Downloading & File Sharing

Downloading is a commonplace and very convenient way to obtain and update software as well as documents, pdfs, video, photos, and other files. Downloading is different from streaming, which is where video, music or sound is sent over the internet for you to watch or listen to in real time, rather than being able to be saved on your computer to use later.  

The risks

  • Inadvertently allowing viruses on to your computers or network – from both websites and peer-to-peer file-sharing programs.
  • Installing spyware that enables criminals to obtain confidential information for financial gain or identity theft.
  • Depriving software developers and performing artists of income.
  • Breaching copyright. Although downloading free software, music, videos could be tempting, it is illegal to pirate material that is under copyright.
  • Having your firewall breached, especially when using peer-to-peer file-sharing programs.
  • Downloading offensive / illegal material or viruses disguised as something else.
  • Inadvertently installing adware that enables annoying popup advertisements.

Safe downloading

  • Ensure effective and updated internet security software and firewall are installed and running before any downloading takes place.
  • Download executable files (.exe) with extreme caution. These are files used by programs to run on your computer. However, they are also commonly used to carry viruses.
  • Use trusted download websites rather than peer-to-peer systems to obtain programs.
  • Be wary about downloading anything, as people can call their files anything they like. Something that appears to be a clip from a new sci-fi movie could in fact be hardcore porn or a virus-infected file.
  • Download music only from paid sites such as iTunes, Google Play or trusted retailers’ websites.

Safe peer-to-peer file sharing

  • If you must use file-sharing software in your business, make sure you choose safe software, install it safely and use it properly.
  • Install file sharing applications only when you have effective and updated internet security software and firewall running.
  • Consider paying for a premium version that is not funded by advertising, to reduce the risk of adware being installed.
  • Download software only from manufacturers’ or authorised resellers’ websites.
  • Do not let people browse your files directly, and configure the program carefully so that you only share the files you want to and keep the rest of your files and confidential information private. This avoids inadvertently sharing data with complete strangers.
  • Do not share material that is under copyright.

More information about copyright theft can be found at the following:

FAST: The Federation Against Software Theft. (UK site)

FACT: The Federation Against Copyright Theft. (UK site)

IFPI: International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:

Identity theft

The crime of impersonating someone – by using their private information – for financial gain.

.exe file

Executable file: used by programs to install and run on computers.


To obtain content from the internet, as an email attachment or from a remote computer, to your own hard drive.