FTC Tells Businesses, Schools and Local Governments: Stop Sharing Personal Information On Peer-To-Peer Filesharing Networks

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced yesterday that it had notified "almost 100" companies and organizations, including schools and local governments, that sensitive personal information from those entities was being shared across peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing networks. This has apparently resulted in circulation of customer personal information, health information, Social Security numbers and other sensitive data. 

Poorly supervised use of P2P networks have frequently been the subject of unwanted attention, including from the FTC.  For our coverage on P2P security issues, see our prior posts here ("Congressional Aide Shares Secret Ethics List With The World"), here ("Incident of the Week: Seattle Man Sentenced To Three Years In Prison For Using Peer-To-Peer Software To Steal Financial Records, Commit Identity Theft") and here ("Rep. Mary Bono Mack Introduces Informed P2P User Act To Combat Inadvertent File Sharing"). 

The danger with P2P filesharing software is that failure to select the proper settings can result in opening up all documents on a computer to anonymous users on the Internet.  As the FTC warned in its press release: "when P2P file-sharing software is not configured properly, files not intended for sharing may be accessible to anyone on the P2P network."  The problem commonly arises when a business’ staff load P2P filesharing software on company computers to access music or other downloads (which can be illegal in itself), but fail to properly configure the software.

The FTC has provided the following examples of the notification letters it has mailed to entities: FTC Sample Letter A (.pdf), FTC Sample Letter B (.pdf) and FTC Sample Letter C (.pdf).  The FTC has also directed these entities to its newly-unveiled guide to taking proper security measures to prevent unauthorized P2P access.  The FTC has indicated that it "has opened non-public investigations of other companies whose customer or employee information has been exposed on P2P networks." 

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