Peer-to-Peer Cyber Crimes

Peer-to-peer networks have provided an invaluable service that allows users to share information and data around the world. These networks became popular for media sharing, culminating in the infamous Napster scandal. Many are aware of the copyright issues that arise with the use of peer-to-peer media sharing. However, there are other cyber-crime issues that users may expose themselves to when using these networks. Peer-to-peer networks may be used in a variety of legal ways, but users must protect themselves from cyber crime prevalent over these networks. Are you developing or using a peer-to-peer network? If so, then you should be aware of the cyber crimes that you may be exposed to or unintentionally committing.

What is a Peer-to-Peer Network?

A peer-to-peer network is created when two or more computers connect and share resources without going through a separate server.  Typically, peer-to-peer networks are accessed through free software that allows the user to find and download files on another user’s computer.  The traditional computer network uses a client and server model, in which the client computers store and access data on a dedicated server. Peer-to-peer networks move away from the dedicated server. So, each computer is a client and a server. This empowers each user to access and share information directly instead of through a central hub. These networks also provide users with more control. Users can decide to which computers to connect, what files to share, and how many system resources to devote to the network.  Users have many controls over a peer-to-peer network.  However, the average user may expose himself to committing and being the victim of cyber crimes if he does not know how to control the network settings.

What Cyber Crimes are Associated with Peer-to-Peer Networks?

There are several cyber crimes to which peer-to-peer network users expose themselves.  The FBI has highlighted three common crimes.  The most well-known issue in the use of peer-to-peer networks is copyright infringement.  Sharing copyrighted music, movies, and software is a violation of copyright laws. Sharing these copyrighted materials can expose the user to both civil and criminal penalties. Yet, many peer-to-peer users do not violate copyright laws.  Even with lawful use, users may expose themselves to become victims of cyber crime. Computer hackers often take advantage of the openness of peer-to-peer networks to access other computers. Many hackers specifically create worms and viruses that are spread through these networks.  Further, without configuring peer-to-peer software correctly, hackers may be able to access the computer, allowing hackers to see and download information directly from the hard drive. The most disturbing cyber crime that occurs through peer-to-peer networks is child exploitation and obscenity.  Those involved in child exploitation innocuously label files, so that users think they are downloading something legal when accessing files through peer-to-peer networks.  Parents may know their children are using peer-to-peer networks to download media, but they may be unaware that their children are accessing obscene material.  Files are freely accessed and shared on peer-to-peer networks, and there are no built-in parental protections.

In sum, using a peer-to-peer network can help users effectively share and store information.  Nevertheless, users must be aware of their exposure to cyber crime when using these kinds of networks.  You may contact us to speak to an attorney about your exposure to cyber crimes when using peer-to-peer networks.