"Porn-to-peer" may replace music-sharing concerns, as research from Palisade Systems, Inc. indicates that 42 percent of file searches are for pornographic movies or images, and with Websense Inc. reporting a 300 percent increase in the number of P2P file sharing Web pages during 2002, corporations are confronting numerous legal and network security issues.

Websense estimates that there are more than 89,000 file-sharing Web pages, and more than 130 unique P2P applications, creating ample opportunity for all types of illegal content swapping. Palisade's analysis of 22 million searches on file-sharing networks revealed that 73 percent of all movie searches were for pornography, and 24 percent of image searches were for child pornography. A mere 3 percent of searches were for non-porn or non-copyrighted materials.

P2P Searches By File Type
Movies 47%
Music 37%
Images 7%
Software 5%
Documents 3%
Source: Palisade Systems

"P2P networks have truly developed beyond the music to become a marketplace for users swapping videos, games and software packages," said Harold Kester, chief technology officer for Websense. "While this may be free to end users, it comes at a huge cost to corporations in the form of wasted bandwidth, gaping security holes and serious emerging legal issues."

The liability risks are plentiful, according to Palisade Systems, with 97 percent of P2P activities possibly resulting in criminal or civil charges in the workplace. Palisade attributes more than half (56 percent) of the downloaded material to violating copyright infringements, 35 percent contributing to sexual harassment in the workplace, and 6 percent pertaining to child pornography.

Compounding the legal risks, are security issues that arise with file-swapping. A survey conducted by Central Command, Inc. revealed that 61 percent of the respondents were unaware of the risks associated with the downloading files. Sharing causes corporate networks to become susceptible to accidental sharing of confidential material, and both home and workplace users may inadvertently release viruses, install spyware, and clog bandwidth.

A 2002 virus study, conducted by ICSA Labs, found that Internet downloads accounted for 11 percent of infections last year — down slightly from 2001's figure of 13 percent. E-mail attachments led the virus sources at 86 percent in 2002.

Companies can limit liability by establishing internal file-sharing applications that allow for a fluid trade of information among colleagues, while prohibiting applications such as Morpehus, KaZaA, LimeWire, and Gnutella from the workplace.