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File-Sharing Software: Is it Dangerous?
Lou Costa

Kazaa Media Desktop has been one of the most popular downloads on the internet for a long time. Most people are attracted by the ability to download music, software, and other material “free of charge”. But, most people rarely stop and ask “why is it free and is it safe?” The answers might surprise you.

Music downloading, a.k.a. “file sharing” or “peer to peer networking,” is legal. It is OK for me to share something of mine with you. However, there are rules. The music industry won their case against Napster, establishing that sharing music freely with people that you do not know is illegal. So, technically, sharing music is illegal and it is copyright infringement. The music industry cannot sue everyone but they have been targeting people sharing several hundred songs at a time and they are prosecuting them.

"Why would Kazaa let you download a piece of software, for free, that lets you download music and more? The answer is simple. It isn’t as free as you think..."

What should also be considered is safety. Why would Kazaa let you download a piece of software, for free, that lets you download music and more? The answer is simple. It isn’t as free as you think. When you install Kazaa you are also installing a lot of spy ware. Spyware is software that sends information about you to someone else - usually marketing companies. With that information, they can then target you for spam email, pop-up ads, and more. They can also remotely install other small programs on your computer to aid in the process of spying, all in the name of marketing. You agree to this when you accept the user agreement during installation. While connected to Kazaa (which happens automatically when Windows starts unless you tell it not to), you are opening a door to your computer. Anyone can take your shared files and any aspiring hacker can steal almost anything they like from you. You also can download more than you might have bargained for. Many hackers plant files that appear to be songs but which are actually viruses or Trojan horses - small programs that open your computer up to full control by the hacker.

And finally, the music industry has become even wiser to file sharing. Lately, whenever you try and download a song, the song will play for approximately 10 seconds and then cut off with a terrible scratching noise. These are bogus files planted by music industry insiders in an effort to discourage music sharing. And it is working.

"The amount of spyware installed is overwhelming and will slow an average computer to a crawl over a short period of time. It is also dangerous to open-up your computer in the manner that this software does. "

Personally, I recently bought some music online when my efforts to find songs for free were thwarted by many bogus downloads. For 79 cents, I could download a song that was top quality and downloaded VERY quickly. Kazaa, and other file sharing software, has its pros and cons. I think that the average user does not know how to safely use these products and they end up ruining their computer. The amount of spyware installed is overwhelming and will slow an average computer to a crawl over a short period of time. It is also dangerous to open-up your computer in the manner that this software does. Imagine leaving the front door to your home or apartment open all the time. That is almost the same thing as using file sharing software. Anyone can walk right in if they try and take whatever they wish. Since the software generally connects and begins sharing your files when Windows starts, most people do not even realize that they might be sharing music illegally while simultaneously leaving their computer open to hackers.

My advice would be to steer clear of file sharing software and pay the 79 cents.

However — if you are going to use the software:

    1. Be sure to exit out when you are finished by right-clicking the Kazaa icon in the system tray at the lower right hand corner of your monitor.
    2. Also, go into “options” and set Kazaa not to start when Windows starts.

These two simple steps can make all the difference in the world.

Lou Costa is a Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator. He is available at lou@arcbussol.com.