy & Research. "2012 Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming
the New Fraud Frontier." February 2012.