Peer to Peer networks - vital information for parents

By Jonathan Stromberg

In this article, I would like to discuss peer to peer (P2P) networks. I will outline what they are, why they are popular and what dangers they pose to children and personal computers. Finally I will provide a list of the post commonly used peer to peer sites and comment on how iProtectYou can help to reduce the dangers associated with this common form of Internet activity.

Currently very popular with children, peer to peer networks are similar in concept to web browsers, but rather than enabling users to communicate and share information through a central server or website, peer to peer allows network users access to each other's computer hard drives to share files.
Peer to peer networks act as online communities where members share, search and download files which are located on their computers. There is no central community where files are stored; each member of the community has its own collection of files which it shares with others in the community. To become a member of a community a software program is installed onto the computer (usually available as a download from the Internet.) All the members of the community have the same software and so enabling the transferring of files.
Once installed, community members can start downloading files from each others' computers. The members of any one community can be from anywhere in the world. It is possible to download a single file, an entire directory, or an entire hard-drive.

Currently Peer to peer networking is very popular amongst children, for a variety of reasons; the programs required to join a peer to peer community can be downloaded off the Internet usually for free and easily installed on home computers. Files (such as music or pictures) can easily be located, downloaded and then shared out to others. Large quantities of people can become members of peer to peer communities thus increasing communication opportunities. Also attractive to children is the fact that there is often no limit to the amount of downloads that can be performed through the network, or the amount of time spent online in the community.

At first glance, peer to peer networks seems to offer children a beneficial gateway to a previously unprecedented source of information and entertainment. This is an ingenious and legitimate technology, but unfortunately, there are both obvious and hidden dangers that exist within it. In the next part of this article I will look in to the main dangers that peer to peer poses to children.

1) Unwanted Exposure to Pornography - peer to peer software may give users, including children, access to pornography. Some files containing pornography may be deliberately mislabeled to attract young or otherwise unsuspecting viewers. Today, 35% of all peer-to-peer downloads are related to pornographic material. This equates to approximately 1.5 billion pornographic file downloads every month. The most graphic material is usually not available unless it is purchased with a credit card, but with peer-to-peer file sharing, children can download a free triple-x rated movie full of hard-core pornography. Once a purchased hard-core movie is made available on someone's PC, it can spread very quickly.

2) Paedophiles - Paedophiles can use peer to peer communities to distribute child porn materials or attempt to make contact with children. Peer to peer had become a favourite medium for web pornographers are increasingly using online deception and trickery to lure visitors to their websites. Domain names are being manipulated to appear benign and "mousetrap" their victims. Spam and fraudulent advertising are being employed to lure unsuspecting visitors, many of them children, to obscene material. Through peer to peer they can children from the perceived safety of the family living room out into the dangers of the Internet wilderness. Pornographers are now using these peer to peer applications to target children and young adults with pornographic material by distributing files with deceptive names that disguise a pornographic file by labeling it with an entity popular with children or young adults, such as "Cinderella" or "Britney Spears." Coupled with the fact that many peer to peer users are children and young adults makes the risk of inadvertent exposure of pornographic material to children a very significant issue.

3) Copyright Infringement Liability - peer to peer technology makes it possible to share all kinds of information. Some information is protected by copyright, which means that generally the copyright owner's permission is needed before it can be made available to other peer to peer users. Popular music, movies, games, and software are often protected by copyright. Copyright infringement can result in significant monetary damages, fines and even criminal penalties. Some copyright owners have filed civil lawsuits against individuals that they believe unlawfully distributed large numbers of copyrighted songs.

4) Data Security - peer to peer software programs let users share information with other users around the globe. They allow users to view the contents of each others' "shared folders". If a child has personal information in his or her shared folder, anyone else using the same peer to peer software has access to it. Another user could use that information for a variety of purposes.

5) Spyware - Files downloaded from the Internet (including those obtained via peer to peer software) may contain other software. While some such programs, such as "adware", may send advertising, including pop-up ads. Other software, such as "spyware" can track the Internet activities of a child and report them to a third party. Spyware can even be used to take control of a personal computer.

6) Viruses - Some files downloaded from the Internet (including those obtained via peer to peer software) may contain viruses that can infect a personal computer. These files typically are mislabeled to disguise their true purpose.

Much has been written about the dangers of peer to peer networks, and they have also been regularly discussed by senior politicians and community leaders. For instance, in July, 2003, Washington-Congressman Joe Pitts warned of the dangers posed to children who trade files with peer-to-peer file-sharing software.
“Peer-to-peer file-sharing software poses a danger to our children,” said Congressman Pitts. “At any time, 22 million children share files on peer-to-peer networks. They trade music and photos, but another group of peer-to-peer users has a different agenda. Parents don’t know about it. Kids don’t have a clue.
“Pornographers and child predators use these networks to expose teens to the crudest forms of pornography imaginable – much of it child porn disguised using innocent sounding terms. Often, these predators attempt to arrange meetings with young people through this software. These contacts pose a significant risk to the safety of our children when they use the computer.
“Congress must act to protect children from this threat. If left unchecked, peer-to-peer networks will become the worst base of operations which child molesters, pornographers, and predators use to attack our kids online,” concluded Congressman Pitts.

It is clear that any concerned parent must be aware of the issues surrounding peer to peer, and have knowledge of the options available in order to mitigate against the dangers that it poses. The demand for peer-to-peer file sharing applications is skyrocketing. The next pornographic threat to the world, peer-to-peer networking, is a major challenge for parents being able to control the Internet content coming into the home. Here are a few guidelines.
A parent can:

1) Personally investigate the popular peer to peer programs.
2) Determine the level of parental controls that can be applied to the peer to peer program. Some offer filter protection but be aware that the quality of filtering that they offer is very low, and generally completely ineffective.
3) Read the parent's guides that are written for many popular peer to peer programs.
4) Discuss issues such as netiquette, copyright and privacy with children and explain how common sense Internet safety rules apply in peer to peer communities.
5) Search through online websites (such as P2P United) to keep up to date with advances in peer to peer technologies.
6) Use a filtering program to block access to all peer to peer sites in order to keep children away from such programs all together.
7) Use monitoring software to keep track of online activity. Monitor such things as amounts of downloads and time spent online.

The highly rated program iProtectYou, offers an advance system of filtering and monitoring that enables the parent to fully control what sites and programs their children enter into. With this program installed, the parent is able to fully block access to all peer to peer programs, or to enable access to just one or a small number of such programs. This then brings the power back into the hands of the parent. Below is a list of some of the most popular peer to peer programs.
iProtectYou enables the parent to fully block access to these sites.
Also the power to monitor the activity of the child enables the parent to keep a constant track of what programs and sites a child has entered, when, and for how long. This is an invaluable tool for the parent because if, for instance, harmful material is downloaded through a peer to peer program, the parent will be able to see this during the process of monitoring, and then will be able to take appropriate measures.

List of the most popular peer to peer (P2P) programs:

Further popular peer to peer programs have the following names:
JungleMonkey, .iMesh, FileNavigator, MojoNation, BearShare, DirectConnect, eDonkey2000, Konspire, Mactella, Freenet, Newtella, Filetopia, Aimster, WinMX, Hotline, Flycode

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