Buying a music CD at your favorite music store used to be commonplace until along came Napster. Napster, once a popular file sharing application using peer-to-peer technology, allowed you to download music for free. 70 million users supported Napster. That was a few years ago. Today this same technology, peer-to-peer networking, has opened the floodgates for anyone to easily download all types of files including pornographic files. If you have high-speed Internet access, downloading a full-length, full-motion, hard-core pornographic movie is as simple as a few keystrokes.
Many parents have assumed that having an Internet filter installed in the home protected them from all objectionable material entering the computer. In actuality, most Internet filters do not block peer-to-peer file sharing. Most parents wouldn’t know a peer-to-peer application if it where staring at them from their desktop, let alone know the dangers and risks associated with peer-to-peer file sharing. Over 150 million people worldwide are using peer-to-peer networking and most parents don’t even know what it is.
Peer-to-Peer Networking — What is it?
When accessing the Internet, you access websites through an application known as a browser. Common browser applications are Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Mozilla. Peer-to-Peer networking, known as P2P, is similar in concept to a browser. It is an application that runs on your PC and allows sharing of files. Napster used to be one of the most popular peer-to-peer application programs, sharing MP3 music files, until it was shut down by the U.S. Justice Department. Today, favorites like Limewire, Gnutella, Morpheus, Bearshare, and Kazaa share center stage. The following table is a list of some of the common peer-to-peer file sharing applications, most of which are free.
The concept of peer-to-peer networking is to allow computers to communicate directly with each other, rather than through a central server like a website. Once you have a peer-to-peer application installed, you can allow anyone in the world to copy files from your home PC. This can be a single file, an entire directory, or your entire hard-drive. If care is not exercised, your entire hard-drive, including any confidential documents, may be wide-open to anyone in the world.
The following is an approximation of what the Limewire peer-to-peer application looks like.
WARNING: this simulated screen shot of the Limewire program contains actual peer-to-peer search results some people may find objectionable.
Notice that it has a search function similar to what a search engine has. Just like a search engine on the Internet, you can type in any topic, and receive search results for the topic. The search results come from anyone’s computer that is currently attached to the Internet and has the same peer-to-peer application installed. These search results come from individual PC’s located all over the world.
Why is peer-to-peer file sharing so dangerous?
There are a number of reasons why P2P file sharing should be a high concern.
Illegal, Unethical, and Immoral
Most of the file sharing activities are focused on illegal, unethical, or immoral activity. Downloading of copyrighted music, copyrighted software, pornographic material, and even child pornography are the most common uses of peer-to-peer file sharing.
When downloading a shared file, one of the inherent dangers is to unknowingly download a computer virus or Trojan horse onto your computer. These viruses can cause all kinds of problems from erasing all files on the hard drive to the automatic sending of pornographic emails to all of your friends in your mail directory.
Today, 35% of all peer-to-peer downloads are related to pornographic material. This equates to approximately 1.5 billion pornographic file downloads every month. When children access a pornographic website, usually what they end up viewing is a number of still photographs of objectionable material. The really bad stuff, the most graphic material, is usually not available unless it is purchased with a credit card. With peer-to -peer file sharing, children can download a free triple-x rated movie full of hard-core pornography. What’s more, even if you have an Internet filter installed, most likely the filter will let this material right on through. Once a purchased hard-core movie is made available on someone’s PC, it can spread very quickly. Even though Napster is in bankruptcy, the Private Media Group (sex mogul from Spain) offered $2.4 million to purchase Napster and it’s original 70 million users to turn Napster into a pornographic peer-to-peer network.
Child pornography is widely available through peer-to-peer file sharing. In one day, the Gnutella peer-to-peer network had 464,000 search requests for “child pornography” in one single day. P2P networks allow total anonymity of where the files are being copied. Even though child pornography is illegal, it is widely available in peer-to-peer networks because it is not easily traced back to the origination source. It is also possible that you may have illegal child pornography on your PC without either parent being aware of this.
Many of the peer-to-peer applications are now installing spyware on your computer as part of the P2P installation process. Applications such as Cydoor, New.net, TopText, SaveNow, Webhancer, and OnFlow are a few of the applications that may server up ad banners and ad messages, or track your Internet surfing habits. If you’ve noticed that you are getting numerous annoying popup messages, odds are that you may have a Peer-to-peer file sharing program installed.
The demand for peer-to-peer file sharing applications is skyrocketing. The next pornographic threat to the world, peer-to-peer networking, is a major challenge for parents being able to control the Internet content coming into the home. Children are very conversant and experienced in using peer-to-peer file sharing applications, while most parents are behind the curve. Parents need to understand the risks associated with allowing peer-to-peer file sharing in the home and to implement proper Internet filtering and parental controls. The war against pornography can and must be won.
© 2003 Jerry Ropelato. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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