26. If you get tunes by
file-sharing, install a good virus scanner
By Mark Alberstat
So you want to hear that J-Lo tune but don't feel like buying the entire
album. Maybe you want the latest version of Unreal Tournament but don't
want to shell out the bucks for yet another game.
Your alternative is, of course, to download the tune, the album or the
game from some of the millions of other like-minded people who are also
prepared to break copyright laws. File sharing, sometimes known as
peer-to-peer networking, has been going on for years now but beware,
dangers lurk in those muddy waters (most of Muddy Waters' music is also
available for downloading).
If you are thinking about using, or already do use, one of the
file-sharing programs, such as LimeWire, Kazaa, Morpheus or Grokster, be
prepared to read the help files and understand what the program is really
doing on your machine. Such programs open your computer up to a host of
security threats, such as viruses, worms, Trojan horses and spyware.
For those who want a thumbnail sketch of how these programs work, think of
each computer as a server. By putting information - be that songs, files
or programs - on your machine, you are allowing other machines on the
network to see these files and download them if they so choose.
Like any server, there are security protocols and specified areas that are
open to users. But once that door is open, you never know what might
escape or enter.
One of the most common additions these programs bring to your PC is
spyware. These small, hidden programs watch your online browsing and sends
data back to a server. This info can then be used for a variety of
Like a server, the file-sharing programs are often always on, whether or
not you are actively downloading any programs or songs. Hiding in the
background, these programs are giving other users constant access to your
machine and even your IP address.
If you are at all computer security conscious, it is recommended that you
only have these programs running when you are actively using them and
always in conjunction with an up-to-date virus scanner.
The popular programs, such as McAfee and Symantec, are both great at
stopping viruses and worms in their tracks.
It is also recommended that you learn how to use the program well and make
absolutely sure that you know what files and folders you are sharing with
the rest of the world. The settings for this are often found under menu
items called Settings or Preferences.
Another good practice is to run a spyware removal program every few weeks
just to rid your machine of anything you may have unwittingly downloaded.
With these caveats in mind, file-sharing and swapping can be a relatively
safe way for you to expand your music horizons or test out some software
before you buy the latest version.
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Originally published 18 January 2004