Many college freshmen across Iowa are getting their first taste of freedom on new computers this fall, but they need to be careful with trying to find free files and programs online.

Consumer protection specialist Lara Sutherlin says file-sharing programs can leave your computer open to being hacked.
Sutherlin says, “So talking to your kids about knowing when they’re sharing files and when they’re downloading shared files that they’re from a secured and trusted source.”

Having up-to-date malware protection and firewalls on your PC or tablet is a good first start to keeping yourself safe.
“It can prevent things that shouldn’t be mined out of your computer from being mined,” she says, “and it also can prevent improper things from being downloaded and we encourage you to do that.”

Sutherlin says improperly setting up file-sharing programs could leave parts of your computer open to the internet that you’d rather have kept private. “You could accidentally provide people with access to your private files if you’re doing some software sharing online and you’re not protecting yourself,” Sutherlin says.

Many websites that claim to host pirated games or movies also pack malware alongside those files, she warns, so downloading from them could put your files — and privacy — at risk.