The Dangers of File-Sharing Software

Dennis Faas's picture

Is your computer safe from the dangers of file-sharing?

I know mine isn't.

Just this past Monday, I received a message stating that the file I received (through Kazaa) was infected with malicious code that could harm my computer. I was lucky that my anti-virus program caught the malevolent program from infecting my machine, otherwise I would have launched the file completely blind that my actions may have corrupted my entire hard drive.

Indeed, a scary thought.

At this point, I paused for a moment and thought to myself, "Could there be other nasty software lurking on my computer that may have slipped through the cracks?"

Kazaa: A breeding ground for Viruses, Remote Access Trojans, and More

According to Sharman Networks, Kazaa (a popular file-sharing program) has been downloaded over 228 million times, and each week 2.5 million more people download it.

What's really scary is what happened in May of 2003. I know, because I had to fix a friend's computer when it got hit with the Fizzer worm that he inadvertently downloaded from the Kazaa network. At is turns out, Fizzer spread through Kazaa by randomly replicating multiple copies of itself (using different filenames) in the victim computer's dedicated Kazaa file-sharing folder. The moment Fizzer infected a machine, it became highly available to every member on the Kazaa network. (1)

Side note: A Worm is "a program that makes copies of itself ... [which can] do damage and compromise the security of a computer." Similarly, a virus is a "program or code that replicates; that is, infects another program ... by inserting itself or attaching itself to that medium. Most viruses only replicate, though, many do a large amount of damage as well [such as erasing part or all of an entire hard drive -- I.E. your C drive]." (2)

What makes File Sharing programs like Kazaa so Dangerous?

The problem with File Sharing programs like Kazaa is that it is a legal application that the user knowingly and willingly installs. This alone means that it will automatically beat or bypass the majority of general-purpose security defenses such as anti-hacker [firewall] or anti-virus software. (3)

Furthermore, "software flaws, such as buffer overflows or insecure configurations, may be present in [file-sharing programs such as Kazaa], and may provide a means for [hackers] to initiate attacks that execute code on [remote computer] systems." (4)

And yet, the dangers of file-sharing aren't just limited to viruses, worms and hackers. According to Symantec, Remote Access Trojans (RATs) "can allow another computer to gain information or to attack or alter your computer, usually over the Internet ... A Trojan Horse is a program that neither replicates nor copies itself, but causes damage or compromises the security of the computer." Both Trojan variations may be downloaded (unsuspecting) in any file-sharing environment, including Kazaa. (5)

Is your computer system at risk?

Anti-hacker and anti-virus software aren't enough to clear your system of malicious software. Quite simply, the only sure-fire way of knowing what is lurking on your system is to scan it for viruses and Spyware. And the best applications (in my opinion) for this job are Norton Antivirus (or a similar freeware substitute) and Spyware Doctor by PC Tools.

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