Peer-to-peer networks have been around for years and so have the scams that manipulate their users. Scammers have always been on the cutting edge of new trends and technologies. This forward thinking allows them to exploit potential victims before they even realize they are in any danger. After time though, a pattern is established and it becomes increasingly easy to identify when a scam is taking place before falling victim. Perhaps scams in the world of peer-to-peer networking have finally reached their tipping point.
Introduced in June of 1999 with the release of the popular music sharing site Napster, peer-to-peer network is different from the traditional client-user model. In a peer-to-peer, or P2P, network all participants offer up portions of their resources, such as processing power, bandwidth and disk storage, to other users on the network thereby eliminating the need for servers or stable hosts that are centrally coordinated. The network’s users are both suppliers and consumers of files and resources.
This technology has many uses. The courts eventually shut down the aforementioned Napster due to copyright infringements, but it paved the way for other file sharing sites like LimeWire, BitTorrent and Kazaa which all allow users to share, search for and download music, software and full-length feature films to their computers. Most instant messaging systems (AOL, MSN and Yahoo! to name a few) combine chat with peer to peer file sharing. One of the newer applications of P2P technology is the popular internet phone service Skype. As of 2009, peer-to-peer file sharing was the largest contributor to network traffic on the entire internet.
Keep in mind, this type of file sharing is often regarded as illegal. Though no different than the old art of making a mix tape for a friend from one’s album collection, record companies, not having prepared for changes in their revenue stream the internet has created, have resorted to lawsuits to save face and their bottom line. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sued tens of thousands of music fans for amounts totaling millions of dollars in the last five years for sharing copyrighted materials. . The Motion Picture Association has also recently jumped on this bandwagon. Many of the file sharers are often children, and the ubiquity of P2P file sharing can not be denied. As of 2009, peer-to-peer file sharing was the largest contributor to network traffic on the entire internet.
P2P SCAM SITES FOR INDIVIDUAL USERS
Peer-to-peer networks, in all their file sharing glory, are free sites. The software is free. There are some that will ask for donations towards bandwidth or other administrative costs. And others will often offer PRO versions of their basic software that come with numerous bells and whistles. But the basic service does not require a payment or fee from the user.
Scam peer-to-peer sites have been set up as middle men to extract money from potential users and possibly steal their information. They look and perform like legitimate P2P sites, but in reality they are simply gateways linking the victim to actual peer networks after taking their money. Often they will download spyware to the victim’s computer as well.
Actual peer-to-peer sites are driven by word of mouth. They are free and aren’t turning a profit of any kind, so advertising is out of the question. If you see an advertisement for a peer-to-peer site, you are actually seeing a con artist’s attempt to get you to pay for what is actually free. They will charge a one-time download fee or even set up monthly service charges then provide you with software that can be found free other place online. Along with the usually outdated software, the package will contain spyware or other malware that can infect your computer and act as a gateway for identity and other personal information theft.
Often these scammers will use altered names of popular, legitimate peer-to-peer software sites to dupe potential victims. Some offer free peer-to-peer software and only require that you send them your email address. Again, this is software that can be found online with a little snooping and the email address you provided is quickly sold to third party scammers. “Free KazaaGold” is a good example of a traditional peer-to-peer scam. They require an email address, have appropriated the Kazaa name although they have no affiliation with the actual software developer, and provide nothing more than a bundle of outdated software that has been available for years.
The website P2PScams.info is a great resource for checking out any peer-to-peer site you might consider using. They have a long and ever-expanding list of rogue sites and then highlight authentic peer-to-peer sites and follow each with a list of the bogus sites looking to capitalize on their name. A link is provided at the end of the article.
DANGER OF WORKPLACE USAGE
Even proper use of peer-to-peer technology can pose a threat if done in the workplace. The Federal Trade Commission recently conducted a probe with IT security and data protection firm Sophos that showed uncontrolled file sharing in the workplace put sensitive corporate files and customers personal information at risk for theft.
Letters of notification were sent out to over 100 companies and organizations warning them of significant data breeches due to unmonitored peer-to-peer usage in the workplace.
If not configured correctly, these programs can open up a computer’s entire hard drive for file sharing. The companies notified included firms as small as eight employees and corporations with hundreds of workers. Health-related information, financial records, social security numbers and driver’s license numbers were just some of the information made available via these P2P sites for anyone with the desire to look.
They recommended these at-risk businesses suspend all use of unauthorized peer-to-peer usage and make sure authorized programs were properly configured and secured.
Just last year a hearing before a US House of Representatives Committee revealed that sensitive government documents, including the locations of every US nuclear facility and the Michelle Obama’s secret service safe house in the event of a White House evacuation, were shared via LimeWire and at risk.
Living in an age where information, goods and services are all available with a few simple keystrokes brings a responsibility along with the convenience and improved quality of life, a responsibility to stay on top of emerging threats to our data both personal and professional. With every generational leap made in technology, rest assured the bad guys are right there along for the ride and hoping to take you on a ride of their own.
Listing of rogue P2P sites: