The FBI is educating and warning citizens about certain risks and dangers associated with the use of Peer-to-Peer systems on the Internet. While the FBI supports and encourages the development of new technologies, we also recognize that technology can be misused for illicit and, in some cases, criminal purposes.
Peer-to-Peer networks allow users connected to the Internet to link their computers with other computers around the world. These networks are established for the purpose of sharing files.
Typically, users of Peer-to-Peer networks install free software on their computers which allows them (1) to find and download files located on another Peer-to-Peer user’s hard drive, and (2) to share with those other users files located on their own computer.
Unfortunately sometimes these information-sharing systems have been used to engage in illegal activity. Some of the most common crimes associated with Peer-to-Peer networks are the following:
Copyright Infringement: It is a violation of federal law to distribute copyrighted music, movies, software, games, and other works without authorization. There are important national economic consequences associated with such theft. The FBI has asked industry associations and companies that are particularly concerned with intellectual property theft to report to the FBI—for possible criminal investigation and prosecution—anyone that they have reason to believe is violating federal copyright law.
Child Exploitation and Obscenity: The receipt or distribution of child pornography and unlawful obscenity over the Internet also is a serious federal crime. The FBI cautions parents and guardians that, because there is no age restriction for the use of Peer-to-Peer services, pornography of all types is easily accessible by the many young children whose parents mistakenly believe they are only accessing music or movies. In fact, children may be exposed to pornography—and subsequently lured by sexual predators—even though they were not searching for pornography, as some network users deliberately mislabel the names of files for this purpose.
Computer Hacking: Peer-to-Peer networks also have been abused by hackers. Because these systems potentially expose your computer and files to millions of other users on the network, they also expose your computer to worms and viruses. In fact, some worms have been specifically written to spread by popular Peer-to-Peer networks. Also, if Peer-to-Peer software is not properly configured, you may be unknowingly opening up the contents of your entire hard drive for others to see and download your private information.
Source: The FBI, U.S. Department of Justice: www.fbi.gov