The Perils of Torrents: Why Music and Movies May Not Be the Only Thing That You’re Downloading

By: Amber Newby  |  April 15, 2014

downloading music and movies

Torrent files are a popular method of sharing movies, music and other types of media and information. Due to their widespread use, torrents are seen by a variety of scammers as an excellent tool for obtaining other people’s personal information and, ultimately, committing identity theft. Criminals on the internet utilize torrents to locate potential phishing targets and transfer malicious files, such as worms, Trojan horses and viruses. While it may appear quick and easy to pick up the latest episode of a favorite show through a torrent site, doing so potentially exposes the user to the many hackers and thieves trying to make a living by infiltrating other people’s computers. Here’s why you should be wary of torrent files and why free media actually comes with a price.

Torrent Downloads Can Be Seeded With Fake Files

Files that are used to transfer songs and movies through torrents, such as windows media audio (.WMA) and windows media video files (.WMV), can also be used to transmit a variety of different programs that may threaten your personal data. While there are some non-malware files that use these types of formats, many .WMV and .WMA files will link to websites that attempt to charge money for codec files that falsely promise to decode the file into a movie or a song. These files may also lead to websites that offer free downloads to play the song or movie that has been downloaded, but will instead install viruses or malware that could result in ID theft. Even files that are typically considered safe, such as matroska files (.MKV) and audio video interleave files (.AVI), pose the threat of carrying malicious code or a phishing scam attached to the torrent.

The Many Different Ways Malware Affects Computers

There are various reasons that scam artists and other dishonest people might decide to target computers with malware through torrents. Some of the most dangerous malware has the ability to detect every single piece of data generated by your computer, including account numbers, passwords and important private documents. The most devastating malware, keystroke logging programs, can monitor every click of the keyboard and mouse in addition to internet data and local computer data. Other malware may be simple but just as dangerous, such as phishing scams that entice the sharing of personal data. Spyware, search engine manipulation and social media manipulation may also be the end goal of an online scam artist.

Protect Yourself Against Malware to Reduce the Risk

Installing an antivirus, firewall or other computer protection program is a good first step in avoiding the threat of malware. Always pay attention to other users, and read their comments about the torrent file in question, especially if there are lots of seeds for the file but few ratings or comments. Verify the veracity of the file through a trusted third party, if possible. Movies and music tend to already be compressed and should not require another program to unpackage or decompress the downloaded file for use.

The best way to avoid malware through torrents is to avoid using torrent websites altogether and instead download movies and music directly from an official source. There are many sites that allow users to download or stream certified malware-free content – usually, sites belonging to the content creators or legitimate media distribution companies. In today’s modern era, you can get access to vast libraries of media through legitimate free, freemium and pay-for-service sites – some of the most popular ones include the iTunes Store, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube. Choosing to avoid torrents significantly reduces the risk of identity theft by taking malware out of the equation – thus, the more mainstream sites are the safer option even if they cost a small fee.

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