Downloading media from untrustworthy sources is a common source of malware. File sharing applications with their vast peer-to-peer (P2P) networks are an enormous breeding ground for all sorts of viruses, Trojans and spyware. Hackers regularly exploit these networks – ‘piggybacking’ of malware onto desirable software items is a common trick to dupe users in to allowing infection of their computer.
One of the main threats posed by downloading media files is infection with spyware. Spyware hides very well within systems, making detection and removal difficult. It’s used to facilitate identity theft and to gain unauthorised remote access to your computer. Irritating adware could also be installed.
Besides the threats to your computer, many media downloads made online are illegal under copyright laws. Legal action can be taken against anyone who breaks these laws, as IP addresses provide a unique identifier for all your online activity. Use reputable online dealers to download music and other media files to stay safe from malware and keep on the right side of the law.
If you’re using a legal P2P network to trade music, video, and other files online, make sure the site carries its own anti-virus measures. Check available downloads first, and only download media that has been tried and tested by other users – look for user ratings for the files you want to download.
If you subscribe to a P2P network, you make some of your files available to others using similar software. Some programs share your entire hard disk drive by default, so try to change this setting, as it grants access to everything on your computer to anyone using the program. Some file-sharing programs can leave an open back door to your computer any time it's connected to the Internet.
Anti malware software, antispyware and firewall protection are essential when downloading media from online sources. Make sure your operating system is fully patched and up-to-date to eliminate vulnerabilities.