Thursday, May 24, 2007

P2P Networks Significantly Increase Risk of Identity Theft

Ask someone who has a child in middle school up through college what P2P is and chances are you’ll get a look of uncertainty. Chances are they will not know what you are talking about and if they do the details will be scant.

If they do know what P2P is, do they truly understand the dangers of it outside of the fact the kids are likely using it to obtain copyrighted material for free and most likely illegally. There are legal ways to use P2P networks for sharing photos and video clips and other homemade material, but it is used mainly for illegal downloading of copyrighted material without paying for it.

P2P is an abbreviation for Peer to Peer networking. How it works in simple terms, you expose folders on your PC to other peoples PC’s on a network, and you copy anything you find in their folder back to your PC, generally music files. But anything else in that folder is fair game to anyone on the network who wants to look at your PC. And depending on how the PC user allows others to view files, your entire hard drive could be read like an open book to anyone on the internet. Nothing scary there! You might just as well go post files of last years tax returns in a chatroom of identity thieves and set a timer to see how quick someone becomes you.

The network is set up by a third party service who just acts as a hub that all the users pass through to get to other PC’s on the network. They are everywhere and becoming harder to shut down due to ruling in court cases and the ability to operate in a manner that cannot be easily detected.

P2P has been around for a long time, remember the name Napster in the news a few years back? They brought P2P file sharing to the mainstream. The recording industry got them shut down because of the massive losses in music sales all blamed on illegal P2P usage.

So what has changed since then? P2P is growing among younger PC users and exposing their own or their parents personal information to identity thieves. The thieves scour P2P networks looking for personal information in folders that your 9th grader has exposed unknowingly.

According to a recent study released by Dartmouth business school researchers, P2P users have increased from 4 million in 2003 to approximately 10 million today.

So no surprise that along with it, identity theft has also been on the rise. It is an epidemic in this country. Is P2P responsible for that? It sure has added to the ease in which the thieves are obtaining information.

So now what? Any sensible adult who has any child engaged in P2P file sharing of any sort, particularly illegal music, should shut it down and close that door immediately. The lure of free (illegal) music for the kids will pale in comparison if you bank account get drained by an identity thief. There are plenty of safe and secure site to buy music from at extremely reasonable prices.

It is up to individuals to protect themselves and keep tabs on what is happening on the family PC. Go take a look before it’s too late.