filesharingFile Sharing is one of the fasted growing and most talked about applications of the Internet. File sharing can occur when two computers are connected together via the internet or a network. Files may come in the form of documents, images, music and videos.

Until recently, the biggest challenge for those who wanted to share files was finding others who also wanted to share files.

Along came Napster. In 1999, Shawn Fanning, a Northeastern University undergraduate, wrote this small MP3-sharing application. This software allowed users to connect to a central server. The server stored information about the shared files on the computers that were connected to it which allowed Napster to facilitate searching for files by name. (Typically each computer will control which files will be “shared” with others and which shares will remain unreachable.)

Napster became the target of the Record Industry Association of America as they became aware that copyrighted material was being shared online. Napster is in the process of converting to a fee-based program.

The demise of the original Napster has created a multitude of other programs which allow for files sharing…without the need for a central server. These applications connect users to the Gnutella Network.

Gnutella was originally developed in 2000 by Justin Frankel. The software is available for anyone to copy and other developers have gone on to create many Gnutella-compatible programs.


BitTorrent is newest file-downloading protocol. In BitTorrent, files are split up into pieces and the downloaders of a file exchange pieces of it by uploading and downloading them in a quid-pro-quo-like manner to prevent selfish behavior. Each peer is responsible for maximizing its own download rate by contacting suitable peers, and peers with high upload rates will with high probability also be able to download with high speeds. When a peer has finished downloading a file, it may become a seed by staying online for a while and sharing the file for free.

The BitTorrent network is set up in a way that is a little different than a normal P2P network. With this network, you really don’t do any searching for files that the other users have using the client as you would with traditional clients. Rather, you go to websites that have lists of recently released files.

File Sharing software helped established online music stores. The most popular is iTunes. In its first year, iTunes sold more than 70 million songs, providing music fans with the best digital experience on Mac or PC. Now iTunes 4.6 offers even more ways to discover and enjoy music. iTunes features the largest legal download catalog. Select from over 1 million tracks from all five major and more than 600 leading independent labels. Enjoy free 30-second previews of all songs. Find hundreds of exclusive and pre-release tracks and many rare, out-of-print albums.

The Federal Trade Commission recently had this to say about “file sharing”:

“Every day, millions of computer users share files online. Whether it is music, games, or software, file-sharing can give people access to a wealth of information. You simply download special software that connects your computer to an informal network of other computers running the same software. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at one time. The software often is free and easily accessible.

Sounds promising, right? Maybe, but make sure that you consider the trade-offs. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions that file-sharing can have a number of risks. For example, when you are connected to file-sharing programs, you may unknowingly allow others to copy private files you never intended to share. You may download material that is protected by the copyright laws and find yourself mired in legal issues. You may download a virus or facilitate a security breach. Or you may unwittingly download pornography labeled as something else.


To secure the personal information stored on your computer, the FTC suggests that you:

  • Set up the file-sharing software very carefully. If you don’t check the proper settings when you install the software, you could open access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, like your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents.
  • Be aware of spyware. Some file-sharing programs install other software known as spyware. Spyware monitors a user’s browsing habits and then sends that data to third parties. Sometimes the user gets ads based on the information that the spyware has collected and disseminated. Spyware can be difficult to detect and remove. Before you use any file-sharing program, you may want to buy software that can prevent the downloading of spyware or help detect it on your hard drive.
  • Close your connection. In some instances, closing the file-sharing program window does not actually close your connection to the network. That allows file-sharing to continue and could increase your security risk. If you have a high-speed or “broadband” connection to the Internet, you stay connected to the Internet unless you turn off the computer or disconnect your Internet service. These “always on” connections may allow others to copy your shared files at any time. What’s more, some file-sharing programs automatically open every time you turn on your computer. As a preventive measure, you may want to adjust the file-sharing program’s controls to prevent the file-sharing program from automatically opening.
  • Use and update your anti-virus software regularly. Files you download could be mislabeled, hiding a virus or other unwanted content. Use anti-virus software to protect your computer from viruses you might pick up from other users through the file-sharing program. Although your virus filter should prevent your computer from receiving possibly destructive files, computer security experts suggest you avoid files with extensions like .exe, .scr, .lnk, .bat, .vbs, .dll, .bin, and .cmd.
  • Talk with your family about file-sharing. Parents may not be aware that their children have downloaded file-sharing software on the family computer and that they may have exchanged games, videos, music, pornography, or other material that may be inappropriate for them. Also, because other peoples’ files sometimes are mislabeled, kids unintentionally may download these files. In addition, kids may not understand the security and other risks involved with file-sharing and may install the software incorrectly, giving anyone on the Internet access to the family’s private computer files.