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Peer to Peer Problems

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004 by | Filed Under: Security Help

Peer to Peer Problems

You probably aren’t the only one who uses your PC. Your spouse, sister, brother, son, daughter, or others might use it too. Or, if you have more than one PC in your house and are sharing an Internet connection then you’ll want to listen to this too. Does anyone who shares your network or PC visit any Peer-to-Peer sites? If you’re not familiar with the term or what it is exactly, here’s a quick description: Peer-to-peer file sharing is the method used to share illegally copied movies and music over the Internet…it’s really popular with teens and college students, but also “grown ups” looking for that obscure eighties song from their new wave days.

Basically what you do is go out and download and install a program from one of these sites. Once it’s installed you basically do a search for whatever type of file you want and the software goes through all the users and comes back with a list of others that have also installed the software and have the file you want. You can choose the most desirable version of the file, usually based on where the fastest connection is, then the program tries to connect and download the file. Sounds pretty high-tech but it’s not. It’s basically FTP dressed up, and it creates a lot of bad security holes in your PC and network.

First and foremost, these programs are riddled with Spyware and if you run any reputable spyware removal on your PC the program will be rendered crippled. This sounds great, but more than likely whoever is using the peer-to-peer file sharing may simply install it again so that they can get some more free stuff. Another nasty thing that these sites do is rob you of bandwidth. You think your nephew or daughter is getting all of these downloads for free? Oh no no no. It’s not called peer-to-peer file sharing for nothing—in order to download files from others your PC also gets set up to share files by default. So even if you’re not actively sharing files, but let’s say surfing the Internet, your PC could be allowing people from across the web to download files from your hard drive. This can become a serious issue not only for your bandwidth, but it’s not exactly the best security strategy you could put in place. This is bad and we haven’t even talked about viruses yet, whenever you’re downloading files from sites like these you’re playing Russian roulette with your PC. Especially if your antivirus subscription has run out, or you get caught with it disabled after a software install.

So what do you do to keep these programs off your computer? Well there are a couple of “Good Practices” that you can follow. First you should create a limited account for your secondary users. This will stop them from being able to perform certain functions like installing software. You can do this through Control Panel/Users Accounts with almost all versions of Windows, but keep in mind that this stops very little in some operating systems such as Windows 98 and ME. In Windows 98-XP you can create accounts, name them, and password protect them (that doesn’t mean much in 98/ME). This configuration stops unauthorized users (Limited Users) from installing software.

There are a couple of other things you can do to hinder P2P file sharing. It’s hard to block P2P file sharing with a firewall because a lot (not all) of these programs don’t use a website to transfer files, and a lot of the new versions jump ports so it’s hard to block the port. You can turn you security up, but then no one will be able to get online. What you can do with a firewall (depends on brand) is password protect access to the settings, and disable the Internet connectivity. This way you’ll have to log into your firewall with a password to be able to surf the web. Also some P2P do use a common website that the client programs will connect to in order to search other users’ files. If you can get the address of this site you can explicitly deny all access to it in the firewall settings thus stopping any connection to that site.

If you do find that someone has installed a file-sharing program on your PC go through your programs list and uninstall it. After this is done run a spyware removal program (such as Zero Spyware—see today’s special), reboot, and then run the spyware removal again to see if anything is there. After that I would also do a virus scan. You should be good to go after that.

Stay safe out there,

~ Chad

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