Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Networks

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Fall 2011 — Security News and Advice


If your kids are like most, they probably spend a lot of time listening to music on their MP3 players and computers, and watching movies and videos. But where did all this content come from? Chances are at least some of that content came from peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, which allow users to share any of the files on their computer with other people using the same file-sharing software. Kids love P2P networks because they can share music, videos, and software for free, often without their parents’ knowledge or permission. However, using these networks can be dangerous.

P2P networks not only allow you to share fun content like music and movies, but they also allow you to share any file on your computer. This means that your child could download sexually explicit content from other users, and accidentally share sensitive personal information stored on your computer. Malicious content, such as viruses and spyware, can also be easily spread over P2P networks. Cybercriminals often hide viruses and even porn in popular downloads, such as popular songs or games, hoping they can trick users into downloading them.

Some P2P networks ask for account upgrades for faster downloads or a subscription to access exclusive content, and your child could be lured into entering your credit card number and other personal information to receive these benefits. Your child may also end up chatting with strangers in the P2P community who could potentially direct them to obscene websites or ask them for personal information.

But even if your child doesn't wind up running into any dangerous content or giving away any personal information, they may still get into trouble if they download copyrighted content that other users have illegally shared. Keep in mind that copyright infringement can result in steep fines, which you may be responsible for paying.

Because of these risks, it's important that you talk with your child about the dangers of P2P sharing and teach them how to download content safely.

For extra protection, consider the following:

  • Protect your computer with a strong password so your child cannot log in without your permission and supervision.
  • Remove the P2P application altogether. (A quick online search will help you find directions on how to remove various applications.)
  • Consider using parental control software, such as McAfee® Family Protection, which allows you to filter the online content your child has access to and block objectionable content. It also allows you to monitor their activities, such as give them time limits when surfing the web.
  • Make sure that your family computer has a safe search tool, such as McAfee® SiteAdvisor® software, which alerts you with site ratings in your search results.

Whatever you decide to do, starting the conversation is an important first step. After all, you want your kids to enjoy the rich content that the Internet offers, but only if it is safe.


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