Not that long ago, file sharing over the internet was a shadowy type of thing, bordering on illegal. It was a process that lived on the dark side of the web, used by music-sharing college students and bootleg software pirates. And although there still is a shady side to all of this, legitimate peer-to-peer file sharing has now become mainstream, is used by millions worldwide, and is becoming big business.

What Is Peer-to-Peer File Sharing?

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is the sharing and/or distribution of digital files between users. In most cases, some sort of software or program is required for the users to be able to share files between them, although some mainstream P2P services work with a standard web browser. Once the requested file is located, you’re able to download it to your computer.

P2P gained worldwide notoriety at the tail end of the twentieth century, when Napster, a controversial music and movie sharing service, was launched. However, P2P is now a legitimate way to share files, as it’s a standard part of everyday business for many. Popular commercial P2P services include Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud, among many others.

P2P vs. Other Form of File Sharing

In addition to P2P, there are a few other types of file sharing. Similar to P2P, all of these methods have their own set of pros and cons. They include:

  • Portable Physical Storage Devices: The most old-school method of sharing files between users, this type of file sharing has its limitations, of course. That’s because it requires proximity of the two parties, or else physically shipping the device to the other user, which is both time-consuming and costly. This method can be risky as devices (such as a USB flash drive) can become lost or damaged in transit; furthermore, these small devices aren’t always the most reliable ways to store files, as they’re typically cheaply made. 
  • Email Attachments: Everybody knows how to attach a file to an email; the problem is that many files are simply too large for email providers to send. Most providers have a ridiculously low threshold of size, usually less than 25 MB. Which really limits the type of files that can be sent to word processing docs, spreadsheets, small PDF files, and low-res photographs. 
  • FTP and SFTP: File transfer protocol (FTP) and secure file transfer protocol(SFTP) are a common way to transfer files. FTP is best known as the way HTML files are transferred to FTP servers, the place where live web pages reside. SFTP transfer rely on a special type of software, such as Fetch and Forklift, among many others. The difference between FTP and SFTP is encryption; only SFTP protects in-transit data with encryption. 
  • Cloud Services: Cloud storage and document management is the most common way files are shared today. Typically user-friendly, these are commercial services such as Google Drive and Dropbox that are ubiquitous among both home and corporate users. Some software companies also have their own versions, such as Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple’s iCloud and Adobe’s Cloud Storage. Although each service has its own unique features, most of these products are essentially the same.

How P2P Works

Generally, we think of file sharing as a server, somewhere else in the world, that contains files that can be downloaded to our own computers. For example, the drivers of a printer can be downloaded from the printer manufacturer’s site. However, P2P takes a different route. Instead of server to user, P2P shares files between two users, hence the name.

The Risks and Challenges of P2P File Sharing

Naturally, sharing any types of files has its risks, which include:

  • Access Control: Knowing exactly what you’re getting (and from whom) before you start the process is paramount. Having copyrighted or other illegal data on your computer can lead to legal implications.
  • Malware, Spyware and Viruses: These types of malicious software can cause all sorts of havoc, including bringing down your entire network. So, it’s important to install a robust anti-virus and anti-malware software package and monitor it regularly.
  • Insecure File Sharing Software: A highly secure package is recommended – one that protects the integrity of the data and ensures that it’s not able to be intercepted (or accessed) by any party other than the host and yourself.
  • Poorly Managed Permissions: Confirm that the settings of your file-sharing software are configured properly, so users can only access the appropriate files, and nothing else.
  • Open Portal: Your P2P file sharing doesn’t have to be connected 24/7, then close the connection when it’s dormant. Leaving it open can increase your security risk and allow unauthorized users to copy shared files at any time.

When P2P Is a Bad Idea

For starters, sharing or downloading any type of copyrighted material (music, movies, software and games) that you don’t own a license for is obviously illegal. Doing this is a crime, something nobody should be involved in. IP numbers can be tracked, so illegal downloading isn’t invisible; this sort of activity can be traced. Furthermore, some of this sort of activity can also download a virus, malware or spyware onto your computer. Worse, if you’re on a large network, ransomware can infiltrate your entire network, bringing everything to a screeching halt.

When To Use P2P

Naturally, there is a legitimate use for P2P file sharing. Large files have to get from there to here, and most email services have set the bar very low on the size of files (usually less than 20MB) that can be sent via email. Short of copying these files onto a thumb drive and shipping them overnight, transferring them via the internet is the only other way. Although there are commercial services that allow you to transfer large files via email, they’re really emailing you a link and then you’re able to download the files via that link.

Virtual Data Rooms Beat All Types of File Sharing

But in the case of business transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions (M&As), IPOs, divestitures, or any other type of deals where speed, security and document integrity is important, a virtual data room (VDR) is a mandatory tool for document sharing. A VDR is a secure online location where companies, working together on any sort of business deal can store and share the documentation that is required for the transaction. A VDR has secure access, which includes enterprise-level encryption, multiple layers of security, and user-friendly admin controls that allow you to seamlessly upload and download documents, protected by robust version control, which permits only certain parties access to certain documents.

Secure File Sharing With CapLinked

CapLinked is a leading provider of VDRs, used and trusted by those in multiple industries. A CapLinked VDR provides secure file sharing, along with the tools required by all parties involved in a business deal. These simple yet secure features include high-level admin controls, document and version control, 24/7 customer service and multiple layers of security. To see how a VDR will help your merger and securely manage your documents during the M&A process, start a free trial of our VDR solution that will ease your worries about safe and secure peer-to-peer file sharing.

Chris Capelle is a technology expert, writer and instructor. For over 25 years, he has worked in the publishing, advertising and consumer products industries.

Sources

Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) – Security Tip (ST05-007) Risks of File-Sharing Technology

GeeksforGeeks – P2P(Peer To Peer) File Sharing

Forbes – The Dangers Of P2P File-Sharing Sites

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