LimeWire. Kazaa. BearShare.
They are a few of the big names of peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks, and they are at risk of sharing more than just your music files and photos.
According to the identity theft protection service LifeLock.com (www.lifelock.com) and peer-to-peer risk management experts at Tiversa (www.tiversa.com), thieves breached 13,185,252 business documents using P2P networks between March 2008 and March 2009. The files were stolen from more than 4 million sources.
Passwords, account numbers, tax documents -- gone.
Tami Nealy, LifeLock's director of public affairs, says when consumers download a P2P network's software, they expose their entire computer systems to the network. She says anything saved on their hard drives is up for grabs, even old tax returns saved as .pdf files.
"That has your name, your Social (Security number), your address, your spouse's name and Social...if you have any dependants, their names and Social," Nealy says. "You've now put that at risk and made it available to the millions of users out there on that peer-to-peer network."
Action News 5 has had a lot of difficulty getting a real person when contacting these networks. Most of their web sites' privacy policies or security policies insist they've upgraded their systems with stronger protections, or they will not share .pdf files, spreadsheets or other documents without the consent of their users.
According to LimeWire's safety statement, "...for new LimeWire users, version 5 does not share any file of any type without explicit permission from the user."
Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are at risk, too -- not with downloading or sharing files, but with what you share on your personal page.
For example, if you're going on vacation, don't update your status to indicate you're not at home. That makes your home a target for burglars.
"With social networking, limit the amount of personal information you're using," says Nealy, "and for peer-to-peer networking, it's better to not be a part of peer-to-peer networking."
Scott Harrer, Tiversa's brand director, says if you insist on being a part of peer-to-peer networking, use these precautions:
* BE MINDFUL OF WHAT'S STORED ON YOUR HARD DRIVE. Don't keep tax returns or scanned documents with personal information on there for longer than you need them.
* SET UP SEPARATE USER ACCOUNTS ON YOUR PC. Make yourself the administrator with your own log-in. That will limit your children's or other users' access that leaves YOUR saved information out in the open.
* USE LONGER PASSWORDS. Harrer recommends at least 10 characters, mixing numerals, letters and caps lock. They are tougher to crack.
For more of Tiversa's protection tips, click here: http://www.tiversa.com/justask/