Private photographs, confidential financial documents and even military secrets have joined the list of files that computer users can download as they scour the Internet. \nMillions of new users are looking for media files with peer-to-peer (P2P) programs such as Kazaa, which allow users to share all types of files -- usually illegally -- from designated folders on their hard drives across the Internet. \nThis has led to more and more people looking for confidential and private files either for simple amusement, or, increasingly, for much more sinister purposes, say the authors of Web sites which post some of these documents and pictures. \n"One way files are being offered is by people bringing work home from the office and putting it on their home computers where they have a P2P application installed," said Rick Wallace, who last month launched the SeeWhatYouShare.com Web site. \n"At the office, their computer is behind a firewall that protects the network, but many do not have that protection at home and it can lead to great security lapses," he said. \nSecurity of files and networks has become a hot issue. As more inexperienced users look for MP3 music clips, movies, television shows, pornography and computer programs, they often leave the digital door to their computers wide open. \nBigChampagne, which tracks file sharing, estimates that 8.3 million people used P2P networks in June, off the April peak of 9.3 million. \nOne does not need the skills of a hacker to grab private files from the thousands of users of programs such as LimeWire or BearShare. Even most home firewalls, which keep out malicious outsiders, don't prevent designated files from being shared. \nAll that is required is patience and skills sharpened on Google or other Internet search engines. \nVARIETY OF SECRETS \nWallace wants his Web site to showcase a variety of private files to warn the users who unwillingly share them. \nThe files he has posted include passwords for various Internet services, personal bank information, confidential police reports, court documents and tax returns. All the information one might need to open up a bank account or virtually assume another person's identity. \nWallace has blacked out the private details from all the documents, but seeing what's out there is scary enough. \nHe originally posted a screen shot of what appeared to be military documents ready for downloading using one of the P2P programs. The site also included various photos of US soldiers with civilians and burning military vehicles and aircraft apparently taken with digital cameras in Iraq. \n"I felt it was important that the [US] Department of Defense see what is going on first hand, without it being filtered through the bureaucracy. Since I launched my site, military officials have contacted me to see how I received this information and what they need to do to fix the problem," Wallace said. \nHe has now removed the files. \nOne Internet user who asked not to be identified said that in recent months using the popular LimeWire program he found secret military and government documents and unpublished photographs of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. \nHARD DISK WIDE OPEN \nDevelopers of P2P programs encourage users to share their media files by designating which folders other users may have access to, building up a large online library of files. \nBut some programs, unless instructed otherwise, leave their users especially vulnerable to prying eyes. \nThey search the entire hard drive not only for media files, but also programs and documents created by Microsoft Word and Excel as well as Quicken, which keeps track of financial transactions and account details. \n"The LimeWire installation is a little dangerous for people who don't pay attention and we'll have to address this issue in future releases," said Greg Bilden, chief operating officer and chief technology officer at LimeWire LLC. \nBilden said the company must balance the need to make the program simple to use while protecting novice users. There are 3 million active LimeWire users worldwide. \nFor now, Bilden and other experts advise users to be very careful when they install any P2P software and designate which folders to share with the outside world. They also should periodically monitor files uploaded from their computer and keep in mind that some programs continue to run in the background even when they appear to be closed. \nWith the growing popularity of digital cameras, photographs make up the largest percentage of files shared unintentionally as a growing number of people load home pictures onto their hard drives. \n"There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of photos out there," said Rich Vogel, who posts many of the images he finds on his "Found Photos" Web site (http://www.10eastern.com/foundphotos.html). \nThe site includes various everyday shots ranging from the mundane to embarrassing to just plain bizarre. \n"I mainly look for pictures that will make you smile or display interesting photography," Vogel said. "But there is a voyeuristic aspect to this."
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