If you download illegal copies of copyrighted software, movies, or music using torrent sites, you may be exposing your computer and yourself to serious network security and legal problems. In this resource, eReviewGuide covers the problems posed by torrents and how employing Internet browsing “best practices” can reduce your exposure to serious harm.
Torrent software – opening a can of worms
Created as an answer to the problems posed by the pioneering file sharing program, Napster, the torrent format-setting application Bittorrent brought to light many problems that file sharing systems pose. Napster’s main problem was that it was a centralized server file sharing system—you have to connect to a central server which will then connect you with other Napster users who have copies of the file you’re looking for. This is a very inefficient model because file downloads were uncertain if the person who has a complete version of the file logged off the network. Many file downloads took a long time to complete since it can only be completed if the identified source logs back on again. Peer to peer (P2P) applications like Gnutella and other similar applications distributed the file sharing instead of relying on one central server to direct trades. While this solved issues underlying Napster’s legal liability, it didn’t fix the problem of source file holders logging off and leaving the downloader hanging for a long time. Bittorrent fixed this problem by breaking files into many pieces and simultaneously uploading and downloading pieces of a file. This way, many people have differing chunks of the same file. Even if a file holder logs off, this system ensures there’s sufficient chunks of the data still present in the network for downloaders to complete their files. All using a decentralized P2P system.
While Bittorrent launched the age of the torrent format and a faster and more efficient way to trade files, this system poses serious security risks. Many hackers infected otherwise legitimate software applications by “binding” harmful malware to installation packages or code. These trojans seek to bypass antivirus/antispyware software programs by passing themselves off as applications that the user wants to install. Once installed, malware applications can do a wide range of harm—-from turning the host computer into a spam forwarding machine, to using the machine to launch distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, to storing illegal content, to cutting you off from the Internet because of corruption/damage done to your network settings/software, among other illegal and malicious actitivities.
Torrent sites offer no real protection against malicious programs
Torrent distribution sites don’t have built in or automated ways of scanning files for trojan infections since these sites normally don’t host data. They merely store files that instruct torrent applications where to download files. While torrent sites have begun using user comments as a form of community-based policing for quality and security issues, these are routinely defeated by malware uploaders “burying” negative comments under a ton of positive comments (posted from differing proxy IP’s so the reader has no idea that all the positive comments were done by the same person).
Torrent-distributed illegal copies also suffer from the problem of getting false positives from popular antivirus/antispyware programs. Since trojan “binder” programs change protocols all the time, it is not surprising when one antivirus application flags a torrent-downloaded file as a trojan while another program declares it “clean”. At best, users lose an otherwise useful file. At worst, users are given a false sense of security since the antivirus program they are using is using an older detection database.
Besides the threat to your computer and network, using torrents can subject you to serious fines, penalties, and even jail time. Over the years, the RIAA and MPAA have been suing music and movie downloaders by tracking their IP addresses as they use torrent sites. These lawsuits have resulted in serious loss of money to defendants.
How can you avoid the headaches torrent usage can cause?
Use legitimate software – Piracy robs creators of much needed income. For every file illegall downloaded, film, music, and software production are impacted. This results in less jobs, less incentives for production, and a long list of problems. Just because you can’t see the data you’re downloading doesn’t make your activity less than theft. There are many discount sites that sell software, music, and movies at affordable rates. Also, you get the BEST QUALITY when downloading directly from a legitimate/paid source—no files missing, no copying errors, and top viewing/listening/execution quality.
Use torrents only for legal reasons – There are many legitimate torrent sites that distribute copyrighted software, movies, or music if you’ve paid for a software license or a download membership. These sites use torrents to distribute updates, upgrades, or sample tracks or trailers.
Be suspicious of multipage ‘reviews’ or comments at torrent sites – Torrent pages filled with ‘positive’ reviews or comments might be hiding something. Dig through the pages. Also, keep in mind that “trusted” members might not be trustworthy at all since “trusted” status can be faked or used to mask the distribution of harmful “payloads”.
Always keep your antivirus turned on – Make sure you check your security software’s default settings are set to auto-protection or passive protection. These settings ensure that they are always running in the background and don’t need to be activated. This also makes sure the antivirus/anti-malware program is loaded automatically whenever you reboot or start your computer. RELATED: eReviewGuide has a comprehensive review of many of the most trusted and established antispyware software and antivirus software available on the market today. Find which package is the most effective for your needs.
Always keep your antivirus updated – Don’t set your security software to manual update. Make sure autoupdate is always turned on. This makes sure your security software’s effectiveness is not compromised if your busy schedule prevents you from manually updating your security software. Autoupdates also run in the background—most security programs don’t even let you know when an update is going on. Nice and unobtrusive. Most virus/malware problems occur when users stop updating their definition files—the security software is still running but it is powerless to stop the latest malware.
Illegal torrents cause more problems than they solve
Since it only takes one successful malware infection or one unlucky IP trace to cause serious software corruption and legal problems, we strongly suggest that you use only legal copies of the software, music, and movie files you enjoy. Not only do you get the highest quality copies (no missing files, no missing installers, no low bit rate/low resolution copies) you also help ensure creators are rightly compensated. Plus, you save yourself from the horrors of malware infection.