Peer-to-peer file sharing, or P2P, has become enormously popular on college campuses across the country because it allows students to easily exchange music and video files over the Internet. Tens of millions of people use P2P applications such as Limewire, eDonkey, and BearShare to fill their MP3 players and hard drives with all the music and movies they want, all for free. But even \u201cfree\u201d has a cost.\n\nIn addition to violating copyright laws, there are other potential dangers when downloading files via P2P. For instance, hackers know that source files on P2P networks are not being validated, so it\u2019s easy to trick you into downloading a virus or spyware instead of the Justin Beiber video you thought you were getting.\n\nThe other major issue is the simple fact that P2P programs share your data with all of the other P2P users in cyberspace. Because of this, there is a good chance you might unknowingly share your most precious and private data with the rest of the world.\n\nDuring installation, P2P programs scan your hard drive, looking for files to share. If you do not exercise caution, your entire hard drive, including any confidential documents it may contain, could be left wide open for anyone to access.\n\nThink about the files you have on your PC right now. Are you storing documents that have your passwords, Social Security number, or bank account information? If you have P2P software on your PC, you could be targeted for identity theft.\n\nDigging through P2P networks for my own research, I\u2019ve uncovered tax returns, student loan applications, credit reports, and Social Security numbers. I\u2019ve found love letters, private photos, videos, and just about anything else that can be saved as a digital file.\n\nP2P networks have even exposed details on a U.S. Secret Service safe house for the president and his family, and revealed blueprints for President Obama\u2019s private helicopter. While you probably don\u2019t have state secrets stored on your PC, you should still take care to keep your sensitive files safe.\n\nHere are some tips to protect you from accidentally sharing data on a P2P network:\n\nThe smartest way to stay safe is not to install P2P software on your computer in the first place.\n\nIf you think a family member may have installed P2P software on their computer, check for new, unfamiliar applications. A look at your \u201cAll Programs Menu\u201d will show nearly every program on your computer. If you see one you don\u2019t recognize, do an online search to see if it is a P2P application.\n\nSet administrative privileges on your computer to prevent the installation of new software without your knowledge.\n\nUse comprehensive security software such as McAfee\u017d Total Protection and keep it up to date.\n\nMake sure your firewall is enabled, and if an application asks you to change your settings to enable access to the Internet, don\u2019t allow it.\n\nP2P file sharing can be tempting, but in most cases, the costly dangers just aren\u2019t worth it.\n\nWith more than 11 million victims just last year identity theft is a serious concern. McAfee Identity Protection offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your financial accounts. Educate and protect yourself \u2013 please visithttp:\/\/www.counteridentitytheft.com.