Every time you use your peer-to-peer network to share files on the internet, you may well be exposing vast amounts of your sensitive data to the entire network. And this problem is not limited to just the business houses, it is the home users who are the most affected by this activity.

A study was recently conducted by Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business to examine the dangers of data disclosure inadvertently on file-sharing networks. This study involved examination of data relating to P2P searches and files of 30 top US banks. The period covered was a shade under two months, from Dec 2006 to Feb 2007.

The study found that an exceedingly high number of consumers doing simple tasks such as sharing music software on the P2P networks were inadvertently divulging sensitive data such as bank account and credit card details to criminals lurking around for such information. As per Eric Johnson, a study author and Professor of Operations at the Dartmouth’s Center for Digital Strategies, a significant number of individuals as well as firms face this risk from the peer-to-peer file sharing networks.

What happens is this. When people share their files such as free music software and just plain music also, they are inadvertently exposing the entire contents of their computers to the entire network. This is quickly lapped up by criminal minds lurking around for this very purpose.

The reason for the exposure is that the popular P2P clients like BearShare, Limewire, Morpheus, Kaaza etc are specifically designed to search for and retrieve certain types of media files on a user’s system. If the music files have accidentally been included in another folder, the contents of the entire folder would be exposed to the P2P network. If this folder happens to contain sensitive information, then be rest assured that all that sensitive information is going along with the music recording that you had done and wanted to share with your friends. Thus it becomes extremely important to control the access of the folders being shared.

Another reason for the exposure is the confusing interfaces of some of these clients that may result in sharing of a folder that was not intended to be shared. Wizards included with the clients often manage to complicate the problem further, by searching for and recommending sharing of all kinds of media files in the entire computer. Just one of these files needs to be in a folder containing sensitive information.

All kinds of information on your system is exposed in such a case. When a file is shared, it not only shares the entire files in the folder containing it, but sometimes the entire hard disk as well.
As per Johnson, the kind of information exposed to the world is amazing. Files containing all the information for committing identity theft were available. So were nearly all types of business documents, be it account details on a spreadsheet or clients’ information details and consumption patterns. To illustrate, the study found one particular bank spreadsheet containing account information on 23,000 business accounts. Another sensitive document located was a security evaluation of a bank network by a third party contractor.

The next time you decided to share your talent or the latest downloads with your friends, be careful what you are sharing and where it is held.

Author's Bio: 

The author loves making music. You can keep up-to-date with the latest music terms with the help of a music dictionary. Setting up a home recording studio is also not very difficult these days.