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Identity Theft and Peer to Peer Sites

November 5, 2007

Are P2P sites safe?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks are very popular. Especially the music sites. Napster got this started back in the late 90’s.

The problem with P2P file sharing sites is that you can share a whole lot more than you thought you were sharing. Identity thieves can use these programs, including Limewire, to search your computer for tax returns, bank statements, credit reports and student financial aid info. They know exactly what they’re doing and what to look for.

Tiversa Inc. is a computer security company monitors global file sharing networks on behalf of the world’s largest financial institutions, government agencies and individual consumers. The US Attorney General asked them to monitor the P2P sites for a two week period.

At the end of the two weeks, Tiversa reported:

  • Almost 56,000 requests for files involving “credit card”
  • Over 75,000 requests for specific credit card statements by brand
  • 50,000 requests for ‘tax returns’
  • Over 317,000 requests for files involving ‘pin’and ‘user id’

 File sharing networks open your computer and your sensitive data to thousands of cyber-criminals. They happily use or sell your information to commit identity theft and fraud.

To secure the personal information stored on your computer, the FTC suggests that you:

  • Set up the file-sharing software very carefully. If you don’t check the proper settings when you install the software, you could open access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, like your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents.
  • Talk with your family about file-sharing. Parents may not be aware that their children have downloaded file-sharing software on the family computer and that they may have exchanged games, videos, music, pornography, or other material that may be inappropriate for them. Kids may not understand the security and other risks involved with file-sharing and may install the software incorrectly, giving anyone on the Internet access to the family’s private computer files.
  • Be aware of spyware. Some file-sharing programs install other software known as spyware. Spyware monitors a user’s browsing habits and then sends that data to third parties.
  • Use and update your anti-virus software regularly. Files you download could be mislabeled, hiding a virus or other unwanted content. Use anti-virus software to protect your computer from viruses you might pick up from other users through the file-sharing program.
  • Close your connection. In some instances, closing the file-sharing program window does not actually close your connection to the network. That allows file-sharing to continue and could increase your security risk. "Always on" connections may allow others to copy your shared files at any time.

 Here’s a list of P2P sites:

Acquisition eDonkey2000 Kazaa Media Desktop Phex WinMX
Aimster Freewire LimeWire Piolet  XoLoX
Ares Gnotella LordofSearch Poisoned  
Ares Lite Gnucleus Mactella Qtella  
Audiogalaxy Grokster Madster Shareaza  
BearShare GTK-Gnutella Morpheus SoulSeek  
BitTorrent iMesh NeoNapster SwapNut  
Blubster Kazaa Lite OneMX TrustyFiles  
Direct Connect Kazaa Lite K++ Overnet Warez P2P  

The University of Chicago has a page with directions to disable the above P2P sites – http://security.uchicago.edu/guidelines/peer-to-peer/

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