Family Safety and P2P

In recent years the “peer-to-peer”, or P2P, file sharing technology has become quite popular. This has mainly been driven by the soaring popularity of digital music and video players. The concept behind a P2P application is that it allows one to easily share files with others via the Internet, making it very easy to obtain content for your digital player. There are several P2P applications on the market today, and most of them are free of charge.

From a security and safety standpoint, there are several areas of concern with regard to P2P applications. Of course, there are also the legal issues, since copyright laws can be easily ignored and bypassed by using these applications, but I do not want to focus on the legality of data shared via P2P applications in this post.

Apart from the legal issues surrounding P2P applications, there are some significant security concerns. In my opinion, these applications are the single most effective way to bypass the security measures that are put in place to protect both our computer and our family. These applications are architected to provide a direct pathway into your computer from any other computer in the world. The protocols that are used are not normally monitored by any of the security or filter applications, which means that by using a P2P application you are opening your computer, and your home, to complete strangers and allowing them to directly place anything they want on your system.

Installing a P2P application is just like opening a window and installing a conveyor belt that can bring content directly into our home. Worse yet, this virtual conveyor belt is connected to every home in the world. Anyone can simply place a package on that conveyor belt, and it is allowed into our home without inspection by any controlling entity – including our filter. To make thing even more concerning, there are no laws regarding the content of these video files. This means that people can create videos of extremely graphic nature, and place them on this conveyor belt, and the video is promptly delivered directly into your home.

People will put video files out on the P2P network that are intentionally mis-labeled, just to get the extremely graphic video into your home. As a parent, you would never know it unless you actually viewed the video yourself, since the name would be consistent with current, popular artists. You would think that it is just the artists latest video, rather than some inappropriate content that you would never allow your children to view.

Video files are also among the least secure formats, and can contain malicious code that can do just about anything to your computer, ranging anywhere from installing malware which could steal your personal information, to releasing a virus that will destroy your data. While you are entertained watching the video, any number of things could be going on in the background to steal or destroy your data. We should never watch a video on our computer from anyone that we don’t know and trust.

Allowing our children to use a P2P application on our computer is, in this bloggers humble opinion, the virtual equivalent of sending them into a bar in the worst part of town to buy a soda while we wait in the car for them to return. We would never do this in the real world – why do we allow it in the virtual one?

I cannot think of a valid reason to have a P2P application installed on our computer. If you can, I would love to hear it.

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