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The sheer ease of file-sharing in 2012 is astounding but what might be even more shocking is the number of people who choose to download files like music and movies illegally. Despite steps taken to stymie file-sharing (exorbitant fines, the high-profile demise of upload site Megaupload, slicker detection algorithms to hunt out wrongly shared files, and, of course, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), millions of people all over the world are still doing it. According to an article from The Guardian, over 43 million people illegally downloaded songs in the UK alone during the first six months of the year. But the landscape overall is still largely unchanged; virtually everything you could possibly think of is available just as quickly and still without cost. File-sharing though seemingly innocuous, is a risky habit that makes you, your personal information and computer or phone susceptible to harm.

Let’s start off with the most obvious thing: malware. A study a few years ago found that nearly 20 percent of files downloaded from the internet, legal and illegal, contain some form of malware. This malware could come in the form of a browser-redirect code — in which you type in some URL and the malware sends you somewhere else — one that throws up bonus ads all over your websites or a virus even more likely to cause serious damage to your computer. A whole lot of malware exists to steal personal information from you: social security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords. It burrows into your operating system and does its thing most times without you even knowing about it.

If you’re using BitTorrent to illegally procure files, you’re possibly opening doors in your system for things to enter without your knowledge and therefore without your consent. That is, this is a problem within the torrenting applications themselves — which might be cracking open your security firewall without your knowledge — not necessarily the files themselves.

There’s two more points about file-sharing that get a bit less attention. The first is that by running a bunch of torrents, you’re you’re negatively affecting your machine’s performance and leaving less bandwidth for other applications to do important things, like back up your system. If you’re sharing a connection with maybe some roommates, this could be trouble. Or, what’s even worse, is if you’re on a sharing binge while on your work computer. A lot of stuff invisible to you might not be so much to your irritable IT guy. There’s not much more embarrassing than getting ratted out to the boss for stealing _The Hangover Part II_. Most companies also have No File-Sharing policies so if getting berated isn’t enough of a deterrent, getting fired should be.

Finally, if you’re illegally file-sharing, you might just get busted. It happens and the Recording Industry Association of America and the US judicial system are largely unforgiving. Stealing files is, after all, illegal. Granted, trouble is more likely to come your way via malware, but the law is most certainly not on your side. And if you’re going to dive into the murky seas of file-sharing, at the very least pack an anti-virus program. Or two or three.

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