Q: In light of the recent $220,000 judgment against the woman in Minnesota who was using a music sharing program, I want to make sure that no one in my household is engaging in this type of activity. How do I check my computer to make sure that none of this type of activity is going on?– Sarah

A: The dangers for those who install and run file sharing programs continues to grow and now there is a legal precedent for the music and movie industries to come after folks that engage in this type of activity.

The popularity of the original Napster (it is now a legitimate service), which is credited with launching the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing phenomenon, has raised a generation of computer users that thinks it’s OK to download copyrighted material from the Internet.

It has always been illegal to engage in the sharing of copyrighted materials such as music, movies, and software and this latest legal decision should be a wakeup call for anyone who has been taking this lightly.

Not only is there a legal issue involved; the P2P software used to connect with others is usually loaded with spyware and adware and puts your computer at a much higher risk of contracting viruses, worms or other malicious software that poses as a legitimate download.

Most of these programs put themselves into the startup of your computer so they automatically load whenever you start your computer, which also causes your computer and the Internet to be slower.

Start your search by looking at all of the icons in your Systray (lower right hand corner next to the clock). Float your mouse cursor over each icon so you can identify what each one is associated with. If you don’t know what a particular description means, do a Google search (for the displayed description) to learn more about what that program does.

There are over 150 different programs being used by various file sharing networks with new programs being released on a weekly basis. Some of the more popular programs in use today include KaZaa, Limewire, eMule, Morpheous, Shareaza, Grokster, iMesh, Blubster, uTorrent (or any programs have the term "torrent" in the name), Gnutella, Soulseek, Filetopia, WinMX, Bearshare, and eDonkey.

The next step is to review all of the programs installed on your computer by looking at the list in the "Programs" section of Windows. Click on the Start button, then on "All Programs" and investigate any program that you don’t recognize by either opening the program or doing a Google search to learn more.

The third way to check your computer is through the Add/Remove programs section of the Control Panel. This will alphabetically list all the program installed on your computer and give you the option of uninstalling any of them.

If you do find that there is P2P file sharing software installed on your computer, you would be wise to remove it then run a complete deep scan of your computer for viruses, adware and spyware since these are almost guaranteed "companions".

If all of this is too much, consult a trusted computer service resource as this one is too important to ignore.

Once you get your computer cleaned up, be sure to have a discussion with everyone in your household so they understand the legal, financial and infected computer consequences if they reinstall any of these kinds of programs.

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services, Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show, and Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers.

[tags]file sharing, firesharing, p2p[/tags]