How To + Security & Privacy

Exposing Personal Information: Pirated Software and Password Sharing

Posted on May 14th, 2014 by

This is the third installment in our Five Minute Family Protection Tips series on Internet safety for concerned parents in the digital era. In part 1, we outlined why parents should be concerned with their children's online activities and some initial advice about online predators. In part 2, we examined the risks of inappropriate communications and how to cope with digital harassment. 

Inspiration for today's bite sized musing stems from the mysterious dangers of free cheese. We'll get to that in just a moment, as we continue our series with some best practices that should apply to everyone in the family, not just children.

Illegal File Sharing: Exposing Your Information

free cheese mousetrap

Hopping onto the Internet without diligence can expose families and their files to a variety of potential threats. From inappropriate content and malicious people, to viruses, malware and network attacks, there are a number of risks that threaten a family's online experience and can expose personal information to the bad guys.

Alas, there is always free cheese in the mousetrap—one way to reveal the contents of a family’s computer to others is by downloading pirated software from peer-to-peer sites (e.g. BitTorrent). Most people don’t realize that by using peer-to-peer sites, they are inadvertently exposing their information to everyone else who uses the site.

Installing pirated software, also known officially by the rather nerdy name of warez, is not only illegal, but it also puts personal information at risk. Warez are a popular way for malware authors to spread their wares, as many people still believe they can get something for nothing without realizing the potential consequences.

This is particularly evident with naive children who do not know any better. They can accidentally infect other computers in their household with malware by installing pirated software, thus putting the entire home network at risk of information exposure.

Parents can maintain a level of privacy and protect their family by blocking access to peer-to-peer sites and by talking to their children about why it is important to do so. Intego's easy-to-use parental control software, ContentBarrier, blocks certain protocols, or types of Internet communication, that parents may not want their children to use, such as peer-to-peer and other file sharing protocols.

The legal repercussions alone should be enough of a deterrent, but if not, risk of exposing personal information should motivate parents to block illegal file sharing in their home.

Password Sharing: Just Say No!

teens sharing passwords

There is a troubling new trend with young kids carelessly handling their passwords. It has become fashionable for teens to share passwords with friends as a sign of trust and intimacy, and it is a spectacularly bad idea.

A recent Pew study found that roughly 1-in-3 teens (30%) share their passwords with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Alongside the significant downsides to sharing passwords, including obsessively watching a significant other's social media account for signs of cheating and using the access for sabotage if a relationship goes sour, this not only violates one’s own privacy, but it also puts the individual’s emotional health at risk.

Kashmir Hill at Forbes, for instance, speaking from experience in a past relationship where she and her then-boyfriend knew one another's email passwords, described how emotions sometimes get the better of a person when times turn bad in a password-sharing relationship:

It wasn’t healthy. Curiosity is a devastating emotion when you have access to a significant other’s account. When times turned bad, I found myself addicted to seeing how he was describing our crumbling relationship to others. I eventually had to ask him to change his password — which he initially refused to do, seeing it as a nail in the coffin of the relationship — but I insisted, because I couldn’t stop myself from looking.

An important lesson to take away from this is that parents should teach their kids the importance of not sharing passwords. It's simple: Just say no to password sharing!

Even adults have a hard time managing their passwords securely. Get Safe Online (GSOL) questioned 2,004 adults about their online behavior and habits, and found that only 42% have a password or PIN on their mobile devices, and only 25% have installed security software. Nearly half of those who do use a password have the same password for all accounts.

For adults who need a bit of a refresher on password protection best practice, do not worry—it is understandable. Everyone lets their guard down every once in a while, it is natural. To start, here's four quick tips showing how you can create secure passwords.

People have limited space in their heads for secure, unique passwords, but that should not mean people should resort to poor password hygiene or using password books; putting all their password eggs in one basket is a scary proposition.


Next time, we conclude our Five Minute Family Protection Tips series with thoughts on child identity theft and a recap on what parents can do to keep their family safe online.