Peer to Peer Filesharing (P2P) is a commonly used to search the Internet for files. This method has been around for a long time (in relevant Internet time anyways), and is used for many legitimate purposes. The home gaming industry uses it to quickly disperse software patches and updates, and other industries use it for similar purposes. Despite the good applications of P2P, evil lurks just outside the safe confines of your home. P2P is a treasure trove for users to download copywritten and illegal software.
Here’s how it works (the simplified version): Your family member downloads and installs a P2P program to their computer. This is called the “client.” During the installation process, a folder is created that is used for sharing. If the family member has a file they wish to share with “the world,” they copy it to this location on their computer. Now anyone in the world can download that file if they know to look for it by name. When they connect to the P2P network, their client “advertises” to the network what file(s) they have available to share, and the location (called the Internet Protocol (IP) address) of your home networked computer.
If the family member wants to search for a file to download, they connect to a P2P and input the search term to help locate the specific file. They are presented with the results that show where they can download, and the file is downloaded to the computer and is now in the user’s shared location. If anyone else on the P2P network searches for that same file, they may download it from the computer on your home network.
There are many potential problems for people who use file sharing programs. Just because a file is named something seemingly safe, you cannot tell what the file actually contains! Files may have viruses, Trojan horse programs, or even BOTS. BOTS (short for Robots) can turn your computer into an attack computer that is used to try to hack other computers.
Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, copywritten material is illegal to download, and many a family have been sued for possessing copywritten movies or music. Remember, if anyone on your home network has an illegal digital copy of the latest movie or music in a shared folder, someone working for the movie industry can find the file on your network, identify your IP address, and through a series of legal steps, identify your home as the location possessing it. If your family member has amassed a collection of movies, YOU could be served with a court order to pay reparations to the movie industry! As bad as that could be, in my opinion, the biggest concern for parents is the proliferation of legal (adult oriented) and illegal (child) pornography on the P2P networks. It is VERY easy for users to download both types of pornography, and the latter could cause SERIOUS legal problems as well.
Keep your family safe from these potential dangers and make sure they are not using P2P networks. If they INSIST they need it (and you believe them), have them show you their shared folder, or better yet, their search history! That may tell you what your little cherubs are up to, but keep in mind most kids are more computer savvy than their parents and know how to hide their forbidden activities. They can move downloaded files out of the shared location, so if they have downloaded problematic files, they could be located ANYWHERE. You may be able to block all P2P activity at your home router. Check with your internet service provider for assistance. If not, you should consider using a second router that CAN block P2P network traffic, or better yet, also allows you to use parental controls that will block this activity as well as other potentially dangerous activities. Parental controls can also limit the hours the computers can connect to the Internet, so if you let little Johnny or Mary keep their phones, tablets, or computers in their bedrooms, you can shut off their access at an appropriate time.
We need to protect our children from all dangerous activities. Sometimes these activities are right inside our homes, or even worse, in your child’s bedroom on their computers or other devices. I would rather invade my children’s privacy and protect them, than “trust them” to always make the right decision. Their little brains will not be fully developed until they are in their early 20’s, so protect them as long as you can.